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History of the Brussels Branch

Close to a century of charitable support in Brussels!

(Nearly) 100 years of the Royal British Legion in Brussels:

The people and events that shaped our story

Introduction

The British Legion was created on 15 May 1921, bringing together four ex-servicemen’s associations after the First World War. Its mission today is the same as it was then: providing financial and emotional support to members and veterans of the British armed forces, their families and dependants, whenever or wherever that help is needed.

After its formation, local branches of the Legion quickly began to spring up all over Britain – but also overseas. The Brussels branch, created in May 1922, was one of eight established in Belgium (Antwerp, Ypres, Mons, Ostend, Ghent, Knokke and Alost were the others). Three – Brussels, Antwerp and Ypres – are still going strong today.

In the years since its formation, men and women from all walks of life and ages have served the Brussels branch. Come rain or shine, they have organised and attended countless commemorations to honour those who made the ultimate sacrifice. They have also raised considerable sums through the Poppy Appeal to help those who came home but who in many cases faced severe economic hardship, as well as long-term physical and mental scars.

In an era when the word “hero” is all-too-easily bestowed, the Brussels branch can take pride in its association with distinguished figures such as Lieutenant Colonel George Starr DSO MC of the Special Operations Executive, Battle of Britain pilot Group Captain Peter Townsend CVO DSO DFC, globe-trotting spy Captain Norman Dewhurst MC, Colonel Jean Bloch of the Brigade Piron, Major Freddie Townsend OBE of the Royal Marines 30 Assault Unit, and Colonel François Roberti-Lintermans of the Belgian Resistance.

But the names that crop up most often in this history tend to belong to a more unsung variety – the hands-on members and supporters who do the unglamorous but vital organising, visiting, collecting, ferrying, phoning, minute-taking, tea-making, and more. In short, the volunteers beavering away behind the scenes and without whom a branch cannot function.

A full list of those who have served the branch with distinction is impossible but would surely include H.F. Westmacott, Charles Haldane, Ernest-William Briscoe, Lionel Grigson-Page, Léon Gyssels, R. Calastreme, Roger Galère, the Reverend Philip Moore, Dr Paul Maurice, Albert Harris, V.L.J.  Snutsel, Douglas Cooper, Mike Craster, George Lapthorn, Kerry Woodrow, Earle Nicoll, Douglas Harrison, Harry More, Reg Whitburn, Peter Allen, John Chotteau, Daphne Chotteau, Alf Woodward, Claire Whitfield, Dédée Cooper, Yvonne Sayer, Maureen Van Tiggelen, Simone Nossent, Monette Johnson, Len Oddie, Andrew Fisher, Ed Read Cutting, Paul Boorman, Arthur Empringham, Michael Rose, Fernand Delcourt, Myriam Wraith, Colin and Brenda Puplett, Alan Puplett, Mark Thomas, Ron Aston, Andrée Ferrant, Jean-Pierre Pede, Kate Andrews and Darren Bone.

Perhaps no-one better typifies the spirit of dedication than Normandy veteran Eric Johnson, who served as the branch’s Standard Bearer for a remarkable 56 years.

This is the story of the people who shaped the Brussels branch over the course of a century.

We will remember them.

1922-1945

Founding of the Brussels branch

After the end of the First World War, the British community in booming Brussels rapidly expanded. Inspired by the launch of Legion branches in Antwerp and Paris, a group of serving British officers including Major W.D. Saxon, Captain H.F. Westmacott, Captain Needham and Captain Gladwin Baillie formed the Brussels branch on 17 May 1922. Captain Westmacott was elected first branch chairman. On 2 December, the branch opened its first premises at 13 Rue du Berger with a reception attended by British Ambassador and Honorary President Sir George Grahame and the Mayor of Ixelles, Adolphe Buyl. Le Soir reported that the inauguration was “simple, rapid and cordial, as all English ceremonies”. In the evening the branch held what it called a “smoking concert”.

Visit of the Prince of Wales

The Prince of Wales and future Edward VIII met Brussels branch members on 28 April 1923. The Prince, who had earlier unveiled the British Monument in Rue de Quatre Bras, visited the branch HQ in Rue du Berger, accompanied by Field Marshal Earl Haig, Rear-Admiral Sir Lionel Helsey, British Ambassador Sir George Grahame, Général André de Jonghe d’Ardoye and British Military Attaché Colonel Needham. Newspaper reports recount that 200 members were present and the Prince greeted each with a “vigorous handshake”. The members shouted “Hip Hip Hurrah” and, spotting a photographer present, the Prince gathered them around him to capture the memorable moment. Afterwards, the Prince of Wales went on to meet Prince Victor Napoleon and his wife Princess Clémentine of Belgium. Earl Haig, British commander at the Battle of the Somme and Passchendaele, was one of the founders of the British Legion and its President until his death in 1928.

Royal gala

On 5 March 1925, Belgian King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth attended a gala evening organised by the branch’s drama club at the Théâtre Royal du Parc. The highlight was a performance of Secrete, a play by Rudolf Besier and May Edginton. Prime Minister Georges Theunis attended the second performance on 6 March.

MP’s tribute

On 4 August 1928, British Member of Parliament Major Brunel Cohen, severely wounded at the Third Battle of Ypres, laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (Tombeau du Soldat Inconnu) in Brussels. Major Cohen, who was welcomed by members of the branch, was in Belgium to take part in the Battlefields Pilgrimage. Major Cohen was joined at the ceremony by Dame Florence Simpson, the senior female British Army officer during the First World War, Major General Sir William Hickie, and Hughe Montgomery Knatchbull-Hugessen, counsellor (and future Ambassador) at the British Embassy. Liverpool MP Brunel Cohen had a long association with the Legion: he took part in the discussions that led to its creation and served as national Honorary Treasurer from 1921-30, Vice-Chairman from 1930-1932, and again as Honorary Treasurer until 1946.

Major Brunel Cohen laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in April 1928. Reproduced with kind permission from the Royal Library of Belgium.

Barman wanted

On 14 March 1929 Le Soir carried an advertisement from the British Legion for a barman at its headquarters (“connaissance anglaise nécessaire”), with references to be sent to L.R. Gyssels, 100 ave Ducpétiaux.

Royal Charter

The Brussels branch was incorporated by Belgian Royal Charter (No. 0408.497.187) as a non-profit association on 26 August 1931. The official document was signed by branch President Lieutenant Colonel Charles Haldane CMG DSO, former commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Gurkha Rifles, George Henry Menhenick, company director, Ernest Cuthbert, newsagent, and James Edward Watson, accountant. Colonel Haldane served as branch President until 1934.

Stumped

The annual cricket match between the British Legion and Brussels British Sports Club took place at the Royal Racing Club in Uccle on 21 July 1934. We’re stumped for the result!

FIDAC

In September 1935 the branch was represented when Brussels hosted the annual congress of FIDAC(Fédération Interalliée Des Anciens Combattants / Interallied Federation of War Veterans Organisations), a French-led initiative to promote peace. A British Legion proposal to allow former enemies to join the body was rejected. FIDAC hosted an annual shooting contest at the Tir National range in Brussels and erected a memorial in Liège in 1938. The organisation folded after the outbreak of the Second World War.

Farewell to Cavell’s friend

The Brussels branch was strongly represented on 10 February 1936 at the funeral of Ada Bodart, who helped smuggle British soldiers out of Belgium during the First World War. Court-martialed with her friends, the British nurse Edith Cavell and Brussels architect Philippe Baucq, Bodart was initially condemned to death but her sentence was later commuted to penal servitude. Bodart portrayed herself in Dawn, a 1928 film featuring Sybil Thorndike as Cavell. Austen Chamberlain, then British foreign minister, felt the film promoted anti-German sentiment and refused to see it, prompting Bodart to return her OBE and give up her British pension.

Visit of the ‘Old Contemptibles’

Branch President Captain Ernest-William Briscoe, together with Captain Charles Collins and Captain Drew Clifton greeted around 40 British veterans at Gare du Nord on 9 November 1936. The Old Contemptibles, as veterans of the 1914 British Expeditionary Force were known (Kaiser Wilhelm II described them as a “contemptible little army”), paid their respects at the grave of their patron, Ada Bodart, and left flowers at St Gilles Prison in memory of Edith Cavell. They were hosted in the British Garrison officers’ mess.  

Meeting with Hitler

The Brussels media featured extensive coverage of a meeting at Berchtesgaden on 5 August 1938 between German Führer Adolf Hitler and General Ian Hamilton, President of the Legion’s Scottish section, accompanied by several veterans.

Grenadier Guards

The branch welcomed a 150-strong delegation of the London association of the Grenadier Guards to Brussels on 8 April 1939. The guards, cheered by large numbers of the public and described in Le Soir as “tous de grands et beaux types”, paid their respects at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, executing the commands “avec la minutie et la précision caractéristique des Tommies”.

1940-1960

Death of President

The branch was sad to learn of the untimely death of President and Chairman Captain Ernest-William Briscoe in Uccle on 17 February 1940. Aged just 51, Briscoe was also President of the British Chamber in Belgium and Director of the Lloyds and National Provincial Foreign Bank in Brussels.

The hidden standard

Belgium was forced to surrender on 28 May 1940 after 18 days of bitter fighting ended in the country’s occupation by enemy forces and the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) from Dunkirk. The Brussels branch – all Belgian nationals at the time – kept the British Legion standard safely under wraps for more than four years.

Liberation

Advance sections of the British Guards Armoured Division entered Brussels via the Avenue de Tervuren around 8pm on 3 September 1944, after covering more than 120km in a day. The Division, commanded by Major General Allan Adair, was joined soon after by the 1st Infantry Brigade of the Free Belgian Forces, led by Colonel Jean-Baptiste Piron. The British and Belgian troops took part in a liberation parade in the city the following day amid scenes of huge jubilation.

Better stockings

In the months after the Liberation of Brussels, hundreds of British servicemen were based in the city – and no small number ended up marrying local women and joined the branch. Lieutenant Colonel Charles Carrington MC, later Professor of History at Cambridge University, captured the atmosphere in his book Soldier At Bomber Command: “Brussels is less gloomy than Paris: there are trams, dim street lights, and cafes. In the brasseries, hundreds of Tommies, Belgian girls and bon-bourgeois families enjoy the singing. The girls have better stockings and worse shoes than English girls. They talk broken English better than the soldiers talk broken French.”

Eric Johnson (left) and friend in 1944.  Eric would go on to become one of the branch legends 

Love at the 21

Branch member Claire Whitfield (née Stroobant) was 18 when she met her husband-to-be, Flight Sgt Stanley Whitfield. She was out walking her dog near the Prince Baudouin barracks in Schaerbeek when she spotted the handsome young RAF man climbing down from a truck. “It was love at first sight,” she recalls. In the days after the Liberation “young people had a lot of catching up to do”, said Claire. Stanley would take her to the 21 Club, a British forces dance venue in Rue dAssaut. The couple married at Holy Trinity in Rue Capitaine Crespel on 18 May 1946.

 

(Image left) An 18 year old Claire with Stanley Whitfield who met after the liberation of Brussels in 1944.  (Image right) Claire and Stanley at their wedding on 18 May 1946 at Holy Trinity, Rue Capitaine Crespel

Standard flies again

A photograph printed on the front pages of Le Soir and La Dernière Heure on 19 October 1944 showed committee members proudly showing their British Legion standard which had been kept hidden during the enemy occupation. Branch President Léon Gyssels MC, who served in the First World War with the 28th County of London Battalion (Artists' Rifles), and Vice-President Captain J. Davis, 13th Gloucestershire Regiment, welcomed British Ambassador Sir Hughe Montgomery Knatchbull-Hugessen to the branch’s new premises at 82 rue Veydt, Ixelles, and he accepted their invitation to become patron. The members thanked him by singing “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow”.  

The 'Hidden' Standard

Charge it to Churchill!

Mary Blood (née Pettit), of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), captured the heady atmosphere in Brussels in early 1945 for the BBC WW2 People's War archive. The city was packed with Allied troops on leave from the front. Their priorities were “a haircut, a bath, good meal, a pint, and evening entertainment – so the city was lively indeed”. While Mary’s billet at the Prince Baudouin barracks in Schaerbeek was “very unwelcoming”, Brussels offered no shortage of compensations for Allied personnel. “Entrance to clubs, theatres, concerts, opera house, etc. was free, as were the trams and trains. ‘Charge it to Churchill!’ was the cry. Meals in the clubs were cheap, and there were things we in England had never seen for years – thanks to Americans. My first visit to the A.E.F. [Allied Expeditionary Force] Club got me a cream tea – scones, cream, jam, tea, for 1/- (5p/5 cents).” 

VE Day 

Mary was in Brussels when Germany’s surrender was announced. The news was greeted with an outpouring of excitement and emotion. “The whole city was lit up by searchlights, rockets, flares, Verey lights everywhere. British, Belgian and American flags were flying; crowds were in the streets singing and laughing; car horns were sounding” (source: WW2 People's War archive). The scenes in the city were captured in this remarkable film footage by Paul Castaing.

La Bal de La Victoire

Branch members took part in the spectacular Bal de La Victoire in Brussels on 8 September 1945. A huge outdoor dance floor was laid in the Place de la Monnaie, allowing thousands of “indefatigable” couples to dance the night away. The event, organized by La Dernière Heure and Le Soir, was hosted by Captain Richard Evans of the BBC and Marcel Antoine. Live music was provided by Yvon de Bie and his all-Belgian Band, the US 433rd Army Services Dance Band, the US 107th Army Ground Forces Band, British Army Lowlanders Dance Band, as well as Bobby Naret and his orchestra. Detachments of honour from the British Armoured Guards Division, liberators of Brussels, the US 101st Airborne Division, the Division Leclerc, Brigade Piron, and 52nd Highland Division received an emotional reception from the crowd.

La Bal de la Victoire as reported in September 1945 in Le Soir.  Reproduced with kind permission of the Royal Library of Belgium 

Old soldiers never die!

La Dernière Heure and La Nation Belge reported on a reception held on 25 September 1945 to mark the first anniversary of the re-formation of the branch. The event was hosted by President Lieutenant Léon Gyssels, Vice-President Captain J. Davis and Captain Drummond-Murray. Among others present were General Willems, Arthur Aveling CBE, British chargé d'affaires, Major S. Stevenson, representing Brigadier Gerald Tarleton MC DSO of the British Garrison, M. Pettitt, Embassy Secretary, M. Joint, commercial counsellor, M. Stephens, Consul, M. Foulon, President of the French Chamber of Commerce, Captains Mitchell and Thibodeau of the Canadian Army, as well as the presidents of veterans’ federations. The toast was “old soldiers never die!”

