Annual Reunion 2015 Report
Italy Star Association 1943-1945 – Annual Reunion, 15th – 18th May 2015
Report by Mary Tidy, National Chairman
Time passes by so fast – it really doesn’t seem like a full year since we all last met at South Downs Holiday Village, to begin another reunion weekend; but we were!
Mid-Friday afternoon and slowly, quite slowly, the trickle of cars, taxis and then a coach, brought veterans, families and supporters into the fold. Hugs and welcomes were plentiful and it was so good to greet everyone.
The year had taken from us some prominent veteran members and we felt the loss quite markedly. Also, Frank Horn had to remain at home due to having fallen and broken his hip. Whilst Frank was out of hospital, it would not be possible (or wise) for him to make the journey from Kent through to Christchurch.
After dinner on Friday evening, entertainment was a VE themed big band sound. Music and songs were right up our street! It encouraged dancing and singing along – a really enjoyable evening.
Saturday morning was set aside for the Annual General Meeting. The turnout for the meeting wasn’t large, but we worked through the agenda quite happily. When it came to discussing the future format of our reunion weekends the consensus of opinion was that whilst we should all meet at South Downs, the parade and service in the Cathedral should cease. The spirit of our veterans doesn’t seem to diminish but sadly, marching capabilities are becoming a real struggle. It was decided that a drum-head service, either in the grounds of the holiday village (or inside if the weather is poor), would be ideal. So the motion was carried.
Further discussion took place regarding the ‘laying up’ of the National Standard. The final decision was to re-assess this on a yearly basis, whilst keeping it in use for as long as is possible.
An appeal was launched to raise funding for the refurbishment/replacement of the Association’s memorial plinth at the National Memorial Arboretum (NMA). I had prepared a display showing how it looks now, alongside the proposed style. I provided figures of the total needed for the works including representation on our behalf at the NMA planning meeting. The total is just under £6,000.
Delegates were very supportive of the appeal and publicity will increase now to raise awareness; this includes a ‘flyer’ and donation slip to go out with future magazines.
Saturday afternoon is classed as free time – the weather being good, enabled walks to the beach, trips into Chichester or just sitting in the sunshine at the holiday village. A lovely evening meal was followed by entertainment and most took advantage of an early night, to be fully ready for Sunday.
Sunday dawned bright and fresh, as we all made our way over to the restaurant for Brunch. After which, we retired to don our best dresses, suits, caps and medals. The National Committee took a taxi into Chichester for the reception laid-on by the Mayor, at the Council House for civic and military dignitaries. This year that included the Lord Lieutenant, High Sheriff, Councillors of the District Council and West Sussex County Council, Mayor, Town Clerk and Military attaches from Italy, Poland and India.
From the Council House we walked round to the Cathedral to be in place for the inspection of standards prior to the service. Regimental Sergeant Major Bryn Taylor and Colour Sergeant Frankie Whelan of the Irish Guards, led the parade.
The new Dean of Chichester, The Very Reverend Stephen Waine, led a wonderful service with poignant readings relevant to our veterans stand against the foe, from old and new testaments, as well as resounding hymns. Wreath-laying, to honour our veterans and service folk, took place in S t George’s chapel during the service.
Afterwards our Parade and Colour Sergeant assembled veterans, military representatives and family supporters. With the Rose & Thistle pipes and drum band in front, Colonel Toby Sewell and Colonel David Blum (both Italy Star veterans) led the parade through the city centre, past the saluting dais at the Council House and dismiss in Crane Street.
Travelling back on the coach to South Downs Holiday Village, there seemed a quiet mood of reflection on what may well be the last time we parade in Chichester city centre.
We welcomed the military and civic dignitaries prior to the bugle call for dinner. Once again we were served a wonderful feast, including Italian dishes (to keep the flavour of the occasion in mind). There were several toasts made – to guests, absent friends and The Association, and brief welcome speeches from the Mayor and myself.
After dinner, we said goodbye to a number of our guests and settled down to organise the bumper raffle and evening entertainment, which was rounded off by our veterans singing their particular signature tune “We are the D-Day dodgers”. If you are able, please do access the Association’s website and see the gallery of pictures which we have uploaded.
Monday morning, following breakfast, camp was disbanded and everyone headed home with more happy memories of a wonderful reunion weekend.