Portsmouth’s former Lord Mayor reveals touching true story behind latest book

The Lord Mayor of Portsmouth Mr Richard Sotnick hands the Freedom Scroll to HRH Prince Charles in the Guildhall
 on  February 23, 1979
The Lord Mayor of Portsmouth Mr Richard Sotnick hands the Freedom Scroll to HRH Prince Charles in the Guildhall on February 23, 1979
Picture: Shutterstock

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Former Lord Mayor of Portsmouth Richard Sotnick has brought to life a haunting story of hope and love in his latest book.

The 210-page book reveals the true story of devout Catholic Olive Bell, giving insight into an extraordinary 55-year search for her infinite love, Ben Bloom, who went missing in the Second World War.

‘It’s a most remarkable book. It’s about two families, one an Orthodox Jewish family and the other a girl who had a terrible upbringing,’ Richard said.

Olive and Ben met by chance, and despite their differing backgrounds fell madly in love.

They had two children, but tragedy struck when Ben’s Lancaster bomber crashed in 1944.

Richard explained: ‘The Lancaster bomber had seven members of the crew, six of them found dead.’

The front cover of The Gods Divided

The front cover of The Gods Divided

Ben’s disappearance left Olive stranded with their two children, yet her devotion to him never strayed.

Richard said Olive - who is now dead - faced poverty and prejudice as a single mother in 1940s Britain. But she never stopped trying to work out what had happened to Ben after the crash.

Richard outlined the significance of the book. He said: ‘On the front of the cover you see the quotation translated: ‘Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods down it.’

‘It’s a beautiful phrase and this epitomises the background of the book.’

In the late 1960s Richard became involved in Portsmouth’s local politics, and was Lord Mayor from 1978 to 1979.

His passion for classical music led to the establishment of Portsmouth’s International String Quartet Competition. However Richard then moved to North London when the council stopped supporting the competition. It is now held at the Wigmore Hall.

Richard expressed his disappointment having left Portsmouth. He said: ‘Portsmouth’s leadership didn’t feel that they wanted to retain it, they felt they had other priorities, even for £10,000 a year. So we had to leave, and I was really upset when we did.’

During his time at Portsmouth Grammar School, Richard received great inspiration from his English teacher, Tony Snelling, to whom he has dedicated the book. Richard added: ‘He was a wonderful man, he had great inspirational teaching abilities so I had a great admiration for him. I was terribly sad when I had to leave Portsmouth, and he didn’t want me to go.’

The Gods Divided by Richard Sotnick’ is now available for £8 in paperback and £3 as an eBook.