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Illustrious sound echoes around famous cricket ground

7 October 2019
The distinctive ‘clang’ of the bell of one of Britain’s greatest warships will sound again – now at one of Britain’s greatest sporting venues.

Ringing the bell from carrier HMS Illustrious will signal the imminent start of play at 10.55 on each day of a test at The Oval – home of Surrey County Cricket Club and typically the venue for the final match in a series.

Lusty retired in 2014 after 32 years’ service around the globe and the ship was sent to the breaker’s yard two years later.

Historically-important artefacts – as well as useful/secret military technology – were removed from the Harrier carrier before she was towed to Turkey for breaking up, including her two bells.

The first former officer invited to sound it was Admiral Sir Jock Slater, Illustrious’ first Commanding Officer

One is held by the National Museum of the Royal Navy so that it is always available for display if required; the second went to the Royal Navy’s trophy store in HMS Nelson.

And there it may have stayed, but for former Second Sea Lord Jonathan Woodcock who suggested a ship’s bell might be used to sound the ‘five-minute warning’, heralding the imminent start of play at the Kennington ground – mirroring a similar tradition at Lord’s introduced a dozen years ago.

The trophy store possesses a fine collection of bells from decommissioned ships, but eyes fell on Illustrious given her status as a former flagship and her affiliations with London (not just the city, but also the City of London Corporation, Met Police, Worshipful Company of Shipwrights and the like).

So the carrier’s bell has been loaned to ground, whose staff have decided that a former officer from the ship on the first day of each test for years to come.

The first former officer invited to sound it was Admiral Sir Jock Slater, Illustrious’ first Commanding Officer, who rang the clapper ahead of the start of the fifth Ashes test last month to inaugurate the new ‘curtain-raiser’ to Oval tests.

Originally used for timekeeping, especially on watch, in recent times the bell has assumed much more of a ceremonial role on modern warships.

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