50th Anniversary RBL Berlin
50TH ANNIVERSARY SPEECH
Honoured Guests, Ladies & Gentlemen and fellow Legionaries.
Thank you Mr Chairman for giving me the opportunity as a founder member to say a
few words. I find this an honour and a privilege.
For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Bill Sheckleston and you will have
gathered from my accent, that I am not from south of the Thames - I’m a North
Country lad. .
Unlike Max, Jim, Frank and several others, I was not a professional soldier. I was
called up at the pleasure of King George VI. In fact I was lucky not to have gone
down the mines as a so-called “ Bevin Boy”. I was proud of my service in the army.
I learnt three things (i) “How to smoke, which thankfully only lasted as long as I got
free cigarettes (ii) the facts of life, things my mother never told me and (iii)
the value of comradeship which has stood me in good stead all my life and something
I found in the Legion.
Tom has already welcomed you all but I must say it is good to see Mike
Tidman here who did sterling work for the Branch as our former Chairman. He was
also selected to be the first “Overseas Delegate” of the Legion which was an honour
for our Branch. We also think of George Newman, , who was also one of our long-
standing Chairman and was looking forward to being with us today. Sadly it was not
to be - fate can be very cruel sometimes... We must also thank all wives and partners
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for their understanding and co-operation without which we would be unable to carry
out our work.
And not forgetting the widows some of whom are here today We would normally on
such occasions read out the names of those on the “Roll of Honour” but this would
take too long . Nevertheless, you can rest assured that we remember them all and the
good work they did for the Branch. Each of us here today will have his or her own
memories of those who have passed on.
The reason for our being here has already been mentioned - the 50th birthday
of the Branch. - Time flies when you are having fun!!!1
It is perhaps worth remembering that in 1921 the Legion was formed to take care of
those who had suffered as a result of service in the Great War , whether through their
own service or through that of a husband, father, or son. It is also worth
remembering that the situation so moved Lance Bombardier Tom Lister,a
Lancashire lad, that he decided if the Government was either unwilling, or unable to
do anything to improve the lives of ex-servicemen, he would do something about it
himself. This eventually led to the formation of the British Legion. And, it is
perhaps no coincidence that we have now got another Lancashire lad named
“Tom” who is the Chairman of our Branch. I feel sure that this augurs well for the
To refresh our memories, the Branch was formed on the fourth of June 1963. There
was a previous Branch in Berlin formed in 1947 but this Branch had disbanded in the
ninety-fifties. Early in 1963 Capt Coffer, the then National Secretary of the Legion,
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came out to see Frank Waters ,the Consul-General, with a view to reforming the
Mr Waters agreed to send out letters to ex-servicemen residing on the
German economy inviting them to attend a meeting at the Imperial Club of the
NAAFI on the 4th June, 1963. I was tasked with sending out these letters.
We had a response from three people who agreed to become officers of the Branch
until the next AGM, together with forty ex-servicemen and one serving member of
HM Forces. Ron Dunn, S/Sgt . RASC was that serviceman .Regrettably he can’t be
here today but is represented by his daughter Vicky. Thank you for coming Vicky.
Mr John Selwyn, who had meanwhile taken over as HM Consul-
General, attended the meeting as a guest became our Patron. Bill Whalley. A Public
Safety Officer became Chairman, Freddie Lord , a personnel Officer as Teasurerr
and myself as Hon Secretary - a job I did for over thirty years. That was the start of
this Branch. - the only one behind the Iron Curtain and something unique in those
days. We grew from strength to strength to become the strongest Branch in
Germany and although our numbers have perhaps depreciated a little vis-a-vis other
Branches we are ,nevertheless, the senior Branch in Germany -something I think of
which we can all feel proud . We were also instrumental in helping to get other
Branches in West Germany off the ground. Of those members who attended that first
meeting in 1963 we happen have Len Lowk, Fred Pallister and Bill Rodda (our
former Bugler) with us here today - .Stand up lads –they deserve a big clap!
Regrettably, Gywn (Taffy) and Ray King are unable to attend because of sickness.
