Report of Remembrance events in London
With three remembrance events to attend over the space of four days, I packed my bags and headed for London travelling by train. I was able to stay for the duration with Maureen (despite her being surrounded with packing boxes ready for moving house). My stay with her enabled us to do plenty of talking and discuss Association business, as well as have some play time!
I arrived late Wednesday afternoon and after a well needed cuppa, began to relax – we did turn in early after checking the weather forecast for the morning and the Field of Remembrance service.
Thursday 6th November dawned bright and dry, if a little fresh, so we wrapped up warm and headed for the train. We arrived at Waterloo, bussed over to Westminster Abbey and found our plot outside the Abbey. We had extra remembrance crosses to place in the ground of our plot, which was soft enough, but I had taken a mallet just in case! The mallet had caused the security camera to do “a double take”, but looking around us there were many others who had the same idea, as well as others who asked to borrow our mallet!
It wasn’t long before other Association members started to arrive; by 10.30 am we had welcomed those who had booked tickets – including our President and plot representative Colonel David Blum; other veterans were Derek Mant and Tom Gatford. Joining us in London for the first time was Bryan Woolnough (together with his grand-daughters). Bryan, (who was born in London), now lives near Carnforth in Lancashire and had travelled down to attend the service for the first time.
The short service commenced at 10.50am, during which HRH Prince Henry laid his personal cross of remembrance. After prayers, Last Post, two minutes silence, and Reveille, the official party began their walk through the plots. Unfortunately, by the time they neared us, we think Prince Harry had already spent too long chatting, so he by-passed ours and several other plots.
After more chatting and several photo shoots, we gradually said our goodbyes and filtered out into the grounds to visit other regimental plots which our relatives had served with.
Maureen and I were treated to lunch at the mess in Wellington Barracks by Association member Frank O’Neill. Frank had himself served with the Irish Guards. Whilst there, we were able to look at the wonderful displays of historic memorabilia which line the walls, including portraits osseveral commanding officers who had played a part in the Italian campaigns. Frank then took us across to Covent Garden to the Acts and Actors Club (Frank himself is a member) due to his part-time work on stage/screen! It was a quiet day at the club, so no well-known people were in evidence, but many pictures of stars from yesteryear (including Jack Warner, Cyril Fletcher) covered the walls.
I had hoped to meet friends from the Midlands who were in London to visit the Tower poppies, but due to the colossal crowds who were in London to view them, time ran out – so Maureen and I headed out of the city, to rest our feet and have a relaxing evening.
Friday was our “free day”, but we filled it with a visit to Hampton Court Palace and gardens – a real treat for me, as I had never been to visit. Having heard that Katherine Jenkins had been married here just a couple of weeks previously, I was imagining her singing in the beautiful rooms and sweeping through the halls and staircases, with her gorgeous wedding dress. The Palace is beautifully preserved and shown to its best, with treasures in the house and wonderful specimen trees in the grounds. It was a feast of history and to top it all, we were blessed with glorious sunshine to wander through the grounds and gardens.
Saturday was a very wet day – so we used it as admin time, until mid-afternoon. Maureen drove me to the station as it was raining, and I caught a train up to Victoria station, to meet up with Betty Correa the wife of our Association’s National standard bearer, Joe. Betty and I were honoured to have tickets for the Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance, at the Royal Albert Hall. We battled through the rain and waited patiently to queue through security barriers; found our seats and introduced ourselves to the other guests who were in the box with us – Baroness Fookes (President of the War Widows Association), Dr Paul Mealor and Reverend Dr David Coulter (Chaplain-General HM Land Forces), as well as representatives of the Royal British Legion. The Queen and Prince Philip arrived along with other members of the Royal family and the evening performance began.
For those reading this note, who were not able to watch the Festival of Remembrance, taking part were various military bands, some of the cast from War Horse, Sol 3 Mio, a controversial appearance by Joss Stone and Jeff Beck (it was presented too loud and quite indistinguishable). Top notch for us was the haunting, self-penned song by Jim Radford, “The Shores of Normandy”. Jim is thought to have been the youngest participant in the Allied landing at Arromanches, in Normandy. Moving stories from bereaved families alongside the drum-head service were so good, and the evening ended by acknowledging the Queen with the National anthem and three-cheers.
Fortunately the rain had stopped as we came out from the Royal Albert Hall and headed for public transport to take us back to our homes, to prepare ourselves for a really early start on the following morning (Sunday) to attend the Cenotaph Remembrance service.
Sunday morning came round rather too quickly; Maureen and I headed to the station to catch the 7.48am train to Waterloo. From there we walked across underneath the London Eye and on to Westminster Bridge, then on toward Whitehall, through the security barriers. Once we arrived on Horse Guards Parade we collected our identification board and found the column position and waited for all those who had applied for tickets for this unique event. Steadily the crowds built up, as well as the volume of chat, as friends greeted friends and veterans met with veterans. The columns grew and grew until it was time for us to form-up properly and be marshalled through on to Whitehall. It was very special for us to have three veterans to head-up our group; Frank Horn; Colonel David Blum (our National President) and Jack Andrew (from Sheffield), who at the age of 94, took the average age of our leading row to the total age of 275!! Jack had not been to a Cenotaph parade before – I gently made him aware of the length of time to stand, then march, but he seemed quite unfazed, telling me he did 9 holes of golf each week and walked regularly! True to his word, Jack set the pace when we eventually marched off and Frank laid the wreath on behalf of everyone belonging to the Italy Star Association 1943-1945. The BBC were good to their word and mentioned Frank personally and the Association too.
It was a wonderful turn-out of descendants of veterans; in total our group numbered 40, which I think is a record. Thank you all, so much, for making the effort to travel to London, from all over the country – once again the Association received good coverage and our veterans (past and present) are being remembered.
Since returning home to Devon, I have been inundated with enquiries following the excellent media coverage – so my keyboard is working overtime helping people to trace their relatives’ war service records and also encouraging them to join the Association in memory of those relatives.