Reginald and Germaine Whitburn in 1946, a couple who would be part of the lifeblood of the branch

Gembloux memorial

New branch President Lionel Grigson-Page, who served in both world wars, led a delegation taking part in commemorations at Gembloux and Marche-les-Dames on 10 August 1947. Other members of the delegation included Vice-President the Reverend Philip Moore, former President Léon Gyssels, former Vice-President J. Davis, and Treasurer Major Athelstan Willoughby. A wreath was laid on the graves of British airmen in Gembloux cemetery and also at the “Rocher Tragique” in Marche-les-Dames, where King Albert I met his death.

Major Willoughby

On 7 October 1948 the branch published a notice in Le Soir announcing the death of former Treasurer Major Athelstan A.T. Willoughby, who served in the Durham Light Infantry and was an Honorary Doctor of Laws at the University of Durham.

New premises

The branch opened new premises at 102 Rue de la Loi (now a European Commission building) on 22 July 1948 in the presence of British Ambassador Sir George Rendel and British Military Attaché Colonel A. Fabin. President Lionel Grigson-Page, Vice-President the Reverend Philip Moore, and Entertainments Director R.E. Higgins represented the branch. Léopold Ros, President of the National Confederation of Political Prisoners (Confédération nationale des prisonniers politiques, CNPPA), also attended. Ros would later become an outspoken critic of Belgium’s controversial King Leopold III, calling for him to abdicate.

Annual ball

The branch’s annual ball on 30 October 1948 at the premises of the Royal Veterans Union (Union des Fraternelles de l’Armée de Campagne, UFAC) drew a large and appreciative audience. Performers included the Billy Bacon Orchestra, troops’ favourite Marie Nell (real name Nénette Langlois), dancer Jacqueline Gaspar, and British composer John Cook. Miss J. Daniels of the English Comedy Club recited Major John McCrae’s poignant First World War poem In Flanders Fields. Branch President Lionel Grigson-Page, R. E. Higgins and the Reverend Philip Moore were in attendance.

Heverlee ceremony

The branch, represented by Colonel Chapman, Major Williams and Lieutenant James, took part in a commemoration ceremony at Heverlee war cemetery on 1 November 1948.

Claire and Stanley Whitfield dancing the night away at the RAF Club in Brussels on 11 December 1948.  

Committee 1950

The Brussels branch announced the formation of a new committee on 5 February 1950. President: Lieutenant Colonel George Starr DSO MC, Vice-President: Lieutenant Colonel Ackroyd, Secretary: Major A. T. Denyer, Treasurer: Captain J. R. Calastreme. Members: E.J. Bacon, R.E. Cameron, C.M. Cooper, J. Hamilton, D.A. Hardy, Dr P. Maurice, J. McCracken, H.N. Mills, Rev P. Moore, H. Powell, K.H. Ross, V.L. J. Snutsel.

Continental HQ

The “continental” section of the British Legion opened premises in Avenue Louise on 15 February 1950 in the presence of British Ambassador Sir George Rendel, Major General John Roberts, commander of the Dieppe Raid, General Victor Strydonck de Burkel, former Commander in Chief of the Free Belgian Forces and President of the Union des Fraternelles de l’Armée de Campagne (UFAC) 1940-45, Lieutenant Colonel George Starr, President of Brussels branch, and Count Adrien van der Burch. The guests were received by Squadron Leader H.C. Wilson, head of the Legion’s continental branch, and his deputy Montague Janes.

Morning Departure

Branch President Lieutenant Colonel George Starr hosted a gala film premiere of La Nuit Commence A L'Aube (Morning Departure) at the Cinema Metropole on 14 September 1950. British Ambassador Sir John le Rougetel MC and two of the film's stars, Nigel Patrick and Helen Cherry (the wife of Trevor Howard), attended the event. Ahead of the screening, the Belgian Naval Force band gave a performance in the city centre. Seats cost from 20-100 Belgian francs.

Lieutenant Colonel George Starr in his service dress

Death of President

Le Soir published a notice announcing the death of former branch President Lionel Grigson-Page in Brussels on 21 October 1950.

Noble gesture

The Brussels branch of the Legion and their counterparts from the Poilus de France jointly hosted a ball at the Concert Noble in Brussels on 2 December 1950 in aid of Belgian children orphaned in the war. The event was held in the presence of British Ambassador Sir John le Rougetel. Music was provided by France’s 43rd infantry regiment band and the Belgian Naval Force. Royal Scots Fusiliers wearing traditional kilts danced to the sound of the bagpipes. A detachment of honour was provided by the 7th regiment of Algerian spahis.

Death of George VI

The branch organised a memorial service at Temple Church on 15 February 1952 to mark the passing of King George VI. Attendees included Captain Raymond Moos, President of the Brigade Piron veterans, and the military attachés representing Britain, France, the US, the Netherlands, Poland.

Death of Queen Mary

The branch was represented at a memorial service at Christ Church (29 rue Crespel) on 31 March 1953 to mark the passing of Queen Mary, the widow of George V. Attendees included Belgium’s Queen Elisabethand the Ambassadors of Britain, Canada, South Africa and Pakistan. King Baudouin paid his respects at a service in the Chapel Royal, Windsor.

A Queen is Crowned

The Brussels branch hosted an “unforgettable” premiere of the film A Queen is Crowned at the Cinema Vendome on 11 June 1953, in the presence of Belgium’s Queen Elisabeth, Prime Minister Jean Baron Van Houtte, British Ambassador Sir Christopher Warner, Canadian Ambassador General Maurice Pope, and Indian Ambassador P.A. Menon. The colour film, with a commentary by Laurence Olivier, was watched by a packed house in almost religious silence, punctuated by frequent applause. A guard of honour was provided by the Coldstream Guards, resplendent in their red tunics and bearskins. The guards earlier took part in a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, with Lieutenant Colonel George Starr and K.H. Ross representing the branch. The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II took place on 2 June at Westminster Abbey.

Le Soir reporting on the Belgian Queen Elisabeth's attendance at the screening of A Queen is Crowned with Ambassador Sir Christopher Warner in June 1953.  Reproduced with kind permission of the Royal Library of Belgium

Copyright The Royal Collection Trust

Townsend joins the branch

The branch gained a high-profile member with the arrival in Brussels of Battle of Britain ace Group Captain Peter Townsend, following his appointment as Air Attaché on 15 July 1953. A former equerry to His Majesty King George VI and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, divorced Townsend was headline news at the time thanks to his controversial relationship with the Queen’s younger sister, Princess Margaret. He quickly threw himself into the life of the branch, enthusiastically attending many social occasions and frequently riding in equestrian events.

Drawing of Peter Townsend by Clementine Verheyden, original held by the Royal Library of Belgium

Night at the opera 

Lieutenant Colonel George Starr represented the branch at the premiere of L'Opéra du gueux (Beggar’s Opera), at Cinéma L'Écuyer on 26 October 1953. The film musical, directed by Peter Brook and starring Laurence OlivierDorothy Tutin and Stanley Holloway, was a hit with the audience. It was one of a series of films screened, under the patronage of British Ambassador Sir Christopher Warner, to honour Sir Alexander Korda. The others were L’Homme de Berlin (The Man Between), directed by Carol Reed and starring James MasonClaire Bloom and Hildegard Knef, Le Paradis du Capitaine (The Captain’s Paradise), starring Alec Guinness, Yvonne de Carlo and Celia Johnston, and Conquest of Everest. Funds raised from the screenings were shared between the Brussels branch, the British Charitable Fund, and Royal Air Forces Association among others.

Peak performer

Sir Edmund Hillary and Lady Hillary attended the film premiere Conquest of Everest in Brussels on 29 October 1953. Lieutenant Colonel George Starr represented the branch at a reception for the mountaineer. Other guests included India’s Ambassador P.A. Menon, the actress Celia Johnston, star of Brief Encounter, and Group Captain Peter Townsend.

Poppy Appeal

Le Soir published an appeal on 7 November 1953 by Lieutenant Colonel George Starr for the public to support La Journee des Coquelicots (Poppy Day). Under the title “Ne les oublions pas” (Do not forget them), he wrote: “I know that you will not forget the sacrifice of our sailors, soldiers and airmen to make the world free. Many veterans are living in Belgium, having married Belgian women, and we address this appeal to help them, their widows and children.”

Albert Harris and Monette Johnson dancing the night away at the 1953 Poppy Ball 

Selborne visit

British Legion President George Starr, committee member Group Captain Peter Townsend and branch patron Ambassador Sir Christopher Warner attended a dinner on 25 March 1954 in honour of Lord Selborne, Britain’s former Minister of Economic Warfare responsible for the Special Operations Executive (SOE). The event was hosted by hosted by former RAF pilot Colonel Adelin Marissal, President of Les Fraternelle des Agents Parachutists.

Congo delegation

Branch members Colonel Louis Medlam (Military Attaché), Group Captain Peter Townsend (Air Attaché), and Wing Commander Edgar “Wally” Wurtele (Canadian Military Attaché) were among a dozen NATO experts invited on a fact-finding trip to the Congo by the Belgian government. They arrived in Léopoldville (later renamed Kinshasa) on a Fairchild Packet cargo plane named Vilde Beeste on 17 April 1954.

Death of Chaplain

The funeral of branch Chaplain the Reverend Philip Moore took place on 12 July 1954. Le Soir paid tribute to him as a “striking member of the British community where he was particularly appreciated”.

10th anniversary

Committee member Group Captain Peter Townsend attended a dinner hosted by Colonel Adelin Marissal in honour of British Ambassador Sir Christopher Warner and marking the 10th anniversary of the liberation of Brussels on 3 September 1954.

Brigade Piron

The branch jointly hosted a ball de l’amitié with veterans of the Brigade Piron on 5 March 1955. Music was provided by Harry Miller and his Bop Cats.

Australian tribute

Branch President Lieutenant Colonel George Starr, together with Vice-Presidents Colonel Louis Medlam and Wing Commander Edgar “Wally” Wurtele, joined veterans from the Returned Soldiers League of Australia for a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on 15 May 1955. The Australian delegation included Sir George Holland, President of the League, and Sir Frank Beaurepaire, the former world champion swimmer and ex-Lord Mayor of Melbourne. Music was provided by the Royal Scots Greys.

Committee 1955 

The Brussels branch announced the formation of a new committee on 11 December 1955. President: Lieutenant Colonel G. Starr, Vice-President: Lieutenant Colonel J. Gerard, Honorary Vice-Presidents: W.L. Medlam, Captain F.J. Cartwright, Group Captain P. Townsend, Wing Commander E.L. Wurtele, Chairman: A.F.J. Harris, Vice-Chairman: V.L.J. Snutsel, Honorary Secretary: R. Galère, Honorary Treasurer: J.R. Calastreme, Honorary Archivist: A. Stimpson. Members: G.H. Lavender, Captain H. Reed, J.P. Brown, G. Gaiger, K.H. Ross, H. Heilbron, N. Dewhurst, F.A. Bullock, A.J. Pierarts, E. Johnson, J. Moore, A.J. Thorniley.

Brussels Branch represented at a parade in Bastogne in 1956. From left bearing the standard, Albert Harris and Eric Johnson

New Ambassador

Honorary Vice-President Group Captain Peter Townsend represented the Embassy and branch at a reception hosted by Colonel Adelin Marissal in honour of Ambassador Sir George Labouchere on 27 January 1956.

Silver jubilee

The branch held a grand ball at the Concert Noble on 4 February 1956 to mark the 25th anniversary of its incorporation by Royal Charter. The ball, featuring the first appearance in Belgium by London’s Victor Silvester Orchestra, was attended by British Ambassador Sir George Labouchere, US Ambassador Frederick Alger Jr and Canadian Ambassador Charles-Pierre Hebert.

The 1956 Poppy Ball, not an inch of dance floor to spare

Good luck, Peter

A farewell dinner was held by the branch for Honorary Vice-President Group Captain Peter Townsend at the Prince Albert Barracks on 25 September 1956. Townsend revealed his plans for a solo round-the-world trip in his Land-Rover. The itinerary would take him from Belgium through Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Nepal, Burma, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Malaya, Hong Kong, Japan, San Francisco, Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, South Africa, Congo, Libya, Spain, France, and finally back to Belgium. Townsend retired from the RAF after 23 years’ service on 15 October 1956 and set off on his epic adventure less than a week later. Le Soir published regular articles throughout the tour written by Townsend, who told branch members he also planned to write a book when he returned to Brussels.

Wartime exploits

Colonel Adelin Marissal hosted a dinner on 14 December 1956 to honour the wartime exploits of Lieutenant Colonel George Starr and his former wireless operator Yvonne Cormeau MBE. He hailed Starr as the “patron” of the French Resistance network in Gascony and congratulated him for “always escaping the Gestapo’s traps”. Attendees included Count Hubert Pierlot, Belgium’s wartime Prime Minister in exile.

Lt Col Starr and Yvonne Cormeau in Essen

Committee 1957

The Brussels branch announced the formation of a new committee on 2 January 1957. President: Lieutenant Colonel George Starr, Vice-President: Colonel J. Gerard, Chairman: A.F.J. Harris, Vice-Chairman: V.L.J. Snutsel, Honorary Secretary: K.H. Ross, Honorary Treasurer: J.R. Calastreme, Registrar: R. Galère. Members: N. Dewhurst, T.L. Ferguson, J.P. Brown, J. Donelly, J. Moore, Mrs J. Moore, A.J. Pierarts, A.J. Thorniley.

Chamber banquet

Lieutenant Colonel George Starr represented the branch at the annual banquet of the British Chamber of Commerce at the Hotel Metropole on 14 February 1957. Guests included Jean Rey, Belgium’s Minister for Economic Affairs (and future President of the European Commission), Derek Walker-Smith, British Minister of State at the Board of Trade, and the Ambassadors of Great Britain, Canada, India and Pakistan.

Townsend’s return

Former Honorary Vice-President Group Captain Peter Townsend returned to Brussels on 25 March 1958 after completing a 90,000 km solo world trip. He arrived in the city in the early hours at the wheel of the same Land-Rover in which he had set off 17 months earlier. It was a brief stopover – he was invited for a congratulatory tea with Princess Margaret at Clarence House the following day, leading to an avalanche of coverage about a possible marriage. Despite two further tête-à-têtes with the Princess, Townsend returned to Brussels on 24 May 1958 to write a book about his travels.

Anglo-Belgian memorial

Branch Chairman Albert Harris took part in a ceremony on 20 July 1958 to mark the new location of the Anglo-Belgian memorial in Place Poelaert. The memorial was moved due to the redevelopment of Rue des Quatre Bras. Among the attendees was General Villier, British Military Attaché, General Louveau, President of the U.F.A.C. 14-18, and Mayor of Brussels Lucien Cooremans.

