Reunion Report 2012
By John Swarbrick, 62A.
Well, another AOBA reunion is over, and despite the fact that everyone I spoke to enjoyed themselves, I cannot help but remember that famous John Cleese catchphrase from Monty Python, “And now for something completely different.” For those of us from the 1962 intakes, it was of course our 50th anniversary year. We had hoped, along with many others, that we could have celebrated where it all began; at Arborfield. Alas, that was not to be. It became evident at the reunion last year that the 1961 intakes were to be the last to have that privilege. So, overtaken by events and our dreams in tatters, we had no option but to accept the inevitable. The break with Arborfield had to come at some point and we 62ers happened to be the unlucky ones, but putting a positive note on it all, we can say we were the first to celebrate with a new location and format.
The Barcelo Hinckley Island Hotel in Leicestershire was the new venue, and I must say right here that the hotel management and staff did a wonderful job, not only for the accommodation, standard of catering and service, but all done with the utmost efficiency and politeness, so a big thank you to them. The hotel, being in the midlands, made it easier for some to travel to this year, but of course a longer trip for those living in the south and southwest. However, the principal choice of this hotel was for its close proximity to the National Memorial Arboretum (NMA) at Alrewas, a venue thought by many to be a fitting place to hold our parade and drumhead service, more of which later.
Friday afternoon is the traditional time for attendees to ‘report for duty’, although this year a gathering at the Bramshill Hunt for a few ‘warmers into the bank’ prior to booking in was sorely missed. Having registered with the hotel, and settled into our rooms, it was time for the Reception Evening, which, as in previous years included a curry supper. Not being a curry person, I cannot comment, but some thought it could have been ‘hotter’, but then again you cannot cater for everybody’s taste. Meeting old friends once again, and rekindling long lost friendships is as important now as it has always been, and the camaraderie and apprentice spirit was in evidence everywhere. More than a few stories were told, exaggerated no doubt by more than a few drinks! There was a departure from the norm this year in that the wives or partners of those who wished to invite them, were in attendance. This has caused some controversy, but personally, I had no problem with it, and indeed, the presence of the ladies has in my view added value to the weekend. With the prospect of an early start the next day, there were not many remaining when the bar closed at 2359hrs.
Saturday dawned with threatening clouds and the prospect of rain. Breakfast over, and all ‘booted and suited’ the coaches to transport us all to the NMA departed around 0900hrs. On arrival, further acquaintances were made with those who had opted not to arrive on the Friday. This was for me, and many others, the first visit to the NMA, and I have to say I was impressed, and think it a fitting memorial to the fallen. The parade this year was always going to be a problem. The NMA does not have a square, so any drill would be restricted to the main pathways. Not ideal, but as always you adapt and make of it what you can. One advantage however, there would be no echo bouncing off the ‘Jeepland’ block from the base drum! The parade commander as usual was our AOBA chairman Col Brian Hutchins (61B) ably assisted by WO2 (CSM) Grant Davidson REME and Sgt Mike Bysh both from 11 Trg Bn REME, and whom volunteered to give up their weekend. Well done lads, I know what it is like to be a volunteer! After a one minute of silence, which happens every day at 1100hrs at the NMA, the parade set off to the accompaniment of the Leicester and Rutland pipe band ably led by Pipe Major Phil Duthie. The reviewing officer this year was also an ex-boy, Maj Gen Gerry Berragan CB (48B), who is Patron of the Memorial Fund. Watched by the assembled crowd and by members of the general public visiting the NMA, the salute was taken and the march past completed. Some minor hitches, but all valuable experience for next year. It is worthy at this point to mention Roger Wilkinson (62B). Roger is confined to a wheelchair, but for his 50th anniversary he wanted to attend and take part in the parade. To do this Paul Tonkin also (62B) volunteered to drive Roger up to the NMA for the day, and also take charge of his chariot. Unfortunately, neither could stay for the dinner, but Roger was so impressed by the event that he is already making plans to attend for at least one night next year. An inspiration to many more able than yourself Roger.
The parade over, it was time for the Drum Head Service, conducted as in previous years by the Revd Cannon Bev John (66A) at the recently dedicated Apprentice Memorial. During the day and having viewed many of the memorials at the NMA I have to say that ‘ours’ is outstanding and is a credit to all those involved in its conception and construction. A special thanks here also to Gordon Bonner (49B) and Mo Hope (59B) who gave up their time the day before to ensure the memorial was clean and everything in order. Thanks also to Alex Burt (62A) for his pipes after an excellent rendition of the Last Post and Reveille from an ex Royal Marines bugler. On a sadder note, as always, there were 26 crosses in memory of those who have passed on since last year, some were permanent staff but the majority obviously ex-boys. Our thanks must also go to the management and staff of the NMA who supported the event and provided the buffet afterwards.
The AGM started bang on time at 1700hrs, and there was much debate about the deviance from normal practice by inviting ladies for the weekend, and to attend the dinner. After discussion the consensus was that it was a good thing, so this will happen again next year. Presentations were given by each of the committee members, changes to the constitution voted through, and agreement that we should use the same venue for next year’s reunion, but probably in July rather than June.
And so to the Ladies Dinner Evening. Including ladies, 26 of us from the ’62 intakes took to the ‘top table’ dressed in our finery, and participated in a truly magnificent dinner, which was appreciated by all. Alex Burt once again piped us in and provided a medley of old favourites half way through. Other accompaniment was provided by the ‘String Sensations Quintet’ who were superb, but we did wonder if we were all in the right reunion after their rendition of the RAF March Past followed by the Dam Busters March! Speeches followed with Brian Hutchins reminding us all of our wonderful carefree childhood without the shackles of the now ever present scourge of ‘Health and Safety’ legislation. Ian Tilson (62A) responded for the ’62 intakes with a thankfully shorter speech than by some in previous years! Ian did note that there was only one representative present from the 1963 intakes, Calum Rendall (63C). A little bit of work to do for next year Calum! After all the toasts and nearly as an afterthought, the time honoured rendering of ‘The Reds’ was performed, sung with such gusto by all present that it must have roused other guests in the hotel.
Sunday, and the rain that had threatened the day before finally caught up with us, but who cared? The weekend was over, so after another hearty breakfast, all we had to do time to pack up, say our farewells and leave. Brilliant timing by the committee. All we need to do now is look forward to next year.
In closing, some thanks and facts. David ‘Tich’ Schofield (65A) took on the responsibility as secretary of the AOBA at the last reunion. Following a tried and tested path is one thing, but with all the changes this year, he and his helpers have organized an excellent reunion weekend. Some minor hiccups, but nothing that cannot be put right for next year. Thank you David and well done. Some 176 people booked in for the weekend, 79 of whom were wives or partners. There were 190 attendees on the Friday night and 265 attended the parade on Saturday. At dinner on Saturday 228 sat down for a splendid evening. For the 1962ers, well, a total of 29 attended at various points over the weekend of which 8 were ladies, way down on attendance from previous reunions, so our best wishes go to the 1963 intakes for next year. Good luck in your recruitment. A great weekend as ever, and I hope everyone will be looking forward to a repeat performance next year.