Warship visit was knockout

Johnny with his winner's belt
Johnny with his winner's belt

A Chorley woman is planning a trip to London to revisit the warship whose officers she befriended in San Francisco, half a century ago.

June Sullivan, 76, from Astley Village, visited HMS Belfast after it docked in California, during its global goodwill tour in 1961.

Mrs Sullivan was living in America, with her husband, middleweight boxing champion Johnny Sullivan.

Together with a group of expatriate friends, she was invited aboard the ship for cocktails with the captain, took the petty officers on trips to Oakland and its surrounding areas, and socialised with them in her favourite bar.

Now she is looking forward to seeing the ship once again, but will not be expecting the red carpet treatment.

Mrs Sullivan said: “I haven’t got in touch with Belfast, or anything like that. I would just go on as a tourist, and say to people; ‘I knew the officers when it came to California’, that sort of thing.

“I saw a advert for Tyrer’s coach trips, saw they went to London and decided to book. I thought it would give me a chance to see HMS Belfast and bring back lovely memories.

“We were very young and daft in those days. We followed the ship to Canada, to Vancouver. We got to the border and realised we’d come without passports, but the man just let us through because we were English. The officers on the ship were so shocked when they saw us.

“We had a lovely time in America. It was nothing like it is now.

“People were very free and easy in those days, they could do things they wouldn’t do today. I’m so glad I was born then.”

Mrs Sullivan says she would like to try and meet some of the sailors who served on the ship in the 1960s, but has little information to help her search.

She said: “It would be nice to see people from San Francisco again. I don’t have any contacts though. I had two names on the back of a picture, but they could be anywhere in England, and they might not even be alive.”

In addition to her reunion with HMS Belfast, Mrs Sullivan will also indulge her enthusiasm for the theatre in London, another passion helped by her time Stateside.

She said: “When Johnny and I lived in New York, his boxing manager, Lou Burston, got us in to see all the shows. We saw My Fair Lady with Rex Harrison in it.

“That was a reason I booked for the trip, they take you to the theatres. We’re seeing a show at the Palladium.”