Townsend film

On 26 August 1958 Group Captain Peter Townsend bade the branch farewell once again when he set off to make a documentary about his travels. The filming was immediately interrupted, however, when it emerged that one of his friends, Norman Barrymaine, was about to publish an authorised biography entitled The Life of Peter Townsend. After a whistle-stop visit to London to see Princess Margaret, Townsend resumed filming in Algiers, Yugoslavia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and India. He was accompanied by Hollywood director Victor Stoloff, photographer Marie-Luce Jamagne, and secretary Marguerite Gerard (sister of the actress Danièle Delorme). Barrymaine’s book was serialized in Le Soir.

Expo 58

Lieutenant Colonel George Starr represented the branch at the Interallied Congress of Reserve Officers (Congres Interallié des Officiers de Réserve) on 30 August 1958. The congress, attended by Belgium’s future King Albert II, was part of the Expo 58.

Doctor honoured

Dr Paul Maurice, honorary doctor of the Brussels branch since 1946, was presented with life membership of the British Legion in recognition of the care he had provided to veterans and their families in Brussels. Captain Coffer, Deputy Secretary General of the British Legion, presented the award to Dr Maurice on 16 February 1959.

Townsend marries

Group Captain Peter Townsend returned to Brussels on 12-13 June 1959 to promote his book Earth My Friend (Terre mon amie) and film Passport to the World (Passeport pour le Monde). Soon after he announced his engagement to Marie-Luce Jamagne (video) and the couple were married in Watermael-Boitfort on 21 December 1959.

1960-2000

Committee 1961

The membership of the branch committee was as follows in 1961. President: Colonel Peter R. Ashburner, Chairman: B.R. Reynolds, Honorary Secretary: Madame A.T. Lorge. Members: P.I. Lake MC, J.W.B. Macready, Mrs J.W.B. Macready, Dr A. Jordens (Honorary Dentist), Dr P. Maurice (Honorary Doctor), Mrs M. Warr, R. Galère, K.O. Kenneth (Vice-Consul). Chaplain: Rev H. Isherwood MVO, OBE.The Longest Day

The Longest Day

Branch chairman Albert Harris attended the fund-raising gala premiere of The Longest Day at the Eldorado cinema on 8 November 1962. Guests included Georges Rivière and Mel Ferrer, who gave news of his Brussels-born wife Audrey Hepburn.

La Fleur du Souvenir

The branch hosted a reception at Centre Rogier on 21 March 1963 to mark its publication of a collection of poems by Georges Springael entitled La Fleur du Souvenir, inspired by the British Legion poppy. One of the poems was a tribute to the poet’s brother Albert, killed in Battle of the Yser, aged 17. He had no known grave.

Annual ball

British Ambassador Sir Roderick Barclay and Lady Barclay were among the guests at the branch’s annual ball at the Hotel Metropole on 8 November 1963. They were greeted by branch President Colonel Peter Ashburner MC, British Military Attaché. Music was provided by the Luc Marcy Orchestra.

The Great Escape

The Brussels branch, Royal Air Force Association, Fonds des Barbelés (national federation of former prisoners of war) and la Saint-Nicolas des petits déshérités were the beneficiaries of a fund-raising screening of The Great Escape (La grande évasion) at the Eldorado on 20 November 1963. The Women’s RAF Central Band performed the film’s theme tune, Hey High and Airborne and the RAF March.

Battlefield pilgrimage

Honorary Secretary Major Douglas Cooper represented the branch at a meeting of the Group of Combined Branches in Belgium in Ghent on 4 April 1964. Major Rivers from London HQ briefed branch representatives on a planned pilgrimage to the battlefields of Belgium and France in September to mark the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War

Devoted director

Brigadier Peter Ashburner and the Legion committee hosted a dinner on 29 April 1964 to honour Madeleine Bihet, directrice of the Institut Edith Cavell, for the “extreme devotion” she had shown to British veterans. He also thanked Dr Armand Colard for the care he provided to British airmen during the war.

The Train

President Albert Harris represented the branch at the Belgian film premiere of The Train at the Eldorado on 30 September 1964. Guests at the event included British Ambassador Sir Roderick Barclay, French Ambassador Henry Spitzmuller, and Lieutenant-General Jean-Baptiste Piron.

Tribute to Churchill

Branch representatives took part in a ceremony to commemorate the life of Winston Churchill at the Anglo-Belgian monument in Place Poelaert on 30 January 1965. General Jean-Baptiste Piron and Brussels Mayor Lucien Cooremans attended the event, which was held at the same time as the state funeral for Britain’s wartime Prime Minister in London.

Waterloo anniversary

A delegation from the branch was invited to take part in a ceremony at Hougoumont on 18 June 1965 to mark the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. Also present were the Duke of Kent, representing Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, British Ambassador Sir Roderick Barclay, Dutch General Schoemaeker, and the Mayors of Waterloo and Braine-l’Alleud. Poppy wreaths were also laid at the French, Prussian and Belgian memorials on the battlefield and the Chapel Royal in Waterloo. The Coldstream Guards, Scots Guards and German troops successfully defended Hougoumont from repeated assaults by Napoleon’s infantry throughout the battle.

Albert Harris MBE

British Ambassador Sir Roderick Barclay presented the MBE insignia to branch Chairman Albert Harris on 29 October 1965. Mr Harris chaired the Brussels branch for 11 years.

Sacha sings for Legion

US star Dionne Warwick and popular French singer Sacha Distel performed at a fundraising gala organised by Le Soir at the Eldorado on 2 March 1966 in aid of the British Legion and Brigade Piron. At a reception before the show, the singers were serenaded by bagpipers from the Black Watch and introduced to British Ambassador Sir Roderick Barclay, branch President Albert Harris, General Jean-Baptiste Piron and Raymond Moos, President of the Brigade Piron veterans. The gala also featured a screening of the new Louis Malle film Viva Maria starring Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau.

Royal visit

In the course of her official visit to Belgium, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and King Baudouin met British and Belgian veterans in the Grand Place on 9 May 1966. Among those in the detachment of honour were branch Vice-President Albert Harris, J. Brett and Standard Bearer Eric Johnson. The Queen paid tribute to the Belgians who had crossed the Channel to fight alongside its ally during the Second World War, “distinguishing themselves on land, sea and air”. Britain would never forget those who risked all to serve the common cause of freedom, said the Queen.

The Queen on her official visit to Belgium in 1966.  Albert Harris and Eric Johnson proudly look on 

Committee 1967

The branch committee in 1967 was constituted as follows. President: Brigadier H.M.A. Hunter CVO DSO MBE. Vice-Presidents: N. Dewhurst MC, R. Higgins, V.L.J. Snutsel, A.F.J. Harris MBE, D.C.V. Cooper. Chairman: A.G. Thorniley MBE, Hon. Secretary: P.M. Allen, Hon. Treasurer: R. Slingo, Standard Bearers: E. Johnson and J. Brett. Members: A.H. Bradley, J. Brett, J.P. Brown, H.J. Edmonds, A. Empringham, R. Galère, A.T. Kane, A.O. Smith, R. Stappaerts, H.V. Whenham.

Service Committee 1967 

Chairman: R. Galère, Hon. Secretary: A.T. Lorge MBE, Hon. Treasurer: R. Slingo. Members: L.E. Ahlberg (representing British Charitable Fund), Rev H. Isherwood MVO, OBE, C. Jordens, T. Hennessy (representing Royal Air Forces Association), Dr P. Maurice OBE (Honorary Doctor), S.E. Laurenson (Vice-Consul), H. More (Pro Consul). Delegates for Liège area: G. De Ville OBE, U. Hurard. Honorary Social Adviser: J. Christophe, Institut Edith Cavell. Honorary Dentist: Dr A. Jordens. Honorary Lawyer: Maître P. Lauwers

Grand parade

A magnificent spectacle of martial music in the Grand Place marked the finale of “British Week” on 7 October 1967. Among those taking part were The Life Guards, The Coldstream Guards, The Black Watch, The Irish Guards, The Duke of Wellington’s Royal Regiment, and The Duke of Edinburgh’s Regiment. The Life Guards took part in a ceremony with representatives of the branch at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Stamp of approval

Terence Stamp made a personal appearance at the premiere of Far From The Madding Crowd (Loin de la foule déchaînée) at the Palais des Beaux Arts on 28 March 1968. The screening, organised by Le Soir, was in aid of branch funds, the Brigade Piron veterans and the newspaper’s charity. Among the attendees were British Ambassador Sir Roderick Barclay, South African Ambassador M. Stern and Israelian Ambassador Amiel E. Najar, who were welcomed by branch President Albert Harris and General Jean-Baptiste Piron. The guard of honour was provided by the Royal Engineers.

Final salute

Branch President Albert Harris and branch member Colonel Jean Bloch paid their respects at the funeral of Commandant Raymond Moos, former President of the Brigade Piron veterans, on 21 February 1969.

Real-life James Bond

A notice published in Le Soir on 27 February 1969 announced the death of former branch Vice-President Captain Norman Dewhurst MC. A reference to two of his decorations – the Serbian White Eagle with Swords and Greek Order of the Redeemer – was the only hint that his was not a typical military career. Captain Dewhurst was in fact a globe-trotting spy, who worked undercover in both world wars. His life story reads like a James Bond novel. Lucky to survive at Gallipoli, he served with T.E. Lawrence in Cairo and Compton Mackenzie in the Aegean. He had a butler in Riga who was previously in service to the Russian Royal family and was almost caught when spying for MI6 in Nazi Germany. Despite cheating death when he was bombed in Brussels, he moved to Belgium after the war and joined the branch, serving on the same committee as Lieutenant Colonel George Starr and Group Captain Peter Townsend. His full story is told in the Remembering section.

2Lt Dewhurst in 1914 after his commission into the Royal Munster Rifles

Committee 1969

The branch committee in 1969 was constituted as follows. President: Brigadier A.I. Hulton MBE. Vice-Presidents: R. Higgins, V.L.J. Snutsel, A.F.J. Harris MBE. Chairman: A.G. Thorniley MBE, Vice-Chairman: D.C.V. Cooper, Hon. Secretary: P.M. Allen, Hon. Treasurer: R. Slingo, Standard Bearers: E. Johnson and J. Brett. Members: J.P. Brown, A. Empringham, C.R. Reed, H.J. Edmonds, R. Galère, J. Reynolds, A.T. Kane, R. Stappaerts

Battle of Britain

Prince Albert, British Ambassador Sir John Beith and pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain were guests of honour at the premiere of Guy Hamilton’s film of the same name, screened at the Marivaux cinema on 24 September 1969. Among the British and Belgian pilots introduced to the audience was former branch Honorary Vice-President Group Captain Peter Townsend, an adviser for the film. He revealed that he was writing a book about the 1940 battle to be entitled Duel of Eagles. Olivier Delville, host for Le Soir’s philanthropic events, opened the proceedings with the famous words of Winston Churchill: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” The RAF Germany band performed Spitfire Prelude, Churchill March and The Dambusters.

25th anniversary

The branch organised a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on 14 June 1970 to mark the 25thanniversary of the end of the Second World War. The event was attended by veterans “from all corners of Europe”. Music was provided by the band of the 1st Kings Regiment, stationed in Germany. The standard bearer was Eric Johnson.

Royal British Legion

While the British Legion had royal patronage from its founding in 1921, members were delighted when it was granted permission by the Crown to add “Royal” to its name on 29 May 1971, the 50th anniversary of its creation. The change of name also had a more prosaic impact – it meant the Brussels branch needed to order new stationery.

Income headache

Speaking at a meeting of the Group of Combined Branches in Belgium on 18 March 1972, Brussels Chairman Albert Harris warned of the increasing difficulty of collecting sufficient funds to meet its obligations. Brussels had not sent back any money raised from the Poppy Appeal to London HQ as it was all needed for supporting beneficiaries in Brussels, he said.

Eric wins the Cup

Eric Johnson from Brussels branch won the Standard Bearer’s Competition at the Combined Branches annual rally held in Antwerp on 3 September 1972. Marks for each competitor were based on the drill, dress and procedure rules set out in the Legion’s Ceremonial and Services pamphlet. These cover neatness of dress and general bearing, maintenance of standard, sling and gauntlets, the order, movement and position, dipping for the National Anthem, carrying at quick march, dipping for Act of Homage and dipping in wet or muddy conditions. The trophy was presented by K.C.B. Chambers.

Eric Johnson pictured with his trophy, and close family and friends in 1973 at a parade in Oostend.  From left: Viviane Pede-Moffat, Jean-Pierre Pede Moffat, Eric Johnson, Monette Johnson, Jackie Harris, Andrée Cooper, Marieka Moffat, Paul Lintz

Committee 1972

The branch committee in 1972 was constituted as follows. President: Colonel John F. Kenyon OBE MC. Vice-Presidents: R. Higgins, A.F.J. Harris MBE, A.G. Thorniley MBE, V.L.J. Snutsel. Chairman: D.C.V. Cooper, Vice-Chairman: R. Galère, Hon. Secretary: P.M Allen, Hon. Treasurer: A.T. Lorge MBE, Hon. Registrar: Lieutenant Colonel D.J.T. Stewart, Branch Chaplain: Rev P. Duplock, Standard Bearers: E. Johnson and J. Brett. Members: A. Empringham, M.B. Evans, Major M. J. Reynolds, J.N. Higgins, M. D’Hondt, M. Nossent.

Sub-Committee Entertainment 1972 

Chairman: A. Empringham. Members: F. Empringham, M. D’Hondt, M. Evans, E. Thompson, H. Moffatt, M. Nossent.

We’ll Meet Again

Forces’ sweetheart Vera Lynn, best known for her 1939 hit We’ll Meet Again, was guest of honour at the annual Poppy Ball at the Metropole Hotel in November 1973. As well as singing her most popular songs, branch member Fleur Empringham later recalled how down-to-earth Lynn also brought “stacks” of records to sell for the benefit of the Legion. Lynn, accompanied by her husband Harry Lewis, was invited to Brussels by branch Chairman Douglas Cooper and Fleur’s husband, head of entertainment Arthur Empringham.

Dame Vera Lynn with Fleur Empringham at the 1973 Poppy Ball 

Brussels hosts rally

Brussels hosted the annual rally for the Group of Combined Branches in Belgium from 25-27 April 1975. The programme included a Beating Retreat by the Band of the Royal Marines in the Grand Place and a commemoration service at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. British Ambassador Sir David Muirhead had been “much pleased” to join the parade, said President Albert Harris.

Jubilee honours

Branch President Albert Harris was awarded the OBE and Vice-Chairman Roger Galère the MBE in Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee and Birthday Honours List, announced on 11 June 1977. The awards were for their services to British veterans in Belgium for over 20 years.

