Chichester Reunion, May 2014
Annual reunion weekend – Chichester – 2nd – 5th May 2014
70th anniversary of the battles for Cassino, Anzio, Ancona, Coriano Ridge, Gemmano, Forli and Florence
The lengthy journey from North Devon to Chichester went quite smoothly and easily – I was surprised really, given that it was May Day bank holiday weekend. When we arrived mid-afternoon at South Downs Holiday Village (SDHV) in Bracklesham Bay there were already a few veterans and members enjoying the sunshine in the grounds. Before long, with coaches bringing members from Kent and taxis ferrying people from the train station, as well as those who had driven, numbers quite rapidly increased. There was much chatter, “Good to see you again” and hugs all round, as we came together for our first meal of the weekend. I must report straight away, that SDHV meal standards were outstanding all weekend – hot food (where appropriate), excellent choices and brilliant service. Our table was served by a young Polish man, who had a superb sense of humour and he nick-named Maureen as “trouble 1” and me as “trouble 2”! Entertainment was laid on in the ballroom after dinner – Friday night being a tribute to musical shows. I have to be honest and say it wasn’t my cup of tea, but I think a good number did enjoy it.
Saturday morning after breakfast, those who were attending the Annual General Meeting gathered in the room set aside for us. Turnout was really good – we had to request extra seating! The formalities of the agenda were dealt with quite straightforwardly. Under ‘Any other business’ there was good involvement, discussion and suggestions from attendees, particularly concerning the viability of next year’s reunion and also an increase to subscription rates. All-in-all a really positive meeting.
After lunch (another three-course affair!) everyone had free time until dinner in the evening. So, with good weather a gentle walk to the beach was possible, or a trip in to Chichester for a wander round the cathedral and shops – even an afternoon nap in the sunshine. . . Most definitely a good chance to chat to old and new friends – and other guests were still arriving! Following dinner on Saturday night, there was a time of dancing and cabaret to round off day two of our weekend – how fast it was going!
Sunday morning and the sun was shining (if a little breezy), but the forecast was good for the whole day. Prayers were being answered! Everyone ate a hearty brunch then headed back to their chalets to dress, ready for the service and parade. For a few of us there was the added excitement of a reception, hosted by the Deputy Mayor of Chichester, Councillor David Siggs. This was an opportunity for the National Committee to meet and greet the civic dignitaries (High Sheriff of West Sussex, Deputy Lieutenant of West Sussex, Chairman of West Sussex County Council and the Clerk of Chichester Council, as well as representatives of military/defence and High Commission staff from the allied nations who had been alongside us during WWII). This year we were especially delighted to have received acceptances from Italy, India, Canada and New Zealand. At 1.15pm we left the Council House and walked round to the cathedral where the standard bearers, Company Colour Sergeant and Drill Sergeant of the Irish Guards were awaiting inspection by the distinguished guests.
The service of remembrance and dedication was led this year by acting Dean, Tim Schofield and assisted by Italy Star Association’s East Kent Branch Padre, Reverend Bill Hornsby. During the service, the National and branch standards, Union and Royal British Legion standards were received; Lt Commander Tony Crisp played Last Post and Reveille; wreaths were laid by the Deputy Mayor, Colonel David Blum, my Grand-daughter Carys, (in memory of the founders of the Association) and myself (on behalf of all members of the Association). Further acts of remembrance were made by the military and Association branch representatives.
Following the service the Irish Guards Colour and Drill Sergeants, marshalled veterans, standards and all those members who wished to march. Once again we had the Pipes and Drums to head the parade and Colonel Toby Sewell did us proud leading the way. The City didn’t seem as busy as in previous years but nonetheless the veterans were applauded as they marched past the Council House where Deputy Lieutenant Sir Brian Bartelott took the salute alongside the Deputy Mayor.
The band played on for a short while after the parade had dismissed, their music adding to the sense of occasion.
So, then it was ‘everyone back on the coach’ to return to Bracklesham Bay and the prospect of another lovely dinner! Once our distinguished guests had arrived, the bugle called everyone in to the dining room, then sounded again for the top table guests. After-dinner speeches and toasts followed the welcome by Deputy Mayor Councillor David Siggs. I responded on behalf of the Association and Lt Colonel Mike Beale, who is the New Zealand Defence Staff Military Advisor, was the guest speaker.* Maureen and I gave the thirty-one Italy Star veterans present, a booklet containing poignant photographs to mark the 70th anniversary of the battles at Monte Cassino. We called together these veterans for a group photo – hopefully we will be able to print a copy here in the magazine, but rest assured a copy will be sent to all the Italy Star veterans who attended.
We then had to say goodbye to our guests and thanked them for sharing in the events of our special day. The rest of us then settled in to an evening of music, chatter, bumper raffle, sing-song of favourite war-time songs and cabaret. All too soon, it seemed (despite it being a long and full day), the weekend was over, and very slowly, the ballroom emptied of guests.
To end our weekend, we all briefly met for breakfast on Monday morning (how could we possibly eat anything else – but we did!) before it was time for us all to go in our different directions home. I do believe that everyone had a lovely weekend and we would all be holding on to special memories of the events and people we had met, chatted to and reminisced with.
My grateful thanks go to everyone who helped with the preparation of the weekend and those who assisted during the weekend – it was a very special time.
15th – 18th May 2015 – proposed reunion weekend – pencil the date into your diaries, please!
*Please look for a copy of Mike’s speech (without Maori) reproduced further-on in the magazine.