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Branch History

Orihuela Costa Branch History - BR3600

BRANCH HISTORY – INCEPTION TO DECEMBER 2015

The Orihuela Costa and District Branch 3600 of the Royal British Legion was first approved by the Board of Trustees from its Headquarters in Pall Mall London on the 18th of January 2008.

The branch boundaries were set in place with Los Balcones at the southern edge of Torrevieja as its Northern Perimeter. The western boundary was formed by San Miguel de Salinas while the branch extended down to San Javier in the south.

The branch was formed when a number of members moved across from the existing Torrevieja branch of the RBL and was supplemented by recruits from the newly approved areas. Almost 60 members and potential members attended the inaugural meeting the Olympia Restaurant, Mil Palmeras on 27th Feb 2008 when the branch forming committee was elected;

Chairman  Kevin Reardon
Vice Chairman  Colin Middleton
Secretary  Eric MacDonald
Treasurer Dick Conway
Social George Faulkner
Membership Ritchie Turner
Poppy Appeal Steve Boyd
   

Of this forming committee, at the time of writing, three are still active in the branch, Kevin Reardon, Eric McDonald, and Colin Middleton.

Through the year the branch settled down to running a branch of the RBL. Meetings were, and still are, held at the Olympia Restaurant, Mil Palmeras, on the 3rd Thursday of the month. Frequent lunches were held proving to be very popular with members, and enabling them to sample many different restaurants in the District.

Many of the early goals of the branch were achieved. On the 18th of September 2008 there was the Dedication of the Branch Standard which had been provided by Kevin Reardon and Colin Middleton. Union and Spanish flags were also obtained. The proceeds of many raffle draws enabled the branch to complete the purchase of these worthy emblems.

November 2008 saw the branch’s first major formal event - Remembrance Sunday. The service was held in the nearby Church of Mil Palmeras, with permission granted by the Diocese of Pilar de la Horadada. Contact with local municipalities was established at this inaugural service which would be built on over the following years. The service was led by Keith Brown.

Everyone who attended agreed it was a very moving experience here in Spain. The service was followed by a very pleasant lunch in the Olympia restaurant.

November 2008 saw the branch’s first A.G.M. with Ann Faulkner being elected as the new chairman.

2009

Ann's husband George continued as social secretary through 2009. Many more enjoyable lunches followed throughout the year. Also in 2009, Kevin Reardon was appointed as the First Branch President and was duly presented with his Jewels of office, much to his pleasure.

Unfortunately, as the year wore on, both internal and external dissension reared its ugly head. Relations between the Branch committee and the District committee had become strained, causing internal conflict in the branch. This all led to a very dramatic A.G.M. in November 2009.

Feelings were running high. There were no nominations for the election of essential officers of the branch. The youngest branch in District North Spain was in danger of folding.

Literally with 10 minutes remaining Keith Carter, stepped forward, after an impassioned plea to the floor he volunteered to be Chairman; Helen Lloyd took on the task of Honorary Secretary, Philip Spear Honorary Treasurer, Colin Middleton Vice Chairman and Kenneth Green membership. So with these vital officers voted for and elected, the branch was saved.

2010

2010 then saw the branch consolidate and move forwards.  In this year, at the opening of every branch meeting, the names and units of the Fallen in Afghanistan were read out by members of the branch. This added to the poignancy of Chaplain Keith Brown’s prayers.

Also in 2010 work began on the international Garden of Remembrance situated in the grounds of the Capilla De Las Mil Palmeras in the Diocese of Pilar de la Horadada. The current vice Chairman Eddie Coleman was instrumental in leading this venture with additional help from branch members.

Keith Carter, Chairman, was also the Poppy appeal Co-Coordinator. So with his drive and passion for the Poppy fund, the branch, which was now steadily growing in numbers and enthusiasm, set to the task of raising funds with a will.

Many more boxes were distributed throughout the District. Golf Matches, social fund raising, shaking of Poppy Boxes at the local street markets all contributed to a staggering 20,553.91 Euro being raised, by far and away the largest amount of any branch in Spain.

Although a young branch, the Orihuela Costa was fast becoming the most vibrant and dynamic in Spain District North.

Also to reinforce this, holding the positions of Vice chair and Standard, Bearer Eddie Coleman represented Spain at the Royal Albert Hall Remembrance Service in front of H.M. the Queen. This is only the second time that an RBL Branch in Spain had been given this honour.

The AGM in 2010 was a much more enjoyable experience, with membership expanding and the new committee elected without drama.