Committee 1977

The branch committee in 1977 was constituted as follows. President: Colonel E.W. Nicoll MVO. Vice-Presidents: A.F.J. Harris OBE, R. Higgins, V.L.J. Snutsel, G.D. Staple MBE TD, A.G. Thorniley MBE. Chairman: D.C.V. Cooper MBE, Vice-Chairman: R. Galère MBE, Hon. Treasurer: G. Lapthorn, Chaplain: Rev P. Duplock OBE, Standard Bearer: E. Johnson, Reserve: J. Brett. Members: P. Allen, M. D’Hondt, M.B. Evans, A. Empringham, H. Moffatt, M. Nossent, P. Sinnott. 

Committee 1978 

The branch committee in 1978 was unchanged apart from three new members: D.S. Harrison, A. Lloyd Thomas and W.E. Warner. The Rev P. Duplock OBE joined the Service Committee as a co-opted member.

Membership up

Figures for 1979 show that Brussels had the second highest membership in the country with 415 members – including 170 ordinary members (those who had served in the British forces) and 245 associate members. Ypres had the highest number with 582 members, split between 110 ordinary members and 472 associate members.

 

Friends for life, Eric Johnson and Harold Moffat stood together in Liberty Square, Brussels in 1979

Queen’s message

The branch hosted the annual rally of the Group of Combined Branches in Belgium, together with representatives from the UK, France, the Netherlands and Germany, on 15 June 1980. The meeting celebrated Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s official birthday, the 35th anniversary of Victory in Europe and 150th anniversary of Belgium’s independence. In a message from Buckingham Palace to Brussels branch Chairman Douglas Cooper, the Queen sent “very best wishes for all concerned for an enjoyable and successful day”. 

Montgomery statue

Branch Vice-President Albert Harris attended the inauguration of a statue of Field Marshal Montgomery on 7 September 1980. The work near the roundabout at Square Maréchal Montgomery was created by Croatian sculptor Oscar Nemon and commemorated the liberation of Brussels on 3 September 1944 by forces under Montgomery’s command. The statue has a “twin” in London.

The unveiling of Field Marshal Montgomery's statue in 1980, well attended by the Brussels Branch.  Eric Johnson carries the standard with (from left) Doug Cooper and Harold Moffat on parade!

In the phone book

The branch meeting on 10 September 1984 was informed that a telephone was now installed in the branch club-house at 153 Avenue Eugène Plasky, Schaerbeek. The phone number was 736 8529. Vice-President Gordon Staple kindly offered to meet the installation cost. A letter from national Chairman General Sir Patrick Howard-Dobson thanked the branch for its hospitality during his recent visit to Brussels.

New President

Colonel Colin Eaton OBE, the new British Defence Attaché, was unanimously elected as President on 20 September 1985, succeeding Colonel Ken Marchant. Sadly, his tenure was very brief. Branch Chairman Douglas Cooper informed the committee on 2 December 1985 that he had received news of the sudden and unexpected death of Colonel Eaton. The members stood in silent tribute.

Price of success

The annual Poppy Dance at the Brussels Europa Hotel on 23 November 1985 was deemed a great success, both socially and financially. But the branch Chairman regretted that publicity about it in Le Soir had resulted in a demand for 5,000 Belgian francs (€125) from the Société des Auteurs Belges/Belgische Auteurs Maatschappij (SABAM). He suggested that newspaper publicity should be avoided in future.

Loyal greetings

Vice-President Albert Harris proposed that the branch send loyal greetings to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on the occasion of her 60th official birthday on 14 June 1986. (The Queen actually celebrates her real birthday on 21 April, but it is customary for British sovereigns whose birthday falls in colder months to have an official birthday in the summer in the hope of good weather for their birthday parade, known as  Trooping the Colour).

‘Home’ improvements

Committee member Serge Dauchat (Liaison Officer, 2ème Brigade “Yser”) informed members on 3 November 1986 that he had secured a heater for the club-house from a former comrade for 6,000 Belgian francs (€150), plus fitting costs. The club recently acquired 15 chairs from the same source for 400 Belgian francs (€10) each, as well as the gift of a new counter for the bar from Mr Dauchat. The committee agreed to buy a plaque engraved with a suitable inscription to recognise his generosity. Committee member Roger Galère also provided a second-hand fan for the window in the bar and a small heater for the ladies’ lavatory (both free of charge).

They served

Addressing the committee on 14 September 1987, Chairman Douglas Cooper spoke of the sad loss of three members who had contributed much to the branch. George Lapthorn, a member for nearly 40 years, was Honorary Treasurer from 1976-86. “His service to the Legion and Brussels branch was an example to everyone,” said the Chairman. Simone Nossent, wife of Honorary Registrar Marcel Nossent, had provided “enthusiastic support in all our activities”; John Latz, an ex-paratrooper, veteran of the Battle of Arnhem and member for the past four years, had only recently retired. Their funerals were well attended by members and friends from the branch.

President’s return

Former branch President and Defence Attaché Colonel John F. Kenyon joined members to commemorate Armistice Day on 11 November 1988.  

Falklands veteran

Lieutenant Commander Allen Hardcastle was a visitor the club-house on 13 October 1989. A Lieutenant Engineer on HMS Glamorgan during the Falklands War, his ship was hit by an Exocet missile on 12 June 1982, leaving 14 dead and many wounded.

Eric BEM

Standard Bearer Eric Johnson was awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) in Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s 1990 Honours List in recognition of his services to British interests in Belgium. He was presented with the medal on 9 March by Ambassador Robin O’Neill CBE during a special investiture in Brussels.

Eric Johnson BEM

Poppy Dance

The annual poppy dance was held at the Brussels Europa Hotel on 17 November 1990. According to the branch minutes, some members thought that the evening, however enjoyable, was becoming too expensive. The event raised 5,486 Belgian Francs (€136).

Committee 1991

A new committee was elected at the AGM held at the club premises on 7 January 1991. President: Colonel K. Woodrow. Vice-President: A.F.J. Harris OBE, Chairman: Colonel E. W. Nicoll CBE LVO; Vice-Chairman: H.T. More; Treasurer: P.T. Allen; Benevolent Care officer: Mrs Y. Sayer; Membership Officer: Mrs D. Cooper; Entertainments Officer: D.S. Harrison; Standard Bearer: E. Johnson BEM; Liaison Officer: W. Woodward. The position of Secretary was later accepted by Len Oddie.

Thank you

President Colonel Kerry Woodrow stepped down in September 1991 to become President of the Ostend branch. He was succeeded by Colonel Mike Craster, the British Defence Attaché.

Admiral’s salute

Admiral Richard Thomas, UK Military Representative at NATO (also uncle of actress Kristin Scott Thomas and later Black Rod in Britain’s House of Lords), joined Léon Weustenraad, Mayor of Schaerbeek, among guests at a VIP evening held at the club-house on 27 September 1991. 

Golden Badge

Douglas Harrison was presented with the RBL Golden Badge of merit on 30 March 1992 in recognition of his 18 years of service to the branch. Vice-President Albert Harris thanked him for carrying out his work “with the utmost courtesy and loyalty to one and all”. At the same meeting, Mr Harrison said it was proving difficult to secure a band for the Annual Poppy Dance and suggested the possibility of a “disco”. Alf Woodward, the new club manager, said the price of beer had increased.

President Albert

Albert Harris was unanimously elected as new branch President at the AGM on 25 January 1993 after Colonel Mike Craster had to relinquish the post due to increased workload. The remaining committee members were re-elected.

HQ ‘too expensive’

An extraordinary general meeting was called on 5 April 1993 to discuss the future of the club-house at 153 Avenue Eugène Plasky. It emerged that the annual rent and running costs had been subsidised, with the committee’s agreement, to the tune of 400,000 Belgian Francs (€10,000) for nearly a decade. Chairman Colonel Nicoll felt that this breached Legion rules. It was agreed that the committee look for alternative, less expensive premises.

Embassy to the rescue

Former President Colonel Mike Craster offered the branch use of the conference room at the British Embassy at 85 rue d’Arlon for its meeting on 13 September 1993, following the end of its lease on the club-house in July. Colonel Craster also agreed to temporarily store RBL property in the Embassy’s basement. The branch rented a new venue for social activities at 13 rue du Cultes.

Committee 1994

A new committee was elected at the AGM on 31 January 1994, with Colonel Earle “Nick” Nicoll CBE LVO elected President, Harry More as Chairman, Reg Whitburn as Vice-Chairman and Claire Whitefield as a new member. Len Oddie (Honorary Secretary), Peter Allen (Treasurer) and other committee members were re-elected.  

50th anniversary of Liberation

The branch was well represented during three days of commemorations to mark the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Brussels from 2-4 September 1994. Advised by the authorities that ladies would not be permitted to sit in the Tribune at the Royal Palace and Grand Place, the branch had this decision reversed after pointing out that four female members had served in uniform during the 1939-45 war!

British Ambassador Sir John Gary sent a letter congratulating the branch for its role in the commemorations and President Colonel Nicoll said he was “extremely pleased” by the public’s warm reaction to the veterans on parade. More than 900 British servicemen and women, including many from the UK, took part in the commemorations.

New appointments

The AGM on 8 February 1994 saw Len Oddie OBE elected as Vice-Chairman, succeeding Reg Whitburn. John Chotteau was elected Treasurer, succeeding Peter Allen, who stepped down after 10 years in the role. Freddie Townsend OBE was elected branch Secretary, succeeding Len Oddie.

Death of Townsend

The branch was saddened to learn of the death in France of former Honorary Vice-President Group Captain Peter Townsend on 19 June 1995. Obituaries were published in the UK, Belgium and across the world.

Para honoured

Major Jack Watson MC, who led the 13th (Lancashire) Parachute Battalion operations during the Battle of Bure, was a guest at the branch dinner held at Maison des Ailes on 18 September 1995. He presented the branch with plaques from the battalion and 6th Airborne Division.

Overseas branches

Addressing the branch AGM on 11 December 1995, National Council Member for Overseas Branches Michael Tidnam highlighted that the RBL now had 70 overseas branches with 11,400 members.

D-Day piper’s visit

Bill Millin, the Scotsman famous for playing the bagpipes on Sword Beach and Pegasus Bridge while under fire on D-Day, was a guest of the branch in January 1996. 

Sir John Gray

The branch hosted a farewell dinner at NATO headquarters on 25 June 1996 for British Ambassador Sir John Gray to mark his retirement.

No wives, please

Branch veterans paraded at “British Week” in Bastogne on 7 October 1996. Following a reception at the Hotel de Ville, the veterans were invited to lunch at the Officers’ Mess. Branch minutes note that “wives would have to eat separately in a local restaurant, but it was thought that this would be acceptable”.

Welcome back, Sir

The branch hosted a dinner at NATO headquarters on 14 April 1997 in honour of the new British Ambassador David Colvin CMG, who previously served as spokesman for the UK Permanent Representation to the European Community in 1977-82.

Veterans for Europe?

Graham Downing, National Chairman of the RBL, met committee members at the British Embassy on 7 July 1997 to outline plans for a “Veterans in Europe” association which the Legion hoped might be eligible for EU funding. Michael Tidnam, National Council Member for Overseas Branches, also sought feedback on the possible formation of a Benelux District. Both proposals received a lukewarm reception. After the meeting, members retired to the Red Herring Club, where Downing awarded life membership for outstanding service to Standard Bearer Eric Johnson and committee member Douglas Harrison.

Veteran re-housed

The committee was pleased to learn that a British ex-serviceman who had been living in social housing in Louvain-la-Neuve had, thanks to support from the branch, moved into an RBL home in Ripon, Yorkshire. The news brought spontaneous applause from all present at the branch meeting on 6 October 1997. “It’s the best thing I’ve heard since joining,” said President Colonel Nicoll. 

Harry steps down

Harry More surprised the committee on 4 November 1997 by announcing he would be stepping down as Chairman after four years at the helm. He also served for four years as Vice-Chairman and chaired the Service Committee. President Colonel Nicoll spoke for all when he said Harry had been “a great chairman, one of the best we’ve had”.

New Chairman

Major Freddie Townsend OBE was unanimously elected Chairman at the AGM on 1 December 1997. Vice-Chairman Len Oddie MBE, Honorary Treasurer John Chotteau, and committee members Doug Harrison, Harry Shaw MBE, Reg Whitburn, Alf Woodward, Dédée Cooper, Yvonne Sayer, Maureen Van Tiggelen and Claire Whitfield were elected en-bloc, together with a new nominee, Ray Paton. Harry More was presented with a framed certificate in recognition of his outstanding service and appointed Vice-President. Group Captain David Hencken, Honorary President of the RBL in Belgium and British Defence Attaché since 1993, retired from the committee. Members were told that Colonel Tim Hall CBE, a former military representative at NATO, had been named as his successor.

75th anniversary

Members marked the 75th anniversary of the branch’s formation with a sold-out dinner dance on 13 December 1997 at NATO headquarters. Entertainment officer Doug Harrison said the tombola raised 19,000 Belgian francs (€475).

Evere ceremony

Addressing the branch meeting on 2 February 1998, Vice-President Harry More called for the renewal of the annual commemoration at the CWGC cemetery in Evere, noting that this had not taken place for some years.

Alf and Harry honoured

Committee member Alf Woodward was presented with a Gold Badge on 30 March 1998 in recognition of his service over many years. Harry Shaw MBE also received a branch certificate at the presentation, held in the Red Herring Club at the British Embassy.

World veterans

The committee was informed on 25 May 1998 that national HQ had decided not to pursue the idea of forming a “Veterans in Europe” association. It would instead place the full weight of its support behind the World Veterans Federation and its committee on European affairs.

Tribute to Margaret 

The branch lost one of its most fondly remembered members with the passing of Margaret d’Hondt in West Malling, Kent, on 30 August 1999. Arthur Empringham paid tribute to Margaret’s “unstinting service” to the Brussels community, recalling how she and her husband Tony would provide coffee and “stronger drinks” in the church hall at Holy Trinity after the service on Sundays. “We will always cherish the smile, even in adversity, and her London accent which she kept over the years, always reminding we old patriots of ‘Blighty’.” 

Colonel Nicoll 

The branch was saddened to learn of the unexpected passing of former President Colonel Earle William “Nick” NicollCBE LVO on 1 October 1999. Colonel Nicoll, who also served as Chairman of RBL Belgium, was a former commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, the Black Watch, and Defence Attaché in Brussels. His funeral, attended by many friends and members of the branch, took place at Sint Antonius Church in Grez-Doiceau on 9 October. A memorial service was held on 2 December at Perth in Scotland, the home of the Black Watch.

Paying tribute at the AGM on 29 November, Chairman Freddie Townsend said the Colonel had been a President in much more than name, rarely failing to attend meetings and always ready to give advice if needed.

