by Lt. Col. Bobby Haslam 64C.
50 years seems to be a long time but as the 50th anniversary loomed I always thought that I would attend the AOBA reunion. I had attended a couple when I was in dear old Arborfield, so I had some idea of what the day was all about, even meeting up with Eric Senior, the only one from 64C - we hadn’t seen each other since 1967; it is amazing how people don’t really change much over the years. I was also very lucky with my last posting to be invited to the final Passing Out Parade of the College, it was a great day and all those leaving were very proud to have been part of Arborfield and the ‘Boys School’ system.
As the anniversary got closer I finally looked up the AOBA web site and sent off my details and thought no more of it, that is until towards the end of last year when Alec Powell sent me an em ail asking me to confirm a few of my details with a return of Wait Out, I may have a job for you! I departed for New Zealand, to find their summer sunshine and thought no more of dear Alec. It was while I was in NZ that I contacted David Schofiefld about payment, his response was why have you not replied to my letter - what letter? He explained and sent the letter electronically.
The letter was a real surprise, inviting me to be the Reviewing Officer in July 2014, the 50th anniversary of the 64 intakes. Although I had been involved in many parades, especially during my time at SEAE, to actually take the salute for the AOBA parade and more importantly your peer group from 50 yrs ago, was a very privileged task. I replied straight away, accepting of course.
Then comes the ‘What do I Do’. As soon as we got back from NZ at the end of Mar, it was straight onto David - what exactly do I have to do. It is very easy he said; Just Stand on the saluting Dais and smile at every body and try not to linger with 64C when walking through the ranks. It should be a nice day out I told my wife, that was until I had lunch with David, Ray and Pete Moran. A speech after lunch and oh yes you MUST wear a hat!! I said I have a Flat cap for shooting, a base ball cap for golf, will that do? No was the reply, a bowler or similar.
Living in Wiltshire, it is not easy to find a gents hat shop, so good old Google to the rescue and off to Bath I went, to a very small hat shop, opposite the Hilton. I was greeted by two lovely ladies, who knew everything about hats, but thought I was going to a military parade in jeans, shirt and tie and suit jacket. When we actually discussed the style of the hat, I was informed that that particular hat was one of Mr Foyles’ (Foyles War) favourites, so armed with that info the deal was done. All I need to do now is to write a speech and oh yes while I am doing that can I write an article for the OBAN from a Reviewing Officers Point of View. So I put my thoughts on paper and with a lot of red ink and of course input from my dear wife, the speech is finished the night before we set off for the Reunion, I’ve just got to deliver it after the lunch.
The weather forecast for the weekend was not good. We planned to travel up on the Friday, which was to be the warmest day of the year but Saturday was to be wet, no not wet, but heavy downpours, although there was to be a gap in the weather between 0900 hrs and 1200 hrs, hopefully we should have a good day for the parade, so I thought.
The drive up through the Cotswold countryside was lovely, especially in our open topped sports car, however around Coventry all that changed, traffic and roadworks and 28 degrees heat; after 30 minutes of this heat and loosing 1st gear, I finally made it to the A5 and Hinckley, with 1st gear returning after being cooled.
On arrival at the hotel it was as if we were back in 1967, instantly recognisable faces and of course all the stories started to come out. With Alec Powell welcoming everyone, Ken Stead with a pint in hand, Pete Hull informing me of my misdemeanours of Jeep Land, the chat was full of welcomes and the handshakes never really stopped.
The reception on Friday evening was a Curry Night, and it was a great success, combined with the recognising of faces made for excellent entertainment. Gone are the days of hard copy and “In” are the iPads - I hadn’t remembered pictures being taken in the 60’s, but they were now on the iPads.
Alex Burt and Tony Church (TeeCee) 55A entertained us on the pipes and drums to a great reception and it brought back many memories of Boys School when I was a “Bandy” in the Corps of Drum. I remember the weekends when we played at Fetes or paraded together on Saturday morning.
We were joined on our table by Bernard Maryan of 48B, he had some wonderful tales to tell of Post War experiences, but what struck me were his views on attitudes and values of 1948 were exactly the as mine of 1964 and what I had planned to say in my speech. One of the main topics of conversation was what the weather would be like for Saturday, all agreeing that we would have a window in the weather system ideal for our parade. So we all went to bed happy.
Saturday morning came, overcast and raining but still confident the window in the weather would happen. So after a hearty breakfast, it was time to get dressed for the big day, however, it was still raining.
I always listen “to my wife”, who recommended that I should put my speech in a plastic folder just in case it does rain – oh how right she was!
We were loaded Into the buses and headed of for the journey to the National Arboretum. We arrived in a light drizzle - the Met Office had got it right “hurray”. That was until 5 minutes before we were called up to the Parade. I’m glad I put the speech in a plastic wallet because it didn’t just rain, but the heavens opened and as Reviewing Officer, David Schofield informed me no brolly; I am glad I had to wear the hat.
It didn’t dampen the pride I felt when I was taking the salute, every single man marched with his head held high and performed immaculate drill, even getting the Boys School halt shuffle in, it sounded very good as the foot dragged along the road. Pouring rain didn’t deter the enthusiasm of the 64 intake or me on my tour of the ranks.
The Drum Head Service was very emotional and again the heavy rain could not deter the Padre or the others in delivering the Service. Everyone stood, listened and sung with determination, with Alex Burt delivering the New Apprentice’s Lament with perfection and timed to the second in the Minute Silence. The end of the Service saw the rain ease off enabling us all to have a good look at the fitting memorial to all Apprentices. There was time now before lunch to think how many of 64 intake took part in this 50th celebration parade, with great pride.
I was hoping to enjoy my lunch, but to my surprise, Brian Hutchins said “Bobby, we will do your speech now”. So no tea, no wine and soaked through, I stood up.
I decided to go straight in on what I thought Boys School had given me, Values and Standards. I believe that I have maintained these and has stood each and every one of us, young and old, 1938 to 2004 in good stead. It enabled all of us to leave Arborfield with a solid grounding in life and technical skills, whether we stayed in the Army or went to Civvy Street.
An excellent lunch was served and with more people recognised, the voice was now starting to weaken, and I have a Dinner Night to get through.
I had a very relaxing afternoon enjoying a swim whilst the AGM took place, and then prepared for the drinks reception in the Rotunda. This was a lovely place for the next meet and greet with the rest of 64c. The more interesting activity was what, where, or how was 64 intake going to get into dinner. I think a total of six separate instructions were given to me, so with 5 minutes to go I had to herd all of 64 intake, minus ladies into two ranks and give the orders for our march into dinner. Trying to give drill orders to 48 Old Boys, some of which had not had a drill order for some 40 years was proving to be difficult but with Alex Burt leading the way we entered to rapturous applause. It had all worked out well.
The dinner was a splendid affair, with Alec Powell rounding it all off with a wonderful and very apt speech, he had all the Old Boys going with his new requirements for his database, then my final duty to round up 64 intake in the Rotunda for a photo - the one we all want to keep.
It was a great end to a great day. I had met some wonderful past Apprentices, who told amazing stories and I renewed a lot of old acquaintances from 64C.
Breakfast the following morning was a long event, talking about how everyone enjoyed the weekend, swapping phone numbers and email addresses. Then home in somewhat cooler weather than the Friday. Any apprehension I had about my task, vanished on Friday evening, when I met up with old friends and both Dot and I had a great weekend.
So to the next Reviewing Officer, enjoy your weekend and I hope you get better weather than us. To all Old Boys, long may Boys School Old Boys Association remain.