Iin those early days we only had “Ordinary Membership” ;for ex-servicemen and
women; a special membership for HM Forces and a Hon.membership of ten
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percent. Now anyone can become a member whether they have served in HM Forces
or not, provided they support the aims and principles of the Legion. I think we all
welcome this decision and here in Germany we are registered as an e.V. We
started off our social evenings in the “Sports Klause, Reichsportsfeldstrasse to raise
funds for welfare purposes and, at that time, the area was known as “Little
England” because of the married quarters in that district of Charlotteburg.
We had many a social evening in the “Sportsklause” and would finish up having a
sing –song around the piano to such songs as “White Cliffs of Dover”; “We’ll meet
again” “Roll out the barrel” and, inevitably end with our signature tune “Bless em
all” but don’t look worried I’m not going to sing “bless em all now “ at least not
before I have finished this speech. Later we were allowed to use the St George’s Hall
for our social functions and shortly before the army left we had rooms in Brooke
Barracks . .By tradition we always had the GOC HQ.Berlin (British Sector) as our
President . It goes without saying that we could always count on the support of the
military authorities. We also had contact with the Allied Veterans Association such
as the American Veterans and the French Veterans we are particularly glad to have
with us today, the Commander of the American Veterans, ………………….?
and Felix of the French Veterans . Additionally, we had contact with German
Veterans Associations such as the VDK , the BDDKK ; the
German War Graves Commission and the 22nd Reserve Corps . I remember on one
occasion when it was snowing heavily and we had a “Wreath-laying Ceremony” at
the 22nd Cenotaph Bill Rodda was tasked with sounding the Last Post and Reveille
not easy with the inclement weather but Bill sounded that bugler liked he had never
done before - The elderly German veterans were deeply moved and Bill’s
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photograph went into the Guinness Book Of Records for that year . But I’m
getting carried away. What does one say “we oldies” or “Grufties” as the Germans
call us, live on our memories.” -
It is now a different ball game. As previously mentioned there is no longer any
restriction on membership and our formers enemies have a long ago become our
friends. In my opinion we Brits. who are here all have an Anglo-German connection.
On attending tan American Memorial Day Reception I happened to speak to
one of their elderly members. Being the inquisitive guy as I am, I asked him why he
was in Berlin. He gave a quick reply ---“I’m here because of three words – now what
are they …..” Ich Liebe Dich”. How many of us here today are here for this very
reason? We very much value the contribution made by our German members without
which the Branch could not function properly. Our Remembrance Services are now
based on “Reconciliation” and what better example can we have of this than in our
own Branch---- We have Sydney Walsh, a Brit., now nearly 91, who was
torpedoed during the last war and was in the water for some hours and Herbert
Rieck, a former German Naval Officer, who handed over a submarine to
the British authorities after the war --- they are now the best of friends.
And we all know that life has no pleasure nobler than friendship this is a truth that
members of this Branch discovered long ago and which has kept us together.
But time marches on and you want to enjoy yourselves . As a founder member I
feel happy the way the Branch is now being run and although it is perhaps invidious
of me to mention any names, while they are in harness. I feel we have now got and
excellent team in Tom, Frank, Chris. Paul – Jim, Chis Gunde and Martin doing
welfare and, of course, Fred who was doing the poppies . Our web site run so
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excellently by our Web Master Frank is the envy of other Branches.
I feel sure they will carry on the good work we started many years ago. However,
we must all give them our support. Regrettably. Fred has had to give up the poppies
and Hannelore her job behind the bar where she did a super job of looking after us.
But the bar ob stays in the family -Andy continues where his Mum left off.
And we must not forget to thank Shirley who provides us with tea or coffee at
Our Wednesday morning sessions and closes a blind eye to some of our not too
“Salon Faehig” jokes.
I think the following words of Sir Richard HOWARD-VYSE, a former president
of the Legion. sum up what I have been trying to say;
“Without our principles we would be like a ship without a rudder in a storm . I
do not believe that an organisation likes ours can retain its strength and vigour
indefinitely unless it has a strong spiritual background. Our motto “Service not Self”
must be taken to mean wider service to the community as a whole through example
by word and deed, then the Legion can be a potential influence for good even the
world over. To remember our duty by living up to our motto is the best possible way
which we can ensure the continuing strength of the Legion”. Unquote
Perhaps if we bear this in mind we will never lose our way and can look back in the
years to come and say we have made a better Branch and the Community as a
whole, a better place to live in.
May God bless your goings and comings in the years ahead. Thank You.
Willliam Sheckleston, OBE