Tributes were also paid at the AGM to long-standing committee member Serge Dauchat, who also recently passed away.

Armistice tributes 

Armistice Day in 1999 was marked with due solemnity in Brussels and throughout the country. As in previous years, branch member Arsène Davreux – “Raymond” to his comrades in the Armée Secrète in 1944 and President of the 2ème Brigade “Yser” Section Luxembourg – laid wreaths and crosses on lonely graves and memorials in Belgium’s southernmost province.  Vice-President Harry More MBE represented the branch at a Remembrance ceremony in Overijse on 6 November which also marked the 55th anniversary of the founding of the town’s veterans’ association, the Koninklijke vereniging van oudstrijdersverbroederingen (KVOV). 

President Harry 

Harry More MBE was elected branch President at the AGM on 29 November 1999. One of his first duties was to present branch certificates of esteem and appreciation to Honorary Treasurer John Chotteau and committee member Claire Whitfield. Defence Attaché Colonel Tim Hall thanked the branch for the support given to the ceremonies at La Roche-en-Ardenne and Mouscron. He highlighted the success of the Battle of Britain service in September, held for the first time at the Basilique de Koekelberg.

Committee 1999 

The branch announced the formation of a new committee at the AGM. President: Harry More. Chairman: Freddie Townsend, Vice-Chairman: Reg Whitburn, Hon. Treasurer: John Chotteau, Hon. Secretary: Ray Paton. General committee members: Doug Harrison, Andrée Cooper, Claire Whitfield, Maureen Van Tiggelen, André Mayne, Fernand Delcourt.

Marie Rose

Marie Nelly Rose, a widow cared for by the branch’s service committee for many years, passed away on 13 December 1999. Marie’s working life started at the age of eight, when she was employed in service. She later qualified as a nurse and continued working until she was 75. Her husband, a member of the branch, was a PoW in Germany during the Second World War and died in 1967. Marie, who died aged 96, also outlived their son, who passed away in 1992.

Party like it’s 1999 

The branch prepared for the millennium in style with a Christmas party and cabaret at the NATO Staff Centre on 11 December 1999. British Ambassador David Colvin CMG and Defence Attaché Colonel Tim Hall CBE were among the guests. The Brussels Light Opera Company provided the entertainment with a cabaret featuring a Belgian belly dancer.

The branch distributed 13 Christmas hampers to beneficiaries in and around Brussels, as well as in Charleroi, Mons and Namur.

 2000-2021

Liège tribute

Chairman Freddie Townsend, associate member Arsène Davreux and Standard Bearer Eric Johnson represented the branch at the unveiling of a statue of Belgian King Albert II in Liège on 8 April 2000.

Bike to Brussels

Members were out in force at the Parc du Cinquentenaire on 3 June 2000 to welcome riders taking part in the Bike to Brussels 2000 fund-raising ride. The team included RBL General Secretary Brigadier Ian Townsend. British Ambassador David Colvin presented each rider with a medal and praised the branch for its support.

Queen Mother’s 100th

Branch President Harry More attended a reception given by the Ostend branch in honour of the 100thbirthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, on 4 August 2000. 

John honoured

Honorary Treasurer John Chotteau was presented with a Gold Badge by British Ambassador David Colvin CMG during the branch Christmas party at NATO on 16 December 2000. Among those signing the livre d’or was Daphne Chotteau, with these words: “Perhaps only his wife knows how richly deserved.”

Freddie’s plea

Chairman Freddie Townsend informed the committee on 8 January 2001 that he was “as usual” seeking to retain funds raised during the Poppy Appeal in Brussels for the branch’s welfare work. London HQ, as previously, had stated all funds should be remitted to the UK. A discussion that would be continued …

‘Billy’ Bacon

The committee was sad to learn that “Billy” Bacon, an RAF veteran and long-serving member, had passed away. Reg Whitburn, chairman of the Welfare Committee, informed the branch meeting on 12 February 2001 that he had attended the funeral with President Harry More, and committee members Claire Whitfield and Doug Harrison.

George Nicholls

The committee paid silent tribute at their meeting on 28 May 2001 following the death of George Nicholls. At 15, Nicholls took part in undercover operations against the occupying forces in Belgium during the Second World War. Captured and interrogated in the fortress of Namur, he was held in a concentration camp until May 1945. He later enlisted in the RAF.

Return of Eric

Eric Johnson BEM, who “retired” as standard bearer in March 2001, was back on duty at the Evere commemoration on 30 June after his would-be successor was unfortunately hospitalised.

9/11 tribute

A two-minute silence was held at the committee meeting on 17 September 2001 in memory of the 3,000 people killed in the 9/11 al-Qaeda terror attacks on the US. Branch President Harry More sent a letter of condolence to the US Embassy.

Hello to the €

The branch accounts appeared in euros for the first time on 22 October 2001. “The figures are difficult to come to terms with but will come easier as the euro comes into general use,” the minutes note. (The euro was in general circulation from 1 January 2002).

Chairman Reg

Freddie Townsend stepped down as Chairman at the AGM on 27 November 2001, agreeing to act as Honorary Secretary until a “suitable relief” was found. Former Vice-Chairman Reg Whitburn was elected to succeed Freddie, with Honorary Secretary Ray Paton taking the reins as Vice-Chairman. John Chotteau continued as Honorary Treasurer and Eric Johnson as Standard Bearer.

New Attaché

The committee was addressed on 27 November 2001 by the new British Defence Attaché, Group Captain Jeffrey Bullen OBE, former station commander at RAF Lyneham. Group Captain Bullen assured members that he and Ambassador Gavin Hewitt would seek to attend as many commemorations as possible, while cautioning that the role of Attaché had expanded considerably and “we have to look forward as well as to the past”.

Jean Bloch

Chairman Reg Whitburn paid tribute to long-term member Baron Jean Bloch CBE, who passed away on 2 March 2002. Colonel Bloch helped reorganise the Free Belgian Forces in Britain during the Second World War and served with the Brigade Piron during the Normandy campaign. He was among the first troops to enter Brussels when it was liberated. Taken prisoner at Bastogne, he escaped from Bavaria back to Allied lines and served in the 14th US Armoured Divison. “He was a fine example of courage and devotion to duty,” said Mr Whitburn.

Friends of the Fallen

The chairman announced plans on 13 May 2002 to launch a volunteer “Friends of the Fallen” group to look after the many isolated graves of servicemen in Belgium.  The idea quickly took off: within months, Welfare Committee Secretary Claire Whitfield reported members were already caring for graves in 37 cemeteries.

Reconciliation

Branch members took part in a “friendship and reconciliation” gathering at Neustadt an der Weinstraase in Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany, from 3-6 July 2002. The event, bringing together groups from Britain, Belgium, France, and Germany, followed the success of a similar initiative in 2000 in Mâcon, France.

Tribute to Douglas

Members were greatly saddened to learn of the death of Douglas Harrison, who served on the committee for 25 years and as a branch member for nearly half a century. “With the help of Suzanne, his wife, he did much for the life of the branch,” said Chairman Reg Whitburn. More than 30 members and friends were present at the funeral for Douglas, who passed away on 15 August 2002.

There was happier news regarding committee member Maureen Van Tiggelen, who had awoken from her coma asking for champagne.

Membership plea

Addressing the AGM on 25 November 2002, Chairman Reg Whitburn warned the branch faced an “age-related dilemma” with many members now in their eighties. “Our problem is one of fewer active members, compounded in our case with the age factor, which prevents ‘willing’ members from becoming active members,” he said. With a view to attracting new members, he was in touch with a liaison officer at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Mons to encourage recently retired servicemen and women to join.

Team re-elected

The current committee was voted en-bloc at the AGM. President: Harry More MBE, Chairman: Reg Whitburn, Vice-Chairman: Ray Paton, Honorary Secretary: Freddie Townsend, Honorary Treasurer: John Chotteau, Standard Bearer: Eric Johnson. General committee members: Albert Bove, Pierre Campion, Andree Cooper, Fernand Delcourt, Freddy Lepeer, Claire Whitfield. Two new members were also elected: Jean Morel and Vivienne Smith.

Counting the Poppy Appeal in 2003 with Chair Reg at the head of the table, Germaine and Claire Whitfield and John Chotteau 

End of distinction?

The committee was informed on 7 April 2003 that a motion would be tabled at the RBL’s annual conference to end the distinction between ordinary and associate members. This was apparently necessary to comply with European law.

Honoured at Embassy

Two awards were made at the committee meeting at the British Embassy on 1 September 2003. Honorary Consul Kathie Armstrong presented Ray Paton with a certificate of merit for his work as Vice-Chairman and branch events manager, while Michael Brereton received the Gold Badge for facilitating an excellent relationship between the branch and British Embassy for many years.

Risk of closure

Speaking at the AGM on 24 November 2003, Chairman Reg Whitburn once again raised his concerns about the branch’s future. “Brussels branch RBL was founded over 80 years ago and it seems unbelievable that we should think of its closure, and yet today that possibility is facing us. The officers and President are all octogenarian and will not carry on much longer. If we are to continue, we must find a solution,” he warned.

New Ambassador

New British Ambassador Richard Kinchen, accompanied by Defence Attaché Group Captain Jeffrey Bullen, met committee members on 12 January 2004. He reassured members that the Embassy would continue to support ceremonial and commemorative events, but that resources were under increasing pressure.

Friendship reunion

The Brussels branch took its turn in hosting a friendship and reconciliation visit with representatives of veterans’ organisations from Mâcon, France, and Neustadt an der Weinstraase, Germany, from 7-9 July 2004.

Fryatt memorial

The branch took part in a ceremony in Bruges on 27 July 2004 in honour of Merchant Navy Captain Charles Fryatt, who was executed on 27 July 1916 for trying to ram a U-boat. The sentence received international condemnation. In a statement to the House of Commons at the time, British Prime Minister Albert Asquith said Captain Fryatt was murdered.

On the brink

Addressing the committee on 5 July 2004, Chairman Reg Whitburn said the branch would have to close within a year or substantially reduce its activities. While every effort would be made to keep the branch afloat, in the absence of new officers he would propose its closure at the next AGM.

Saved

Chairman Reg Whitburn had positive news at the AGM on 22 November 2004. Myriam Wraith, a retired English teacher, and Paul Boorman, a retired Royal Engineer and practising accountant, had joined the branch and were nominated as acting Honorary Secretary and acting Honorary Treasurer respectively. Both were duly elected. The Chairman paid tribute to former Honorary Secretary Freddie Townsend, who had been forced to retire after 10 years’ service due to ill-health, and to John Chotteau, whose integrity “was an example to all” during a decade as Treasurer. John agreed to stay on for a few months to ensure a smooth handover. Eric Johnson, Standard Bearer for over 50 years, agreed to continue.

Final chapter

But the Chairman had sad news to convey too.

He reported that long-serving committee member Dédé Cooper, widow of former branch Chairman Major Douglas Cooper, had passed away and paid tribute to her dedicated service.

He also announced he would stand down as Chairman in the coming months, as well as relinquishing his role on the Welfare Committee and as Poppy Appeal organiser.

Farewell Ray 

Members were saddened to learn of the passing of Ray Paton, a former branch Vice-Chairman and Honorary Secretary. President Harry More MBE gave the eulogy at Ray’s funeral, held in Mechelen on 26 March 2005.

Harry recalled how Ray had escaped from France to join the British forces and saw action in Italy and Normandy with the Durham Light Infantry and Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. After his demobilization, Ray settled in Belgium with wife Marie-Louise. “He organised many commemorative and social events with enthusiasm and dedication .. and carried out his tasks in an exemplary manner,” said Harry.

Veterans badge 

Branch members Harry More, Reg Whitburn, Eric Johnson, Harry Shaw, Ken Bowring, Tom Egan, Freddy Lepeer, and Jack Whittle were presented with veterans’ badges during the annual commemorations at Hotton and La Roche-en-Ardenne on 8 May 2005 – the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Branch member Guy Blockmans brought a special cake, on behalf of the Office de Promotion du Tourisme Wallonie-Bruxelles (OPT), to mark the occasion.

More than 30 members attended the commemoration ceremonies, which were conducted by the Reverend Canon Ray Jones of St George’s Church in Ypres. Captain Ian Jeffrey RN represented the British Embassy and Eric Johnson was the Standard Bearer.

Beharry VC 

The April 2005 issue of the branch’s quarterly newsletter featured a special article about Private Johnson Gideon Beharry– the first recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest military decoration for valour in the British and Commonwealth armed forces, in more than 20 years. Showing supreme courage, he saved members of his unit, the 1st Battalion Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment, when their Warrior armoured vehicle column was caught in an ambush on 1 May 2004 at Al-Amarah in Iraq. Six weeks later, on 11 June 2004, he sustained head injuries in a second ambush but managed to reverse his Warrior out of danger until he fell unconscious and other troops were able to pull him out. Beharry was invested with the Victoria Cross by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 27 April 2005.

Chairman Ed 

Ed Read Cutting was elected branch Chairman in June 2005, succeeding Reg Whitburn. A former officer in the Royal Regiment of Wales from 1985-92, Ed served in Britain, Germany, Northern Ireland and Hong Kong. Writing in the branch’s quarterly newsletter, Ed recalled that when he heard the branch was actively seeking to recruit younger members, he had no hesitation in getting in touch. “To be referred to as a young member is always refreshing so please keep it up,” he added.

His aim was to rejuvenate the branch – and he succeeded with the support of an excellent team. A former President of the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium, Ed had good contacts with the British Embassy and sought to develop this relationship. One of the features of Ed’s time at the helm was a greater emphasis on social gatherings for members and friends.

HMS St Albans 

To mark Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s official birthday, branch members were invited to visit the Royal Navy’s frigate HMS St Albans in Antwerp on 11 June 2005. The guests, who included Marie-Louise Paton, the widow of much-missed former branch Vice-Chairman and Honorary Secretary Ray Paton, were taken round the ship in groups and enjoyed light refreshments. The branch newsletter was pleased to note that “among the crew there are 26 ladies and some of them are even officers”.  

Welfare a priority

Colin Puplett was elected Secretary of the Welfare Committee in July 2005 and its Chairman the following December when Harry More stepped down. Colin’s wife Brenda in turn took his place as Secretary. Together with the other team members, they ensured that Legion pensioners, known as protégés, received regular visits, as well as flowers and cards on special occasions. The Welfare Committee was responsible for distributing Christmas hampers and helping the British Charitable Fund to organise short breaks for RBL, Royal Air Force Association and Royal Naval Association pensioners. “These actions are greatly appreciated,” said Colin.

The Welfare Committee in 2005.  Putting people first. 

