|Go to Photo Album 1|
image to the left is a far cry from the "heady days" of when
Great Britain had a fleet and even in my day we knew this establishment
to be Victory Barracks, and affectionately referred to as "Viccy
Barracks". The point of showing you this photo taken by myself
is to give you an impression of what once was but sadly
Behind these magnificent gates gathered some 130 ex serving, and a small handful of serving members with partners and wives for an evening of joyful entertainment and in many cases the "reunion" of old friends who had not seen each other for over 40 years!
Each year there always seems to be some small controversy, comment, or complaint about venue, security, parking and the lack of one thing or another. I say we all collectively MUST get over our histrionics and grasp before us what we have today, and truly love and respect our past. We were very lucky for the most part whilst at the same time respecting those who served during any war or conflict.
I will spare you all the boredom of my flights over the pond and the in between bits and "cut to the chase" as the saying goes.
On my arrival at London's Heathrow airport I was met by Tony Oliver who had courteously and generously offered his services as a taxi driver. I cannot thank him enough for looking after me during those few precious days that many of us shared in early October 2004. We arrived in Portsmouth in excellent time considering the volume of traffic from the London area coming south and after a hearty full English breakfast in Southsea we secured our accommodation.
As always seems to be the ritual, we planned to meet several stalwarts in the "Three Crowns" not much of a short walk from Nelson's front door and it's always interesting just who might show up. This year certainly provided several very pleasant surprises.
On the Saturday we met with several whom we had expected to see and we were later to be joined by someone I don't believe I have met since certainly before leaving the service in 1976. Tony received a call on his mobile from an old fellow Yorkshire man friend now living in Dorset. The caller had seen the web site with a short note on the "Events" page and an "emoticon" stating something to the effect that "I guess you missed it" and see you in 2005!
During the chat with Steve Swann, it was clear that even at this short notice, if you have the right contacts and a will to overcome an obstacle, then much can be achieved. The only obstacle that Steve would encounter would be the short journey from Blandford Forum to Portsmouth. Sure enough, a little later in the afternoon he arrived and received a warm welcome from us all and I must say that it was a great pleasure to renew this old acquaintance from way back when, but now I regard him as a good personal friend with great values and a warm personality.
The Spain contingent also showed up represented by John Wright and Mik Hickman both whom can be seen looking ever younger on the 2004 Reunion Photo Album which also can be accessed from the main page.
At this point I must refer back to a magnificent feat that Lynn "Jamie" James undertook by riding his motorcycle from Gloucester to HMY Britannia (now in Leith) and back to Portsmouth. His goal [Thrash for Cash] was to support the charities affiliated to the Royal Marine Band service but sadly it would appear the support was sadly lacking. Speaking personally, no sooner had I received his message about this marvelous gesture on his part, I immediately created a web page to promote him and I hoped that with other support he could have realized fully his ambition to raise important funds for the charities. Although it seems right now he failed, it's MY intention to use this page to address this lack of communication and some ineptitude and use this as a platform to remind you all just how important it is to support the funds that are in place for those ex RMB's who are finding life more of a challenge than those of us who are truly fortunate to have good health and can survive without outside assistance. His own report with photographs will appear soon on these pages and I urge you all to search inside your hearts and your consciences to try and support with only what you can afford by acknowledging this extraordinary gesture on Jamie's part. I am told that Britannia looked after him and bearing in mind that he battled tiredness and awful weather, he surely did a remarkable and commendable thing on behalf of charity.
arrived at the pub looking very tired and a little dismayed about the
apathy surrounding his attempt to raise monies but the achievement in
my view was not lost.
The evening began typically by the traditional "tot" on entry to the Chief's Mess and after a short time of convivial chat and meeting old friends we all made our way to the gymnasium, not for much physical exercise I'm happy to declare but to sit in awe of the amazing and professional display performed by the Junior Band under training at the school of music based there in HMS Nelson.
Their musical maturity shone through and I can not speak highly enough of the "warm" sound they produced. Congratulations to PDM Cris Davis and all his staff for the high standards that are being produced and maintained.
After the display we all returned back to the mess and I'm happy to report also that many of the display band joined us for drinks and a chat. It's also interesting to note that several of my old chums have their own off-spring's now under training and of course today they are sons and daughters. See the album for some examples.
The buffet was truly delicious and complements go to the chef and the team for a great choice of food. I personally had several helpings of the chicken curry.
The evening was truly "lit up" by old friends meeting up after in some cases 40 years! I know he was a little animated but we could all forgive Sid Sheard for his excitement I'm sure. Some weeks ago Sid had dropped me an e-mail to express his joy after having seen the web site and since then having contacted old buddies from times past. At that time I was not so sure myself if I was going to be able to make this reunion but I am pleased to say that meeting Sid (more than likely again, since I am pretty sure I recall him when I was a young boy trainee in the 60's) was a great treat. The photo's will reflect his excitement and if anyone reading this report didn't make this one, you MUST consider what you are missing. Truly, a wonderful evening had by all!
Tony, Steve and myself had breakfast together and then we made our way to Old Portsmouth to the lovely Cathedral for the memorial service. Finding ourselves a little early we had coffee with other arriving friends just across the street on the corner from St. Thomas'.
The weather was cool and blustery with a slight hint of rain but not really imposing much of an inconvenience to ones receding hairline or ones attire. We headed inside and took our seats.
The opening pre-service music was well chosen and very nicely played and this isn't the forum for criticism so let's just stress that overall the sound was first class bearing in mind the unkind acoustic for an ensemble this size. The choir sang marvelously and I was deeply moved on many occasions but when hearing Guest's "For the fallen" I lost my composure for a short time.
The dedication fanfare so ably executed drew us closer to the end of this somber and thoughtful occasion. I can say that the experience of standing shoulder to shoulder with old colleagues in remembrance is a deep and humbling feeling. I love to sing, myself being a chorister and it was a joy to be with old friends again and singing our traditional hymns we all love.
After the service, many of us repaired to the RMA at Eastney (see pics in the album) then followed by the other yearly ritual of Wetherspoons in the city center after closing time at the RMA. See more of that also in the album. In closing this not so short report, I can only venture to express how successful the weekend was.
A closing gesture of thanks
Pictured to the right you will see a very nice photograph of one of the organizers if not THE main reason for not just the evening's success on the Saturday, but the whole weekend which culminated with a truly wonderful and deeply moving cathedral service at our familiar Old Portsmouth venue.
WO II C. "Tommy" Lawton here displays his coolness and yet warm smile which depicts to me his assuredness and his confidence in the success of "our" weekend.
On behalf of each and everyone of those who were privileged to attend I wish to voice a warm "thank you" to you and your team. You truly did us all a great service.
PS: I wish to convey my deepest and warm thanks to my assistant who enhanced not just this report by her creativity, but for the length and breadth of this entire site. Sincerely.