poppy field


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Tom Smith 500X375










                                     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

-          4  -


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


                                            -  5  -


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