Helen Lloyd tamed her wayward computer, Philip Spear now took on membership, controlling an ever increasing membership. The year 2010 ended with Cathy Carson, a well know local entertainer, leading the singing and entertainment at the branch's December meeting, as an indication of the strength of our branch, Cathy is also the Social Secretary.

So a year of continued growth and consolidation. A very well attended Remembrance Service with over 100 chairs outside the Church for increasing numbers who wished to Remember and Participate in the service. Co-operation with the local Spanish authorities continued to strengthen, as we all grow to understand our varied traditions.

2011

With a strong year behind us, more onwards and upwards, without a doubt the Major Event for 2011 was the 90th Anniversary of the RBL.

To this end a 90th Anniversary Concert was held in the newly built Alicante Concert Hall on Saturday the 2nd April. Alicante Ayuntamiento were so keen to be involved that they sent councillors to the Royal Albert Hall to get a feeling for the content of the Festival of Remembrance, as this would be the template for the concert here in Spain.

Wendy Dengate from District North was the main organizer, but again the Orihuela Costa branch was heavily involved.; Keith Brown Drumhead Service and stage manager. Cathy Carson liaison and solo performer. Behind the scenes, the branch had a number of members acting in the roles of catering officer, stewards etc. We had saw all three Standard Bearers attending, the highest proportion of any Branch of District North.

There were also four Chelsea Pensioners attending the Alicante Concert. John Sparrow, Wayne Campbell, Bruce Ozane and Mike Riley.

Pensioners

The Orihuela Costa branch organised the sponsorship to cover the cost of their visit whilst in Spain. They were hosted by Vice Chairman Eddie Coleman and Jean Heald.

Two of the pensioners, John Sparrow and Wayne Campbell, enjoyed their trip so much, they decided to join our Branch. They flew over in October with Mike Riley who also joined. At that months branch meeting they all chatted to the branch about their military careers and Life as a Chelsea Pensioner. So of the four pensioners who came to Spain 3 of them subsequently joined our branch.

Also in 2011 another honour for the branch, when it was asked to participate in the Semana Santa Parade in Orihuela City; this was the first time a non Spanish organization had been invited to participate in this stunning parade. The participating members travelled to Orihuela City on buses provided by the Town Hall.

18th of August saw the dedication of the International Garden of Remembrance by Branch Chaplin Keith Brown. As mentioned before the Garden was started in 2010 and the plinth was completed in 2011 with a memorial plate commemorating, local business's that had helped with the cost, this History along with Pictures from branch events and activities.

RBL Consecration

So, to the AGM of 2011. The hall in the Olympia was now full with over 80 people attending an AGM. Membership now stands at 132.

The Remembrance service went superbly, testament to the high stands of this branch. After the service there were 120 people to lunch in the Olympia restaurant.

Our President of 3 years, Kevin Reardon, relinquished his Jewels to Keith Brown, Branch Chaplin and now Branch President. As an indication of the vibrancy of the branch, when Kevin decided to stand down, there were 4 applicants for the position of President.

2012

After a very hectic Christmas period, January was very quiet, the main excitement being the 2011 grand total raised for the Poppy Appeal by District (North), being announced. It was euro 134,131:20 of which the branch contributed 26,420:90, almost 20% of the entire total. Quite an achievement for the District’s most junior branch.  As you will see, as this history progresses, this was to become the ‘norm’ for the branch.

As the rest of the year unfolded the branch was kept busy. On the Recruitment Desk at an event, I was told the Legion only ever holds ‘Bingo Nights’. In 2012, after branch meetings, we had speakers from Age Concern, Historical Societies etc as well as quiz games, Bulls Eye, Social Events, which ranged from Tenpin bowling, crazy golf, Museum visits, always followed by a meal. These events have always been well attended.

We also attended many other events which helped to keep the branch’s name very much to the fore in the local area. 2012 events where we had Merchandising and Recruitment stalls included ‘This is Spain’, the St Patrick’s Day Parade, St George’s Day, the Garden and Outdoor Living Exhibition, Fun Day at La Zenia, European festival and the Home and Lifestyle Exhibition. We don’t have time for bingo!

The St George’s Day event was the first function where Meghan, an Irish Wolfhound belonging to Klaus and Christine Nickel, paraded as the Branch Mascot. She turned out to be a major asset to the branch. Wherever Megan was during the Poppy Collections, her box was always full.

