The Mystery of HMAS Pirie's Ship's Bell

HMAS PirieIt is the 7th. of March 2004, I have just hung up from a phone call from a colleague in the Victorian Chapter of the Naval Historical Society of Australia. Bill Hill was a signalman who served in HMAS Warramunga, a Tribal Class Destroyer, in WW2. In retirement he acts as a volunteer guide at the Shrine of Remembrance here in Melbourne. Last Friday,  whilst acting in that capacity, Bill was approached by a young, well dressed, and well spoken young man, who turned out to be an exchange student from Turkey, attending Monash University in Melbourne.

He told Bill, how in his own capital of Turkey in Ankara, in an old antique shop there, he had come across a ship's bell, and it was marked HMAS Pirie.

Now this ship was one of some 60 built Australian Mine Sweepers built in my country during WW2. They were about 1,000 tons, were all named after country towns spread across the length and breadth of Australia. This ship named after its namesake town in South Australia. Known as Corvettes, these little ships served in many theatres of war, and Pirie was badly damaged in a brush with Japanese bombers in 1943. She came home to be repaired and survive the war.

How did the bell of HMAS Pirie, finish up in an antique shop in Ankara, Turkey?
Bill's call aroused my curiosity, how and why would a bell from a small Australian Mine Sweeper wind up in an antique shop in the Turkish capital of Turkey?

A number of things flashed across my mind: Was this just a wild story? If true, what was the story? What a coincidence, a young Turkish student goes to the Shrine, he happens to talk to some one who knows me, and passes on the conversation! Could the bell perhaps be recovered from Turkey by the HMAS Pirie Association and come home to Australia?

The ship had been laid down in 1941 on the 19th. of March, she was launched on the 3rd. of December that year, and finally commissioned on the 10th. of October in 1942. She saw service in WW2, damaged in 43 by Japanese bombers, repaired, back to service in Pacific, to finally be decommissioned on the 5th. of April, 1946. On the 21st. of May that same year the ship was commissioned as HMS Pirie, and together with her sister ship Gawler, set off on a trip to Turkey, both vessels having been sold to that country.

On arrival, Pirie transferred to the Turkish navy and had her name changes to Asmasra, in August of 1948, she then served in that navy until the 20th. of March in 1984.

I guess the ship was disposed of and then her bell some how was sold off, to wind up in an antique shop in Ankara, and be offered for sale.

Bill Hill is going to try and contact his young Turkish student, and ascertain if the address of this shop in Ankara is available. If it is, we will pass it on the HMAS Pirie Association with this story, they may well be interested in trying to buy the bell and bring it back home to Australia after all these years.

So, a small piece of our Naval history comes out of the blue, who knows, this chance meeting with Bill Hill may yet turn out to have a very silver lining!

Dear Mr. Gregory,

I read your interesting article

My story about this particular bell goes to the beginning of this year when I spotted it at this antique shop here in Ankara. I am hardly an antique collector (actually let me admit; I hate antique stuff!), but was dazzled with it as I always wanted to own a bell. This could possibly be attributed my love of oceans and seamanship.

I thought of buying it at that time and then I said I shouldn't. I even told the real story behind the bell to the owner of that store so that he would sell it to someone else easily (I had made a few inquiries at Google). After that date I didn't pay any attention to this matter.

Last month while I was at the Rock/Sydney, I saw those nice set of ship bells at an antique shop, and I felt pity for not buying it earlier, thinking that it must have been sold already. When I returned to Ankara I was called by the the shop owner if I am still interested, and I thought this was the time (as my wife says our roads must have crossed with it..)

Finally I purchased it today and I am quite happy of that purchase now. I just attached the picture of it to this message in case you or your friends would be interested to have this picture for your historical studies. Please let me know if you need any more, taken at different angles.

Best Regards  
M. Zehir
Ankara, Turkey


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