Re­turn­ing a piece of his­tory

Af­ter four decades, former NPD Chief Bri­er­ley re­turns flag to Bri­tish Navy

Newark Post - - FRONT PAGE - By JOSH SHAN­NON jshan­non@ches­

It was Sept. 3, 1777, when Amer­i­can and Bri­tish troops met at Cooch’s Bridge dur­ing Delaware’s only Revo­lu­tion­ary War bat­tle.

On Wednesday, al­most 240 years to the day, Amer­i­cans and Brits met at the site once again — but for a much dif­fer­ent pur­pose.

In a for­mal mil­i­tary cer­e­mony, former Ne­wark Po­lice Chief Bill Bri­er­ley re­turned to the Bri­tish peo­ple a flag that had been left in his pos­ses­sion four decades ago. The Union Jack had once flown over the HMS Sh­effield, a Bri­tish ship that sank dur­ing the Falk­lands War.

A con­tin­gent of U.S. Marines folded the flag and handed it to Bri­er­ley. He, in turn, passed it to Maj. Justin Bell­man, a Marine who helped ar­range the cer­e­mony, and Bell­man pre­sented it to Com­man­der Richard McHugh, the as­sis­tant naval at­taché based at the Bri­tish Em­bassy in Washington, D.C.

“It’s not my flag, but I’ve hon­ored it over the years,” Bri­er­ley said. “I wanted it to go back where it be­longs.”

The cer­e­mony also fea­tured a bell ring­ing to honor the 20 Bri­tish sailors who died when the

Sh­effield was hit. Wednesday’s event took place

in­side the Pen­cader Her­itage Mu­seum, which oc­cu­pies part of the Cooch’s Bridge Bat­tle­field at the cor­ner of Old Bal­ti­more Pike and Route 72. Bri­er­ley is ac­tive in the Pen­cader Her­itage or­ga­ni­za­tion and asked if the mu­seum would host the event.

It was a twist of his­tory the men who fought on that site three cen­turies ago likely could never have imag­ined: Two bit­ter ri­vals, who over time mor­phed into the strong­est of al­lies, com­ing to­gether in a show of broth­er­hood.

“There’s an un­break­able bond be­tween the Royal Navy and the United States Navy,” McHugh said. “To­day, the Royal Navy and the United States Navy work side-by-side.”

‘Cap­ti­vated by Dun­can Hines cake mix’

The bizarre story of how the flag came to be in Ne­wark be­gins with a spate of international car thefts and ends with a suit­case full of Dun­can Hines cake mix.

The year was 1974, and Ne­wark was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing an in­crease in car thefts. Crim­i­nals were steal­ing lux­ury cars and ship­ping them over­seas.

Bri­er­ley, who was four years into his ten­ure as chief, hosted the an­nual meet­ing of the the International As­so­ci­a­tion of Au­toTheft In­ves­ti­ga­tors. Hun­dreds of po­lice of­fi­cers from around the world de­scended on Ne­wark for the conference, which took place at the Univer­sity of Delaware. Many of the of­fi­cers stayed in lo­cal mo­tels or UD dorm rooms, but Bri­er­ley housed two Bri­tish of­fi­cers and their wives at his home.

The chief had asked each of the international of­fi­cers to bring their coun­try’s flag to be dis­played on stage. Most brought mod­est flags, but one of the Bri­tish of­fi­cers, Peter Byng, brought an enor­mous Union Jack mea­sur­ing 4.5 feet by 9 feet. Byng’s brother was the com­man­der of the Bri­tish ship HMS Sh­effield, and the flag had once flown over the ship.

“It was kind of a joke, but we hung it up,” Bri­er­ley re­called. “It over­shad­owed the oth­ers.”

While the of­fi­cers par­tic­i­pated in the conference, their wives were fas­ci­nated by the malls and large su­per­mar­kets here, Bri­er­ley said. They stocked up on Her­shey bars, Levi jeans and other Amer­i­can prod­ucts.

“They were ab­so­lutely cap­ti­vated by Dun­can Hines cake mix. They’d never seen such a crit­ter,” Bri­er­ley said, adding the women bought a dozen or so boxes to take home. “They had all this loot. When it came time to go home, it didn’t fit in the suit­case.”