The Branch hosted the District Poppy Appeal Launch on 10 October 2012 at Playa Flamenca along with our Chelsea Pensioners in attendance afterwards at the Abbey Tavern with a very good turn out by the Branch and other organisations. The Vice Consul Lloyd Milen and District Chairman Chris Wyatt took the salute.

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Once again our Chelsea Pensioners also turned out to support our Poppy appeal and its launch.

So to another Annual General Meeting, uneventful committee elected. Good Christmas and looking forward to another good year in 2013.

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2013

The Branch total for the 2012 Poppy Appeal was €28,688.47, another tremendous effort by the branch and its members.

At the December meeting a presentation was made to Mick Reeves, for his unstinting work to the Poppy Appeal through his work with the local golfing community.

This month marks the 5th anniversary of the branch. After the meeting cakes were enjoyed by all present.

Steve Munn, a Royal Marine Falkland’s veteran, gave an extremely illuminating account of his involvement in the Falklands’ war, both the build-up to operations and the aftermath. As if that wasn’t exciting enough we also had a Mr & Mrs quiz.

March heralded the start of a very busy period for the branch. As you will realise, as the history unfolds, this branch consistently manages to be Number One in Spain in terms of money raised. Many other branches put this down to the fact that we are on the coast with many expat residents. Personally I feel it is nothing more than the hard work and dedication of branch members.

Between 17 March and 15 June we attended the St Patrick’s Day Parade, Help for Heroes Funday, Punta Marina Charity day, Rocky’s Bar WBO Intercontinental Boxing Championship,  Playa Flamenca Beach St George’s Day, San Miguel Castle Commercial Event (by invitation FRGE), Playa Flamenca Beach Funday and through the hard work of many members a lot of money was raised by raffle draws, the sale of merchandising, and donations.

With the money raised at these events, and just after our 5th birthday, we have now surpassed the €100,000 mark.

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April saw the departure of Helen Lloyd, a stalwart of the branch and a leading light in the rescue of the branch in 2009

June saw a very interesting talk by the Toastmasters Guild and a great honour for the branch, the award of the McCrae Shield for the best recruitment and retention overseas. The McRae Shield was attached to the branch standard in plenty of time for the Remembrance Day Service.

In October the Poppy Launch was held in Benidorm, another bonus of life here in Spain. Once again our wonderful Chelsea Pensioners stole the show. Skippy was happy as a fox in a chicken coop. The red jacket was an amazing ‘babe magnet.’

Also the branch congratulated one of the original pensioners from Alicante 90th Anniversary event. John Sparrow gave up the red jacket for the love of Meg and after their marriage he left the hospital. The pair are both still members of the branch and regularly attend from their UK home.

And so to another Remembrance Service. This year the branch Chaplin and President, Keith Brown, couldn’t officiate at the service so the Rev Terry Baxter stepped in and did a great job. Once again the service was very well attended as was the lunch in the Olympia Restaurant.

At the November AGM there was little drama with elections and re elections and even sandwiches after the conclusion of the business.

Once more a December meeting with the Show Group TAABS doing a great job in generating Christmas spirit. Unfortunately this was to be Cathy Carson’s final gig with the group prior to her retirement.

Again no bingo which I promise will not be mentioned again unless we actually have a bingo evening.

2014

January saw our Vice Chair, Eddie Coleman, take over from Keith Carter as the District Standard Bearer.

The Branch Poppy Appeal for 2013 was €24,891, a slight decrease on 2012 but still a great deal more than achieved by any other branch in the District. High hopes for the coming year, however, as it marks the Centenary of the start of WW1.

As the month drew to a close we had a very successful Burns Night, although not for the purists as most of the branch are Sassenachs. The haggis was very good though. The function was held at Alfies Bar in La Zenia, owned by a Spaniard who speaks with a very strong Glaswegian accent.  Very successful with lots of money being raised through an auction, raffle, draw and donations.

Our standing event in February was a visit by members to the Academy del Aire at San Javier, the home of the Spanish Air Display team, Patrulla Aguila (Eagle Patrol). Our hosts, the Spanish Air Force, were magnificent. After a video presentation we were all given a guided tour around the base. Kevin Reardon was active with his camera resulting in many articles being published by the local media.

We had a wonderful meal afterwards in the local village of Santiago de la Ribera. The branch meeting in February was a ‘Pointless Quiz’.

In March the members decided that commemorative plaques by placed in the Garden of Remembrance for those Branch Members who had passed on.

The year continued with a variety of outings, a wine museum and lunch in Fortuna, alongside Fun days and other lunches at venues across the area.