Trafalgar lunch

Branch members joined forces with their friends from the Royal Naval Association to celebrate Trafalgar Day with a delicious lunch at the NATO Staff Centre on 22 October 2005. Rule Britannia was sung with gusto. Vice-Admiral Glenn Davidson CMM CD gave a presentation on the Canadian Navy.

Ambassador’s reception 

British Ambassador Richard Kinchen hosted a cocktail party reception at the Residence in Uccle on 15 November 2005. Despite terrible weather, members came from far and wide to attend the event. It was also an opportunity to say goodbye to Sgt Julie Knapman, a strong supporter of the branch during her time at the Embassy. “We will surely miss your smile, efficiency and kindness,” stated the Myriam Wraith in the branch newsletter.

President Fisher 

Brigadier Andrew Fisher was elected branch President at the AGM on 21 November 2005. Andrew brought immense experience to the role having served for 36 years in the British infantry, Catering Corps and Royal Logistics Corps. He also had experience with veterans, having spent six years as Director of Communications at the Army Benevolent Fund. Looking back, he said: “At the time I was living in Eupen [a town near the German border] and enjoyed coming over each month for our meetings. I remember the strong sense of comradeship among the members. They were very close to each other and a very efficient group who did a great job looking after the British veterans. I was proud to represent the branch.”

Brigadier Andrew Fisher, Branch President

New Membership Secretary

Michael Rose was elected Membership Secretary at the AGM.

Hotton history

British Ambassador Richard Kinchen joined members for the annual commemoration at Hotton on 7 May 2006. President Brigadier Andrew Fisher reminded those present of the heavy losses sustained in counter-attacks by the 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division and 51st (Highland) Division in January 1945. A fuller account of the Allied actions by branch member Guy Blockmans is available on the Battle of the Bulge memories website with information about the gun turret Welsh memorial in Hotton, 51st Highland memorial at La Roche-en-Ardenne, and Belgian SAS memorial at nearby Bure.

Junior Standard Bearer 

Thanks to some on-the-spot training from long-serving Standard Bearer Eric Johnson, Chairman Ed Read Cutting’s son Bruno had the privilege of acting as his junior during the traditional commemoration at the CWGC cemetery in Evere on 1 July 2006. The service was conducted by Padre Bob Mitchell of the United Kingdom Support Unit Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (UKSU SHAPE). Tuomas Tiainen from the British School once again brilliantly played the trumpet after everyone during the ceremony at Hotton.

Ambassador’s welcome

The branch was well represented at a reception for veterans’ organisations hosted by British Ambassador Richard Kinchen at the Residence in Uccle on 8 November 2006. The arrangements were diligently handled by the Ambassador’s social secretary Andrée Ferrant.

Membership up

Membership Secretary Michael Rose updated the committee on 24 November 2006 with the current branch membership figures which showed a welcome increase over the past two years, rising from 117 to 132. However, with the average age of members also increasing, Michael stressed the need for active recruitment of newer younger members. 

Committee 2006 

The branch announced the formation of a new committee on 24 November 2006. President: Brigadier Andrew Fisher. Chairman: Ed Read Cutting, Hon. Treasurer: Paul Boorman, Hon. Secretary: Myriam Wraith, Membership Secretary: Michael Rose, Welfare Committee Chairman: Colin Puplett, Welfare Secretary: Brenda Puplett, Poppy Appeal Coordinator: Rhoda Grant, Communications: Andy Johnson, Events Officer: Harry More, Ceremony Representation: Giovanni Bove, Friends of the Fallen: Pierre Campion, Belgian PR: Freddy Lepeer. Standard Bearer: Eric Johnson.

 

Ed Read Cutting and his wife, Georgia at Hotton with their children (from left) Tom, Bruno and Frankie

Committee 2007 

There were two new additions to the committee with Michael Brown succeeding Rhoda Grant as Poppy Appeal Coordinator, and Greg Ruthven succeeding Andy Johnson as Events Coordinator.

Medal for Eric

British Ambassador Rachel Aron presented the Voluntary Service Medal to Standard Bearer Eric Johnson in November 2008 in recognition of his more than 50 years of service to the branch. The citation read: “Eric sets an example to us all with his enthusiasm, immaculate turn-out, and charming spirit. He always makes time to chat to everyone. In fact he makes it his job to get to know them, whether a new member, an old member, or even children who turn up to events from time to time. A better representative we couldn’t and indeed do not have.”

Club Prince Albert

After a long period without a proper venue for social events, the branch was offered use of the Club Prince Albert from 9 February 2009. Based in the former Prince Albert barracks, close to the Petit Sablon and Egmont Palace, the building was home to the Belgian Régiment des Grenadiers from 1907-1939, although it was briefly “loaned” to Germany during the First World War. After the Second World War the barracks was home to the Belgian Military Police and provided the Officers’ Mess for the British Garrison, before becoming a military club.

Welcome Andrée

Andrée Ferrant became branch Honorary Secretary in September 2009, succeeding Myriam Wraith who stepped down after five years of sterling service as secretary, newsletter editor and events organiser.

Myriam Wraith receives a token of appreciation from Brigadier Fisher

Berlin-bound

The branch said farewell to Poppy Appeal Coordinator Michael Brown in January 2010. Michael, who took over the role in 2008, re-invigorated the Appeal network which resulted in annual collections and donations doubling to around €12,000 a year. The branch wished Michael and his wife Wiebke well in their new rolein Berlin. Michael’s successor was Janet Morley.

Let’s do lunch!

The branch inaugurated a series of monthly lunches, starting from 18 January 2010, with the aim of bringing members together more often. The venue was Les Brasseries Rustiques in Evere.

Mark steps in

Welfare Committee member Mark Thomas acted as Standard Bearer at the Evere Memorial Day on 26 June 2010, held in the presence of the new British Ambassador and branch patron Jonathan Brenton. Wreaths were laid in the CWGC cemetery and at the Waterloo Memorial.

Committee 2010

The branch committee in 2010 was constituted as follows. President: Brigadier Andrew Fisher, Vice-President: Harry More MBE, Chairman: Ed Read Cutting, Vice-Chairman: Michael Rose, Hon. Treasurer: Paul Boorman, Hon. Secretary: Andrée Ferrant, Membership Secretary: Paulina Robijns van Rijn, Poppy Appeal coordinator: Janet Morley and Ann Morley, Welfare Committee Chairman: Colin Puplett, Newsletter Coordinator: Helen Heywood.

Adieu Jimmy

The branch was represented at the funeral of former member Jimmy Foster OBE on 9 September 2010. Jimmy, a founder of the Belgium branch of the Royal Naval Association, lived in Belgium for more than 40 years. “He was a great bloke who loved a laugh, but did not suffer fools gladly,” said a friend.

Liberation hero

Brigade Piron veteran Maurice Mirowski was profiled in the September 2010 edition of The Wipers Times. Born in Poland and brought up in Belgium, Maurice was studying in France when the country surrendered. He set out for North Africa to join the Allies but was captured and held in the notorious Miranda del Ebro jail near Burgos. Released in 1943, he made it to Lisbon where he was sheltered by the Belgian Embassy until his brother, who had escaped to Britain in 1940, arranged for him to be flown out. He joined the Brigade Piron and took part in the liberation of Brussels on 4 September 1944.

Eric is back

Standard Bearer Eric Johnson was back on duty for the annual Remembrance Service at the Pro-Cathedral of Holy Trinity Brussels on 14 November 2010. Standards were presented for the Royal Naval Association by Freddy Roiseux and the Royal Air Forces Association by Jean-Pierre Blanckaert. Vice-Chairman Michael Rose read the Laurence Binyon poem For The Fallen, from which the Legion’s Exhortation is taken. Reverend Canon Dr Robert Innes led the service.

Tribute to Arthur

The December 2010 edition of The Wipers Times had a tribute to Arthur Empringham, who recently passed away. A branch member since the 1960s and former head of entertainment, Arthur was a veteran of the Normandy campaign, serving with a tank division. He met his wife Fleur on leave in Brussels in 1945. In 2005, at the instigation of his grandson David, Arthur returned to Gold Beach for the first time since he landed there 61 years earlier. 

A young Arthur Empringham

Ambassador’s welcome

New British Ambassador Jonathan Brenton welcomed branch members to a reception at the Residence in Rue Ducale on 3 November 2010.

Tribute to Freddie

The March 2011 edition of The Wipers Times included a tribute by Pat Wiegele-Dajani following the death of her father, Major Freddie Townsend OBE, a former branch Chairman and Secretary. Freddie served in Normandy in 1944 with 30 Assault Unit, the Commando outfit formed by Commander Ian Fleming. Writing in the Royal Marines journal The Globe and Laurel, Freddie described 30 AU’s role in the capture of the German commandant of Cherbourg, General Karl-Wilhelm Von Schleiben, who surrendered with Admiral Walter Henneke, 20 other officers and 500 enemy troops. He also recalled the “Aladdin's Cave atmosphere” of the tunnels in the commandant’s huge subterranean bunker which “housed a wine cellar which would have been the envy of the present-day hypermarket”. Freddie’s comrades in 30 AU included Captain Charles Wheeler, later a distinguished BBC journalist and father-in-law of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Reg remembered

In the same newsletter, Michael Whitburn proudly looked back on the life of his father, Reg Whitburn MBE, who passed away in December 2010. Reg served in the Household Cavalry in 1945-47 and met his wife Germaine at the famous 21 Club in Brussels. A member of the Brussels branch since 1991, he was Chairman from 1995-2006, Vice-Chairman of the Welfare Committee from 1993-1997 and Poppy Appeal organiser. From 1956-1965, trilingual Reg was Chairman of the Brussels branch of Toc H, the charity linked to Talbot House in Poperinge, the home-from-home where soldiers could get a break from the horror of the trenches in the First World War. Toc H comes from the abbreviation for Talbot House (“Toc Aitch”) in the signallers’ alphabet. Reg was awarded his MBE in 2003 for services to veterans with the RBL and Toc H.

The dynamite behind the 2011 Poppy Appeal!  Front row, from left: Helen Haywood, Brenda Puplett, Ann Morley, Simon Robbins.  Back row: Colin Puplett, Paulina van Rijn, Alan Puplett, Rainer Hiltermann 

Grand-daughter’s tribute

Noemie “Cookie” Bowring paid an affectionate tribute to her grandfather, branch member Ken Bowring, who died on 18 February 2012. London-born Ken served with the 1st and 2nd Middlesex Regiments and saw action in Normandy and on the Polish border. He never forgot the terrible sights he witnessed in the concentration camps liberated by his unit.

Farewell Len

The April 2012 edition of The Wipers Times paid tribute to former Vice-Chairman and Honorary Secretary Len Oddie MBE, who died aged 87. Len served in the Household Cavalry during the Second World War, with the Royal Horse Guards in Windsor and later in Menden and Iserlohn, Germany, in the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR). His wife Josie sadly passed away in 1989 and Len spent his later years with his partner Yvonne.

Oostmalle memorial

Vice Chairman Michael Rose and acting Standard Bearer Freddy Roiseux attended the inauguration of a memorial at Oostmalle-Zoersel on 4 May 2012, honouring the crew of a Lancaster which crashed on 12May 1944. A Belgian Air Force piper played Flowers of the Forest and a Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster, accompanied by two Belgian F-16s, made a flypast. Wing Commander H.R. Goodman (SAAF), Navigator G. Agar (RAF), Bomb Aimer W. Vander-Dasson (RAF), Radio Operator C. Finighan (RAF), Tail Gunner R. McLeod (RCAF), Flight Engineer Ph. Vickers (RAF) and Midupper Gunner R. White (RAF) were laid to rest in the CWGC section of Schoonselhof Cemetery near Antwerp.

Eric set the standard

After 56 years of making the job his own, Eric Johnson made what would be his final appearance as Standard Bearer during the annual commemoration at the CWGC cemetery in Evere on 23 June 2012. He was seconded by Mark Thomas.

Duchess of Richmond’s Ball

More than 200 guests attended the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball at the Château Ste Anne on 23 June 2012. Named after the famous ball held in Brussels on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo, the event raised over €26,600, shared between the branch and four other charities.

Harry Shaw

The July 2012 edition of The Wipers Times paid tribute to member Harry Shaw, who died aged 91. A former miner, Harry served in the Sherwood Foresters and 148th Royal Armoured Corps as a gunner-radio operator. He landed in Normandy on a floating Sherman tank and fought through France, Belgium, Holland and Germany. Harry was a former Vice Chairman of the Normandy Veterans Association. In 1995 he was awarded the MBE and later the Chevalier de l’Ordre de la Couronne de Belgique for services to British and Belgian veterans.

Diamond Jubilee

Branch members marked the 60th anniversary of the accession of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, enjoying a Jubilee lunch with friends from the British Charitable Fund, the Wednesday Club and Royal Air Forces Association.

New Membership Secretary

Michael Rose took over as Membership Secretary in November 2005.

Michael steps down

Popular Vice-Chairman Michael Rose stepped down at the AGM on 22 October 2012. Michael also served as Membership Secretary during his eight years on the committee. President Andrew Fisher paid tribute to Michael as “a man of the old school with a sharp sense of humour. Life won’t be the same without this colourful, irascible Scot in our midst”, he said.

New Standard Bearer

Former Royal Naval Association (RNA) Standard Bearer Freddy Roiseux officially took up the gauntlets as new branch Standard Bearer on 5 May 2013 during the annual commemorations at Hotton and La Roche-en-Ardenne.

Farewell Monette

The branch was saddened to learn of the death in May 2013 of Simone “Monette” Kemps Johnson, who supported branch events for more than 40 years with her husband Eric, the former Standard Bearer. She had a great memory, especially for Second World War songs. At an anniversary gathering of US and British veterans, the Americans were singing popular American tunes when Monette showed them how it was done, launching with fervour into Rule Britannia.

Fleur’s story

Branch member Fleur Empringham told her story in the July 2013 edition of The Wipers Times, from her life as a teenager in Brussels under Nazi occupation, to meeting her British husband Arthur and moving to Germany after the war. “We were not the liberators, but the enemy occupiers and the German civilians were understandably very hostile,” she recalled.

Hugh Oxley

The branch paid its respects to Hugh Oxley CBE following his death aged 95. Hugh served in the Royal Navy Reserve on HMS Birmingham and HMS Kent in the Second World War, covering 400,000 miles in the North Atlantic, Mediterranean and icy waters of Greenland and Iceland. He had a distinguished career in banking and was a former President of the British Chamber of Commerce.

Change of editor

With her return to the UK, Helen Haywood stepped down after more than three years as editor of The Wipers Times in July 2013. “I have been privileged to record the moving stories of some of our members,” she said. Alan Puplett took over the mantle.

