Spen's space link

THE world still marvels at the incredible achievements of the Apollo astronauts - 40 years after man first landed on the moon. Last month's anniversary was marked across the globe, but how many people know that the Spen Valley has a very special and unique link to the moon landings?

From 1963-77 Father Paddy Roche was parish priest at the Holy Spirit Church in Heckmondwike.

He was a very charismatic man and his love of golf led him to become chaplain to the Ryder Cup team.

He also befriended the Apollo astronauts, watching the launch of Apollo 17 from the Cape Kennedy Space Centre on December 7, 1972 at the invitation of Eugene Cernan, the crew's commander.

And it was from the space centre that Father Roche posted a commemorative cover, bearing the badges of each of the Apollo launches from missions seven to 17, to the editor of the Spenborough Guardian.

He flew back to the UK after the launch in time to see the actual moon landing from his home in the presbytery in Bath Road.

He told the Guardian that witnessing the launch had been a 'once-in-a-lifetime' experience.

"The lift off was the most splendid sight at night," he said, adding that the atmosphere was tense during the build-up to blast off.

Father Roche's vantage point was about three miles from the launch pad - the nearest distance for spectators.

"In the immediate area there were 10,000 people watching - and over a million around the coast," he said.

Just a few weeks later Father Roche again appeared in the Spenborough Guardian holding what must surely be the most treasured golf ball in the world.

It had been given to him by Apollo 14 astronaut Alan Shepard who had famously played a couple of 'out of this world' golf shots on the surface of the moon.

He and Father Roche had played golf in Nassau - for a golf ball - and Father Roche won.

But it wasn't until a few months later that he received his prize, along with the inscription "First Golf Ball on the Moon".

"I had no idea that Alan had this ball in mind when we played, but I might have been more nervous if I had known," said Father Roche.

He also revealed he had turned down an offer of 50 for the ball.

"I don't want to part with it," he added.

Father Roche also gave the crew of one of the Apollo missions a prayer which had been written by the children from the Holy Spirit School and they took it with them to the moon.

Among his other celebrity friends were Hollywood stars Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.

After leaving Heckmondwike he went to a parish in Ilkley and died some years ago.

* Do any readers know the whereabouts of the lunar golf ball now?