69ers 50th Anniversary at the AOBA Reunion 2019
About eighteen months ago, Mark Plimmer reminded me that it would be our 50th anniversary in 2019. Over time, I had been slowly trawling the internet to find ex-apprentices in my cohort (69b) and O.N.C class, some of whom were from 69c. The AOBA magazine had included a letter last year from Ken Harvey (Whitefoot) and the editor, Andy Dickson, was good enough to network us.
In an e mail exchange, Ken told me that Robby Ware had attended earlier reunions and was on a mission to find as many folk as possible from the 1969 intakes to attend the next reunion. Larry Springthorpe and Robby Ware had earlier determined between them to recruit as many 69ers as possible to attend for the 50th anniversary.
Our research group was established in early January 2019 and comprised of Robby Ware (69a D Coy England), me – Chris Massey (69b A Coy Guernsey), Ken Harvey, (69c D Coy Canada) & Larry Springthorpe (69a C Coy Philippines). Despite the geographic disparity, it did nothing to hinder the relentless search for our old friends.
Robby Ware had “acquired” a nominal roll of all the 1969 intakes; this was uploaded on an Excel spreadsheet onto Google Drive so that we could actively collaborate in real time and update data and progress. We tried to allocate the research work between us by our original college companies unless one of us was already in established contact.
The data cells were colour coded as to progress, green being the ultimate, found and attending the reunion. To further speed up collaborative communication between us, we used the WhatsApp phone app.
It is fair to say that Robby Ware was tireless in heading up the group, writing letters, e mailing and searching the Internet. Apart from Facebook & Google searches, we also used Forces Reunited, LinkedIn and 192.com. No doubt, in the future, people will trawl other social media sites in an endeavour to find lost comrades. If you want to be found, then you need to “tag” yourself with data that people will use in search syntaxes.
Robby Ware was liasing with Bruce Leslie (Recruiting Sergeant) and I.O.W. Tours regarding the numbers joining the Association and booking for the reunion. The effort was worth it when thirty five 69ers and their partners attended; equally it was disappointing for some who had committed and had to withdraw at the last minute (Tim Ivens 69a and David Currie 69b).
Although there were many highs finding and contacting old friends, there were a few lows as well when we found peers who had died.
Some of the 69ers travelled a long way to get to the reunion: Ken Harvey (Canada), Larry & Tanya Springthorpe (Philippines), Chels Hale (Germany), Pete Madine (USA).
Out of the 35 69ers who attended the reunion, I believe Dave Bishop was the only one who had not been contacted by the aforementioned research team.
Paul Massy (69B), who lived in Leicester, turned up on Friday evening at the reunion with his original name badge from 1971. This promoted some conversation and next day, Paul came with a folder of memorabilia including the 1969 summer J Coy Passing Out Parade programme and information on Arborfield Garrison from 1969. He also admitted that his father had received my (C. Massey) joining instructions in 1969 such was the efficiency of the Army who had difficulty coping with two Massey/Massy in the same class and intake.
The 69ers are no different from any other intakes that passed through the gates at Arborfield but we did perhaps have two very different characters in our ranks who attended the reunion who illustrate the impact the college had on their lives.
Lt-Colonel Bob McKeegan-Brown (the reviewing officer) was a Tels Tech who in early days volunteered for the Parachute Brigade. During that time, he parachuted in to the Philippines on exercise with 95 Commando F.O.U Royal Artillery and ex filtrated on a submarine. He subsequently joined 3 Para as a “tom”, then served in the U.D.R before getting a regular commission after training at Sandhurst, aged 29. Bob served for 37 years and had a distinguished military career about which most people can only dream.
On the other hand, we had Tony Birch 69c V.M, who has given me his permission to relate his narrative here. At the reunion, I can’t say I immediately recognised Tony until he told me that at the time he was told he held two college records: for spending the most time on Restriction of Privileges, the most time held in the guardroom under detention (55 days) even spending his Passing Out Parade day confined in the guardroom. He is best remembered as the apprentice who spent most of his evenings in coveralls being supervised by members of the provost staff!
Tony related to me that he came from a very poor, underprivileged background that found him in an orphanage and children’s homes. When he was a young teenager, he remembers being in a room when the proceeds of an armed robbery were being divided up and he was getting “the loose change”. Against this background, Tony signed up and despite his appalling disciplinary record, the Commandant, Colonel Bailey, allowed him to stay in (the Army) on the premise that one day A/T Birch may turn out to be a useful soldier-tradesman.
Before the reunion, Tony was on (legitimate) business in the Seychelles and flew back for the reunion. I could completely understand if Tony had wanted nothing more to do with the college; however, Tony said that he had come to the reunion because he owed the college so much for having faith in him during those troubled times.
In order to keep in contact with each other, the 69ers have established their own closed group on Facebook: “REME Apprentices Arborfield 1969” and the feedback from those who attended was entirely positive. The 69ers will be back for future reunions because we had a great time.
In future, we will “get on parade” at the National Memorial Arboretum but that’s another story!
In closing, and on behalf of all the 69ers, I would like to sincerely thank all the old boys at the reunion that made it such a special occasion for us; friendships were renewed and new ones made.
Chris Massey – 69B (Photographs included in OBAN 74)