New faces

Jean-Pierre Pede (First World War Centenary Coordinator), Ian Youd (Events Coordinator), and Jacqueline Daugnaix-Whitfield (Friends of the Fallen) were elected to the committee at the AGM on 22 October 2013.

Albert Bove

Branch members expressed their condolences after the passing of Albert Bove on 24 November 2013. Albert, also known as Joe and John, had the name Giovanni Alberto on his birth certificate when he was born in the north of England. Conscripted into the Durham Light Infantry, he served in the British Expeditionary Force and was a stretcher bearer at Dunkirk before being evacuated himself. He later fought with the Royal Artillery and Guards Armoured Division, taking part in the Normandy campaign and liberation of Brussels. It was during the celebrations that he met Octavie Jacobs, the teenage daughter of a restaurant owner. They married in 1946 and stayed in Brussels. It is thought Albert was the last branch member who was a veteran of both Dunkirk and Normandy.

Tributes to Myriam

Branch President Andrew Fisher led tributes to former branch Secretary Myriam Wraith following her unexpected death on 26 February 2014. “It was largely through her hard work and devotion to others that the Brussels branch kept going for as long as it has. She took on everything that was thrown her way and she particularly cared for those who needed help and assistance,” he said. “A wonderful lady, never complaining, always ready to help and smiling despite her serious health problems,” added her successor, Andrée Ferrant.

Committee 2014

The branch committee in 2014 was constituted as follows. President: Brigadier Andrew Fisher. Vice-President: Harry More MBE, Chairman: Ed Read Cutting, Hon. Treasurer: Paul Boorman, Hon. Secretary: Andrée Ferrant, Membership Secretary: Jean-Pierre Pede, Poppy Appeal organiser: Ann Morley, Honorary Membership Secretary: Paulina Robijns van Rijn, Welfare Committee Chairman: Colin Puplett, Welfare Secretary: Brenda Puplett, Events Coordinator: Ian Youd, Newsletter and Communication Coordinator: Alan Puplett, Historian & Website: Greg Ruthven, Friends of the Fallen: Jacqueline Daugnaix Whitfield, Standard Bearers: Freddy Roiseux and Mark Thomas.

Cavell remembered

In the presence of branch members and pupils from the British School of Brussels, UK Minister Mark Simmonds, Ambassador Jonathan Brenton, and Paul Breyne, Belgian Federal Commissioner-General for the Centenary of the First World War, laid a wreath and sowed poppy seeds at the Edith Cavell-Marie Depage Memorial on 4 April 2014.

D-Day 70

Branch member Alan Puplett and George Bowring, son of sadly departed veteran George Bowring, took part in the D-Day 70th anniversary Remembrance Service in Bayeux on 6 June 2014. The event, organised by the Legion and Normandy Veterans Association, was honoured by the presence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the Prince of Wales.

Good luck, Robert

The Reverend Canon Dr Robert Innes, Senior Chaplain of the Pro-Cathedral of Holy Trinity Brussels, who for nine years led the annual Remembrance Service, as well as the commemorations at Hotton, La Roche-en-Ardenne and Evere, took up his new role as Bishop of Gibraltar and Europe on 20 July 2014. Rev Innes, who was also Chaplain to Her Majesty the Queen and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative to the EU Institutions, talked about his new post in a video interview. The Reverend Canon John Wilkinson, Associate Chaplain and Canon Pastor at the Pro-Cathedral of Holy Trinity Brussels, has led the branch’s Remembrance ceremonies since 2014 and is an observer on the committee.

By Royal appointment

Standard Bearer Freddy Roisieux was in the guard of honour at a memorable ceremony held at Saint Symphorien cemetery near Mons on 4 August 2014. The event was attended by Belgium’s King Philippe and Queen Mathilde, with Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, his wife Kate (“very pretty” in Freddy’s words) and Prince Harry, who spoke ito Freddy and the other standard bearers. Other VIPs included British Prime Minister David Cameron, and the Presidents of France and Germany, François Hollande and Joachim Gauck. Over 500 men, most killed during the battle of Mons, lie in the cemetery: 283 German soldiers and 229 British. The cemetery contains the graves of the first and last British soldiers to have fallen during the First World War: John Parr, killed at the age of 16, and George Ellison, shot an hour and a half before the Armistice.

Arc de Triomphe ceremony

The Brussels branch teamed up with RBL Paris for a special commemoration at the Arc de Triomphe on 4 August 2014. With the traffic stopped, hundreds of Parisiens and tourists watched as the combined delegations, together with members of the French Anciens Combattants association, formed up on the Champs Elysées. President Andrew Fisher's wife Edith laid a wreath next to the Eternal Flame, under the watch of a guard of honour and band in full dress uniform. The ceremony was followed by a reception at the Paris RBL’s club-house. The President thanked Poppy Appeal organiser Ann Morley and partner Dave Lees for their work on the memorable event.

Airmen’s memorial

Branch Secretary Andrée Ferrant attended the unveiling of a new monument in Marcq-lez-Enghien on 23 August 2014, dedicated to the two first British airmen killed during the First World War. Pilot LieutenantVincent Waterfall of the East Yorkshire Regiment and Observer Lieutenant Charles Bayly of the Royal Engineers, both 23, were shot down almost 100 years to the day earlier. Relatives of both men were present at the ceremony. The memorial was initiated by the late Myriam Wraith, former branch Secretary, branch member Guy Blockmans and historian Louis Darbé. The ceremony ended with a fly-past dropping poppies from a plane similar to the airmen’s AVRO 504. Andrée later joined RBL London representatives at the Planting of the Centenary Tree, commemorating the Battle of Mons.  The ceremony was led by the city’s Mayor and former Belgian Prime Minister Elio du Rupo, in the presence of new British Ambassador Alison Rose and her German, French, and Irish counterparts.

Poppy Appeal record

A record €15,000 was raised from collections and donations in Brussels and its surroundings during the Poppy Appeal in November 2014, the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. The amount was €3,200 higher than in the previous year – which was also a record.

Torch of Remembrance

The British Torch of Remembrance, carried by ex-service personnel from Westminster Abbey to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Brussels and Menin Gate in Ypres, made its annual visit to Belgium on 7 November 2014. British Ambassador Alison Rose, Air Chief Marshal Sir Joe French KCB CBE and Belgian Minister of Defence Steven Vandeput laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on behalf of the branch, which was represented by Fernand Delcourt, Alan Puplett and Andrée Ferrant.

The idea of a torch as a symbol of remembrance originated in Belgium in 1926 when the National Veterans Federation (FNC) carried torches from the country’s nine provinces to the memorial at the colonne du Congrès. 

Farewell Harry

The branch was saddened to learn of the death of former President and Chairman Harry More MBE on 13 February 2015. Harry’s story is told in The Wipers Times. He served in the Royal Army Ordnance Corpsand took part in the Normandy campaign in June 1944. After the war, he settled in Belgium, married Denise and worked for the British Embassy and EuroControl. Colin Puplett spoke for all in his tribute to Harry: “The image that will remain in our memories will be that of a man of great integrity; upright, discreet, cheerful and generous. He was nice man, a great man, a real gentleman.”

Mark Thomas

The branch expressed its condolences following the death of ex-Falklands RAF veteran Mark Thomas, who passed away on 26 March 2015 aged 53. Known as “Tommo”, Mark joined the branch in 2010. He was an active member of the Welfare Committee and Chairman of the British United Football Club. Paying tribute in The Wipers Times, Brenda Puplett wrote: “His strength of character during the last few months of his life, when he was putting up a brave fight against cancer, which he knew to be terminal, was an example for us all.”

Ceremony at fort

Branch President Andrew Fisher and member Fenton Wiffen took part in a ceremony at the Fort d’Aubin Neufchateau on 8 May 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe. Fenton and two schoolchildren laid the branch’s wreath. Part of the Fortified Position of Liège, the fort held out for 11 days after the German invasion of Belgium. Without this defence, Germany may have thwarted the Dunkirk evacuation.

Tribute to aircrew

At the invitation of branch member Wilfred Burie, Standard Bearer Freddy Roiseux and Alan Puplett attended a ceremony on 27 May 2015 at the Rebecq memorial which honours five aircrew killed when their Lancaster was shot down on 28 May 1944. The memorial also commemorates members of the Belgian resistance who helped one crew member evade capture and provided medical assistance to another. Guests at the commemoration included Wing Commander Jack Harris DFC, who flew 37 raids with 550 Squadron in 1944-45.

Salute to Pierre

Pierre Campion, a member of the branch committee for 10 years who served in the Royal Navy during the Normandy landings, passed away on 22 May 2015. Pierre, who lived in Oostduinkerke, also ran the Friends of the Fallen team and every November would place over a 100 poppy crosses in war cemeterieson the Belgian coast from De Panne to Knokke. Alan Puplett paid tribute to him in The Wipers Times.

Trainee Alan

Alan Puplett, in his capacity as trainee Standard Bearer, attended the D-Day commemorations on 6 June 2015 at Caen Memorial, Bayeux Cathedral and the CWGC cemetery.

Ken’s war

Kennith Schrijvers told his story in the October 2015 edition of The Wipers Times, recalling his childhood in Ypres in the aftermath of the First World War, his time in the Belgian Army, as a PoW in Poland, and serving as a medic in the US 7th Armoured Division in the Ardennes. After the war Kennith became a police officer. He died on 31 March 2016 (obituary).

Edward Hearn DFC

The branch paid tribute to Squadron Leader Edward Hearn DFC, who died on 29 August 2015, aged 93. He was Chairman of the RAF Escaping Society (RAFES) in Belgium and President of the Brussels branch of the Royal Air Forces Association.

Christmas treat

Musician David Cage, son of member Rosemary Pallett, gave a moving interpretation of We’ll Meet Againat the branch Christmas lunch on 14 December 2015 at Le St Hubert, the new venue for branch socials since the closure of Les Brasseries Rustiques.

Committee 2016

The branch committee in 2016 was constituted as follows. President: Brigadier Andrew Fisher. Chairman: Ed Read Cutting, Vice-Chairman: Colin Puplett, Hon. Treasurer: Paul Boorman, Hon. Secretary: Andrée Ferrant, Welfare Secretary: Brenda Puplett, Membership Secretary: Jean-Pierre Pede, Events Coordinator: Kate Andrews, Poppy Appeal organiser: Ann Morley, History & Website: Greg Ruthven, Newsletter: Michael Whitburn, Friends of the Fallen: Jacqueline Daugnaix-Whitfield, Public Relations: Paulina Robijns van Rijn, Standard Bearers: Freddy Roiseux and Alan Puplett, Chaplain: the Reverend Ann Babb.

Tea in a tank

The development of a new armoured vehicle designed to break the deadlock of trench warfare – the tank – was the focus of an article by François Roberti-Lintermans in the April 2016 edition of The Wipers Times. The Mark I tank first went into action at Battle of Flers–Courcelette on 15 September 1916. Each tank had an indispensable piece of equipment, a tin attached to the exhaust which was filled with water to make tea.“Dans l’armée Britannique, on ne part pas au combat sans thé,” explained François.

Claire’s memories

Branch member Claire Whitfield looked back on her life following the Liberation of Brussels and her marriage with RAF Flight Sgt Stanley Whitfield. They lived initially with Stanley’s family in Durham where Claire picked up a North-East accent she never lost. “It was so cold there I’d always sit as close to the fire as possible,” she laughs. Work was scarce after the war and the couple returned to Belgium so that Stanley could take a job working for Claire’s father. Their twin daughters, Patricia and Jacqueline, were born at this time. They were forced to move back to Britain, however, when the factory Stanley was working in burnt down. Sadly, Stanley died in 1963, aged just 43, from a brain tumour. Claire later married her widowed brother-in-law Billy Charlton, who was a wireless operator on Halifax bombers during the war. She was widowed a second time when he died in 1977. Claire returned to Brussels in 1982 and worked as a buyer for Procter & Gamble. After retiring in 1985, a friend introduced her to the British Legion club in Schaerbeek and she quickly became involved as an enthusiastic committee member. She has particularly fond memories of Reg Whitburn and Freddie Townsend. “They were real gentlemen – I miss them so much,” says Claire.  

A fabulous 80th birthday celebration for Claire Whitfield with her twin daughters, Jacqueline (left) and Patricia 

RAF memorials

The branch was represented at the unveiling of new memorials at Jalhay and Bérinzenne on 9 April 2016. Both memorials commemorate RAF aircrews shot down in 1944.

Student visits

Fleur Empringham, Claire Whitfield and Roger Ellis were three of the older branch members visited by students from the International School of Brussels (ISB) as part of their creativity, action and service project. Fleur recalled her experience: “Gradually it became a habit to have traditional English tea at 5pm. He could have been another grandson to me and I was told I was like an extra grandma. This has been an enriching experience for both of us.”

Pegasus Bridge

Alan Puplett represented the branch as Standard Bearer at Pegasus Bridge, Ranville and Arromanches at the 72nd anniversary D-Day commemorations on 5-6 June 2016.  “My own thoughts were especially with Harry Shaw MBE, Jack Whittle, Reg Whitburn MBE, Ken Bowring, Albert Bove, Arthur Empringham, Harry More MBE, Freddy Townsend OBE, Pierre Campion and other past members,” he recalled.

Escapes and scrapes

Long-standing member Fernand Delcourt told his story in the October 2016 edition of The Wipers Times. Serving in the Belgian tank squadron in May 1940, he recalled how it was heavily out-numbered and no match for the enemy. Fernand’s tank was hit and, although wounded, he managed to get to Montpellier in unoccupied France. He returned to Belgium in August 1941 but was forced to go into hiding again, sheltered by the monks at Orval Abbey, before escaping to Britain thanks to the Comète resistance line.

 

Ethel Pede-Moffat, Fernand Delcourt and Andrée Ferrant representing Brussels Branch at the 72nd Liberation of Brussels

Swiss in the RAF

Léon Rubin was the subject of the All About Me feature in the January 2017 edition of The Wipers Times. When Belgium was invaded, he wanted to join the Belgian forces in Britain even though he was Swiss and only 15. In 1943, Léon crossed the border into Spain but was arrested soon after. Claiming to be British, he was freed and eventually reached Britain via Gibraltar, serving in the Belgian section of the RAF. He made his second parachute drop at the age of 90 (updated biography).

Thieffry remembered

Branch members attended a ceremony on 27 January 2017 at the Edmond Thieffry Monument commemorating the First World War air ace and aviation pioneer.

Link with youth

Belgian Air Force veteran and branch member Peter van den Broeck wrote about Laakdal’s 11 November Remembrance Committee in the April 2017 edition of The Wipers Times. The commune works closely with schools, sponsoring visits to the battlefields and former concentration camp at Breendonk, where the visit is guided by an ex-prisoner. Serving Belgian military personnel also volunteer for classroom Q&As to explain the link between past and present.