While pack­ing, the Brits had to make some sac­ri­fices.

“The cake mix and Her­shey bars were more im­por­tant than the flag,” Bri­er­ley said.

With that, the chief came into pos­ses­sion of a gi­ant Union Jack.

20 lives lost aboard ship

Eight years later, war broke out in the Falk­land Is­lands, and the flag took on a new, somber sig­nif­i­cance.

For 150 years, Bri­tain had ruled the is­lands — lo­cated ap­prox­i­mately 300 miles off the coast of South Amer­ica — but Ar­gentina also claimed the land. In the spring of 1982, the mil­i­tary junta rul­ing Ar­gentina in­vaded the is­lands in a move many his­to­ri­ans say was an at­tempt to rally the coun­try and dis­tract from an eco­nomic cri­sis.

In re­sponse, Bri­tain sent a force of 28,000 troops and 100 ships to re­claim the is­lands.

On May 4, 1982, a mis­sile fired from an Ar­gen­tine fighter plane struck the

HMS Sh­effield, the ship over which the Bri­tish cop’s flag had flown a decade be­fore. The strike killed 20 sailors aboard and in­jured an­other 24.

The ship, a type-42 guided mis­sile de­stroyer, sank a few days later as it was be­ing towed.

The war was over in 10 weeks, and Bri­tain re­gained con­trol of the is­lands. Over the course of the brief war, 655 Ar­gen­tine troops, 255 Bri­tish troops, and three res­i­dents of the is­lands were killed.

A ‘neat way’ to reach out to Bri­tish peo­ple

For the past four decades, Bri­er­ley has kept the flag with a small col­lec­tion of other mil­i­tary mem­o­ra­bilia at his home. He dis­played it only once — when a group of Bri­tish soc­cer play­ers toured the Ne­wark Po­lice Depart­ment. He of­ten thought about try­ing to re­turn it to Great Bri­tain.

“I don’t want to get corny, but that flag has to mean some­thing to the fam­i­lies of those who died,” he said.

Bri­er­ley served in the Marines dur­ing the Korean War and said he knows the sig­nif­i­cance a coun­try’s flag has for ser­vice mem­bers.

“Many times, I’ve re­flected on what the flag on Iwo Jima meant to ev­ery Marine that served,” he said. “Those col­ors don’t run.”

A few months ago, some­one with ties to Ar­gentina asked Bri­er­ley if he would con­sider do­nat­ing the flag to an Ar­gen­tine mil­i­tary mu­seum. The re­quest ran­kled Bri­er­ley, who felt the flag shouldn’t go to the coun­try that sank the ship.

“It would be an in­sult to the guys who died,” he said.

The re­quest, though, prompted him to start look­ing for a way to get the flag back to its home­land. He quickly en­listed the help of Bill Con­ley a lo­cal his­to­rian and re­tired teacher who served in the Army Reser ves.

Con­ley reached out to Bell­man, whose fa­ther is a former col­league of Con­ley, and Bell­man in turn con­tacted a friend in the Royal Marines with whom he served in Afghanistan. The Royal Marine passed the re­quest up his chain of com­mand, and word even­tu­ally reached the Bri­tish Em­bassy in Washington, which dis­patched McHugh to Ne­wark to re­ceive the flag.

“It’s a neat way for the peo­ple of Delaware to reach out to the peo­ple of Bri­tain,” Con­ley said.

McHugh said the Royal Navy will find an ap­pro­pri­ate place to dis­play the flag so that sur­vivors of the

Sh­effield can see it. “For us, it’s a very his­toric ship,” he said. “The op­por­tu­nity to take the flag back is a real honor.”


U.S. Marines fold a Bri­tish flag dur­ing a cer­e­mony in which the flag was re­turned to the Royal Navy.


Maj. Justin Bell­man (left), of the U.S. Marines Corps, passes a Bri­tish flag to Com­man­der Richard McHugh, of the Royal Navy.


Former Ne­wark Po­lice Chief Bill Bri­er­ley speaks Wednesday dur­ing a cer­e­mony at which he re­turned a Bri­tish flag to the Royal Navy.

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