A Moving Return

by Gerry Lynch last modified 20 Oct, 2016 10:14 AM

Terry Waite comes back to Wiltshire church where he heard bells for first time after nearly five years as a hostage in Beirut

A Moving Return

The 1991 ringing team with Terry Waite (l-to-r): David Seymour, Godfrey Godwin, Wendy Bishop, Rose Swadden, Audrey Wannell.

“We had just finished ringing and we heard a knocking at the Church door”, says David Seymour, recalling an autumn night in 1991, “When we opened the door we were totally awestruck to see Terry Waite standing there.”

Terry Waite was a household name in the late 1980s and early 1990s, held hostage in Lebanon for nearly five years, kidnapped himself while working to free hostages. On his return, he developed a very special connection with a St Michael’s Church in Lyneham, near Royal Wootton Bassett, which he recently renewed.

Terry developed a reputation as a successful hostage negotiator after securing the release of a number of Anglican priests and laypeople held in Iran after the 1979 Revolution, and then the release of four British hostages held in Libya in 1984.

Acting as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s special envoy, Terry then started travelling to Beirut regularly at the height of the Lebanese Civil War to try and secure the release of American and British hostages. He initially met with success there too, before himself being taken hostage in January 1987. He was held for 1,763 days, the first four years of which were spent in solitary confinement.

He was finally released on 19 November 1991, and returned to this country via RAF Lyneham. The Archbishop of Canterbury requested that bells should be rung to celebrate his safe return.

At St Michael’s in Lyneham, a quarter peal was rung on 23 November for the occasion and Terry and his wife, who were still at Lyneham, heard the bells ringing. They went to the church, but the doors were locked, knocking loudly they gained entrance and met the ringers who had rung the quarter peal. These were Dave Seymour, Wendy Bishop, Godfrey Godwin, Rosemary Swadden, Audrey Wannell and Mark Edwards. In the visitors book he wrote, “This is the first English church I visited on my return from Lebanon.  Good to be home again.”

On 13 October 2016, Terry made a 25th anniversary visit to Lyneham and the bells were rung again. Some of the original team are no longer active ringers, but came to meet their famous visitor from a quarter century before.

“It was wonderful to see him looking so well and ‘larger than life’ 25 years later”, David Seymour commented on his second encounter with Terry Waite. David is the Tower Captain at Lyneham and one of those who rang on both occasions.

“Mr Waite wrote a lovely comment in the visitors’ book”, continued David, “thanking the ordinary people of this area for what they have done for so many. The area became well known for the repatriation ceremonies at Royal Wootton Bassett for soldiers who had died in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Others from the local area came along to ring the bells for the anniversary. As the media was present, it was felt that some general ringing was more suitable than a quarter peal, which would have taken around 45 minutes, but the bells rang again to welcome Terry Waite. 

The 25th anniversary team with Terry Waite (l-to-r): Jane Ridgwell, Ken Webb, Ruth Beavin, David Hacker, Dave Seymour and Wendy Bishop.

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