Farewell Fred

The branch received the sad news that Normandy veteran Fred Hobbs had passed away on 2 March 2017. A holder of the Legion d' Honneur, he served with the Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment), the Royal Artillery and Middlesex Regiment. Fred, who took part in the liberation of Antwerp and the Ardennes campaign, told his story in January 2016 edition of The Wipers Times.

Envoys at Hotton

British Ambassador Alison Rose and Canadian Ambassador Olivier Nicoloff joined branch members for the annual commemoration ceremony at Hotton on 7 May 2017. After a service at the Church Notre Dame des Constellations conducted by Père Herman Kusola and branch Chaplain the Reverend Canon John Wilkinson, wreaths were laid at the CWGC cemetery, where branch member Francois Roberti-Lintermans made a poignant speech about peace.

Reverend Canon John Wilkinson, François Roberti-Lintermans and Ambassador Alison Rose at Hotton in 2015

British Day in Boom

The branch was well represented at the “British Day at Boom” celebrations on 2 September 2017, commemorating the town’s liberation on 4 September 1944 by the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment (Normandy footage). British food, whisky and gin tasting, 1940s music, British classic cars, board games, and London taxis were all part of the fun. The Brits were in Boom for two weeks in 1944 – and clearly made an impression because 21 local girls went on to marry British soldiers. Sadly, Lieutenant Colonel David Silvertop DSO MC who led the liberation, was killed soon after in Sint Anthonis during Operation Market Garden.

Women’s sacrifice

The branch was represented at Belgian Memorial Day on 22 September 2017, when the accent was on the role of women during the First World War. Women representing civil society in Belgium and other countries read out the names of civilian and military victims as well as deportees in 1917. Anne Coppieters 't Wallant read the poignant last letter sent home by Léonie Rammeloo, a 27-year-old passeur, just before she and her friend Emilie Schatteman were executed by firing squad.

Honour for Roger, 99

Branch member Roger Ellis, 99, was invested with the Légion d'Honneur in a ceremony conducted by Capitaine de Frégate Lamour de Caslou at the French Ambassador's Residence in October 2017. Roger was 25 when he landed on Sword Beach. He served in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. Hewas joined at the ceremony by his daughter and two sons, as well as members of the Brussels branch. Asked for the secret of his longevity, he replied: “Never tell lies.”

Stopped counting

Paul Boorman, branch Treasurer for 13 years, stepped down in October 2017. “He kept us on the financial straight and narrow year in and year out, producing flawless annual accounts and providing us with advice and guidance when we needed it. His presence on the committee, his highly qualified guidance and ready wit will be much missed,” said President Andrew Fisher. Sally Baxter was announced as his successor.

Cream of the crop

The welfare committee held its first-ever cream tea on 23 October 2017, which proved an instant hit with members. Thanks to Ron Aston’s contacts, a venue was secured at St. Anthony's Church Hall in Kraainemand the Military Wives’ Choir Belgium gave a recital.

Halifax tragedy

Jacqueline Daugnaix-Whitfield (daughter of Claire Whitfield) laid a wreath on behalf of the branch on 12 November 2017 at a memorial near Thynes honouring 14 Australian and French airmen killed when two Halifax bombers crashed in bad weather on 21 November 1944.

Thank you, Ed

Ed Read Cutting, branch Chairman since 2006, stepped down in December 2017. Now based in Kent, he remains an active member of the RBL at its Goudhurst branch.

Change of the guard

Brigadier Andrew Fisher, branch President since 2006, stood down in March 2018. Andrew participated in many events and commemorations, memorably representing the branch in the First World WarRemembrance ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe. Andrew was also an accomplished cartoonist whose works often appeared in The Wipers Times.

New skipper

Commodore Darren Bone was elected as the branch’s new Chairman in March 2018. Secretary to the NATO Military Committee since July 2017, Darren was previously Commander British Forces South Atlantic Islands, based in the Falkland Islands. He also served in the Ministry of Defence, the UK’s Joint Headquarters, Afghanistan, and deployed worldwide on maritime operations. Among his career highlights was navigating the Royal Yacht Britannia

Commodore Darren Bone, Branch Chair

Committee 2018

The branch committee in 2018 was constituted as follows. President: Brigadier Andrew Fisher. Chairman: Commodore Darren Bone, Hon. Treasurer: Sally Baxter, Hon. Secretary: Andrée Ferrant, Membership Coordinator: Jean-Pierre Pede, Welfare Chairman: Colin Puplett, Welfare Secretary: Brenda Puplett, Poppy Appeal organiser: Ann Morley, Newsletter Coordinator: Michael Whitburn, Electronic Communications: Alan Puplett, Friends of the Fallen: Jacqueline Daugnaix-Whitfield, Events Coordinator: Kate Andrews, Chaplain: Rev Canon John Wilkinson, Standard Bearers: Freddy Roiseux, Jean-Pierre Blanckaert, 2nd Standard Bearer: Alan Puplett, Website and Historian: Greg Ruthven.

Zeebrugge commemoration

Chairman Darren Bone laid a wreath to mark the centenary of the Zeebrugge Raid (23 April 1918). TheRoyal Navy lost nearly 600 dead and wounded in the operation led by HMS Vindictive against a U-boat base in the port. A smokescreen intended to conceal the attackers was blown offshore, exposing them to heavy casualties. On 9 May 1918, the Navy conducted a second raid on Ostend which was hampered byunexpected sea fog. Despite the heavy losses and questionable gains, both raids demonstrated courage and daring, with the award of eight Victoria Crosses (VCs) at Zeebrugge and three at Ostend as testament to the fact.

Tributes to Michael Rose

Branch members paid warm tributes to Michael Rose, former Membership Secretary and Vice-Chairman, who passed away in Béziers, France, on 19 July 2018. In 2013, he was awarded the RBL Golden Badge by British Ambassador Jonathan Brenton for services to the branch for over 30 years. Despite being a Scot, Michael enlisted in Belgium’s Para-Commandos and served in Rwanda-Burundi with fellow branch member Erich d'Hulster. “He was an intelligent, courteous, meticulous person, with a great sense of fun. He will always remain in our hearts,” said Erich in tribute. A keen sailor, Michael was also Vice-Commodore of the Brussels Yacht Club.

Brenda Knight

The branch was also saddened by news of the death of Brenda Ghislain Knight on 26 July 2018, at the age of 101. Brenda served in the Women’s Auxiliary Royal Air Force (WAAF) during the Second World War.On the occasion of her centenary, Brenda received a signed photograph from the King and Queen of the Belgians, and a telegram and photograph from Buckingham Palace.

Committee 2019

The branch committee in 2019 was constituted as follows. Chairman: Commodore Darren Bone, Vice-Chairman: Jean-Pierre Pede, Hon. Secretary: Andrée Ferrant, Hon. Treasurer: Sally Baxter, Membership Secretary: Jean-Pierre Pede, Poppy Appeal organiser: Ann Morley, Events Coordinator: Kate Andrews. Members: Zoe White MBE, Dennis Abbott. Chaplain: Rev Canon John Wilkinson, Standard Bearer: Freddy Roiseux.

Grand performance

At the invitation of Chairman Commodore Darren Bone, the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines, Plymouth, performed an open-air concert in the Grand Place on 3 June 2019 to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day. The band also played at NATO headquarters in the presence of American Legion National Commander Brett Reistad. The Legion’s new national President, Lieutenant General James Bashall CB CBE, made his first overseas visit on the occasion, also paying his respects at the CWGC cemetery in Heverlee with Commodore Bone and committee member Phil Hyde.

Rocking the Grand Place

Ambassador’s tribute

New British Ambassador Martin Shearman CVO opened the branch’s annual Remembrance service at the CWGC cemetery in Heverlee on 10 November 2019 with a heartfelt, thought-provoking reflection. Wreaths were laid by senior national military representatives from the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Poland, the Royal Air Force Association and members of the scouts and guides. Lieutenant Colonel Dick Ovey (bugle), Robbe Claes (trumpet) and Scott James (pipes) added a poignant touch to the occasion.

Poppy Appeal success

The November 2019 Poppy Appeal, launched at NATO headquarters, raised more than €11,000. One of the biggest single fundraisers was Liège-based retired teacher Jackie Farbridge, who collected €825 with the support of pupils from Lycée de Waha and other local schools. Roger George of Stonemanor British Shop in Everberg collected more than €1,000, taking his store’s contribution to more than €13,000 over the past decade.

Resistance hero dies

Former branch member Arsène Davreux – “Raymond” to his comrades in the Armée Secrète, former President of the 2ème Brigade “Yser” Section Luxembourg and former President of the Fraternelle des Anciens Combattants de la Province de Luxembourg – passed away in Rochefort on 23 January 2020. He was 96. Arsène was one of the branch’s most decorated members: his honours included Chevalier de l’Ordre de Léopold I, Chevalier de l’Ordre de la Couronne, Chevalier de l’Ordre de Léopold II, Médaille d'honneur avec Palme d’Or, Médaille de Volontaire de Guerre, Médaille de la Résistance, and Médaille du militaire Combattant de la guerre 40-45. Arsène’s funeral took place at the Collégiale Saint-Monon de Nassogne on 27 January followed by burial at the Cimetière de Hargimont.

Committee 2020 

The branch committee in 2020 was constituted as follows. Chairman: Commodore Darren Bone, Vice-Chairman: Jean-Pierre Pede, Hon. Secretary: Andrée Ferrant, Hon. Treasurer: Jean-Pierre Pede, Branch Community Support: Dennis Abbott, Poppy Appeal organiser: Ann Morley, News and Events Coordinator: Phil Hyde, Web Coordinator: Zoe White MBE, Facebook coordinator: Alain Brogniez, Chaplain: Rev Canon John Wilkinson, Standard Bearer: Freddy Roiseux, Member: Steve Grant MBE.

Darren retires

Commodore Darren Bone stepped down as branch Chairman in September 2020 on his retirement after 35 years in the Royal Navy. Paying tribute, his successor Zoe White recalled his “outstanding job across all areas of the branch while holding down one of the busiest roles in NATO HQ”, adding that he had worked tirelessly to raise the profile of the branch.

First female Chair

Zoe White, a member of NATO’s International Staff who served for 17 years as an officer in the Royal Signals, became the first female Chair of the branch in September 2020, succeeding Commodore Darren Bone. “It is a privilege to be a part of a strong and enthusiastic branch and to be able to work closely with an exceptionally committed and driven committee,” she said.

 

Zoe deployed in Afghanistan

Distanced ceremony

Branch members gathered at Evere on Saturday 2 October 2020 to hold a socially-distanced Remembrance service. Usually held in June, the ceremony was postponed due to the Covid lockdown. In the presence of British Ambassador Martin Shearman and Defence Attaché Group Captain Justin Fowler, the service was opened by branch Chair Zoe White and led by the Reverend Canon John Wilkinson. Wreaths were laid by the Ambassador, Zoe White, Erik Ramakers and Nadine Clarisse from CEAC-ECOS (La Confédération Européenne des Anciens Combattants/ De Confederatie van de Europese oud-strijders),and Stephen Hanson, a retired Canadian Air Force officer, on behalf of the Royal Air Force Association.

François Roberti-Lintermans

The branch expressed deep condolences following the death of Colonel François Roberti-Lintermans on 17 November 2020. A member of the Belgian Resistance “Marathon” network in the Second World War, he helped British and Allied airmen to evade capture and helped liberate a village with US troops. He later served in the Belgian Army and was a keen amateur historian. His story is told on the website.

Colonel François Roberti-Lintermans

Diolch, Mervyn

The branch was saddened to learn of the death of former member Mervyn Evans on 22 November 2020 in Braine-l'Alleud, aged 97. From Treforest, Pontypridd in the South Wales valleys, Mervyn was 21 when he landed with his Royal Signals unit on Juno Beach in 1944. He met his Belgian wife-to-be in Warneton and, after marrying on 30 April 1945, they decided to make their life in Belgium – though Mervyn never lost his Welsh accent. He was laid to rest in in the veterans’ lawn of honour at Sainte-Anne cemetery, Waterloo. His son Peter placed the Welsh flag in his coffin, with these words: “Thank you, Dad, for all you have done for humanity and for your family. You will remain forever in our thoughts and in our hearts.”

Christmas cheers

Pupils from the International School of Belgium in Aartselaar sent a parcel of Christmas cards and letters for the branch’s Second World War veterans – proof of the special bond that exists between the “greatest generation” and the youngest generation. The much-appreciated Christmas messages, coming at the end of a difficult year for the elderly in particular, was encouraged by Head Wayne Johnson after the success of a similar letter-writing initiative by the school to mark Remembrance.

 

Thank you, Belgium

Without its dedicated Belgian members and supporters, it is doubtful that the Brussels branch would still be flourishing after nearly 100 years. The friendships it has fostered – not to mention more than a few marriages (in 1956 the Daily Express reported there had been a staggering 6,000 marriages between British servicemen and Belgian women) – are a concrete expression of the close and enduring ties which have long characterised the Anglo-Belgian relationship, despite the occasional bump in the road.

Here’s to the next 100 years!

Acknowledgements

This history is intended as a contribution to the Legion 100 and Telling our Story project, which aims to celebrate the achievements of the Royal British Legion over the past 100 years and demonstrate the ongoing importance of the charity’s work.

Legion branches in Britain and all over the world have been delving into their past to discover records, artefacts, experiences, personal memories and more.

The story of the Brussels branch is intended to be a “living document” that can be continuously updated and amended with new contributions and photographs. So please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

I would particularly like to thank members of the current branch committee for their ideas, help and encouragement:

Zoe White (Chair), Jean-Pierre Pede (Vice-Chairman, Membership Secretary and Treasurer), Andrée Ferrant (Honorary Secretary), Ann Morley (Poppy Appeal Organiser), Alain Brogniez (Facebook Coordinator), Phil Hyde (News and Events coordinator), Freddy Roiseux (Standard Bearer), and Canon John Wilkinson (Chaplain).

I am also grateful for feedback I received from former branch members including Ed Read Cutting (especially for safeguarding for than a decade’s worth of branch minutes and other artefacts in his basement), Brigadier Andrew Fisher, Brenda Puplett, Greg Ruthven, Claire Whitfield, Michael Whitburn. Thank you also to staff at the National Library of Belgium for helping me with research in the newspaper archives and allowing me to photograph a drawing of Group Captain Peter Townsend.

For showing patience beyond the call of duty during this project, I also thank my wife (and fellow Brussels branch member) Laura Houlgatte Abbott.

 

Dennis Abbott

Community Support and Researcher

December 2020

Dennis serving on Operation TELIC Iraq in 2003 where he was attached to 7th Armoured Brigade then 19th Mechanized Brigade.

 

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

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