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Berlin Branch

50th Anniversary RBL Berlin

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Tom

 

 

 Bill

 

 

                                     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

                                                -   2  -

 

 

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 

 

future.

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,

                                              - 3 -

 

 

came out to see Frank Waters ,the Consul-General, with a view to reforming the

                                              

Branch.

              - 

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

 

                                              -   6  -

 

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.

 

TO CONCLUDE:

 

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;

 

Quote

 

“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

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