July saw the Centenary of WW1- The Sahara Bar La Fuente held a ‘Lights Out’ service at 11pm, greatly assisted by a group of tourists from Sheffield. Despite it being the height of the Tourist season, the whole commercial centre went deadly quiet in respect of the occasion.

In August we had a very successful BBQ at the Olympia Restaurant which was attended by over 200 people. We even had an Elvis lookalike in the house as well as TAABS and Rebecca Holt.

Our beloved mascot, Meghan passed away in September to the great sadness of the branch. A plaque is to be placed in her honour in the Garden of Remembrance.

Megan

The Poppy Launch this year was in Torrevieja, not to the same standard as is the case in Benidorm, Indeed following on from this it was decided that all future launches would be in the holiday town where the local Ayuntamiento is much more in tune in it's support for Public Events.

October saw the Historical Re-enactment Society in Murcia playing out a number of WW2 conflicts to a very high standard. In an adjacent city park there were lots of side shows and military displays featuring soldiers through the ages, Romans, Visigoths, American Civil War, WW1 and WW2 and so on.

The Remembrance Service was conducted by the Rev Terry Baxter in November. The church was absolutely full and over 200 seats were provided outside by the local council. The Spanish Authorities on the coast are very aware of the Poppy Appeal and the remembrance Services and we are thankful for the support that they provide. The lunch was also very well attended.

Mick ‘The Grip’ reeves had another outstanding year in raising over €9000 through his Poppy Golf Days for the annual appeal.

The AGM was fairly uneventful with most officers continuing for a further year.

So another busy 12 months now behind us with Christmas just around the corner, then heads down once again as we aim for an even more successful 2015.

2015

A very successful Poppy Appeal in 2014 raised €30,045.90 and was helped enormously by the media interest in the centenary of WW1 and of course the work of the local branch of the Royal British Legion.

One change of note to the committee was the election of Eddie Coleman to the position of Poppy Appeal co-ordinator, a very big job in this branch.

It appears that the Olympia is closed January and February so after much discussion the Emerald Isle was chosen as an alternative venue for our meetings. They have always been a big supporter of the branch. In March, however, we returned to our home venue.

Yet again we had a great Burns Night Supper in January...still outnumbered by the Sassenachs though.

Nigel Hails, Chairman of District North, attended our January meeting where he read a citation to Mick Reeves from the Head of the Poppy Appeal in London. Mick has raised many thousands or euros over the years and well deserved the presentation of a Certificate of Merit.  

The following month saw an interesting presentation on Gallipoli that was made by Chris Liddicoat. It provoked much discussion and numerous questions.

A Guardia Civil Officer Francisco Morales attended the March Meeting. He is the administrator pf the N332 Facebook Page which provides information on Spanish Traffic Laws. The presentation was very well attended and extremely informative for members. Once again it was apparent at just how much the local authorities like to use the RBL as a conduit to the British Expat Community.

April saw a very good Easter Lunch at the Sunrise and in May the Vice Consul, Lloyd Milen, visited the Branch. A week earlier Lloyd had been appointed President of the Royal British Legion Spain District North. He explained that he finds it very useful to work closely with Branches, particularly those situated on the Costa Blanca.

Royal Ascot Ladies Day was held in the Black Horse Restaurant and was well attended by our ladies, who were all suitably attired.

With summer well under way the activities tend to slow down somewhat in the heat of the intense Spanish sun.

Another 3 events planned prior to the end of the year.....the heat quite obviously getting to me...I might even propose a bingo evening!

The September BBQ held at Rockys was very good.  Craig, the manager, pulled out all the stops by laying on a wonderful spread accompanied by some very good music which had many members up dancing even though it was a particularly sunny day.

Sheila did a great job on the Merchandising stall and David Cottom took the opportunity to display a great deal of his Recruiting literature attracting at least a couple of new members.

October, always a busy month. The Poppy Launch tool place in Benidorm on 14 October, once again well organised by the authorities. Our Branch was very well attended and heavily involved with another large turnout including our star attractions, Wayne Campbell and Skippy Teasdale from the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, resplendantly dressed as always in their finery.

On Saturday 17 October many of us climbed aboard a coach bound for the Re enactment event in Murcia. This year the re-enactment was all about Berlin 1945 and the meeting of the Russians and the Americans.

In the adjacent park there were once again a large number of societies that put on historical side shows. One of them was a WW2 tableau of the 6th Bn Durham Light Infantry, the very battalion that Skippy first served in. He was actually wearing the DLI stable belt which was much admired by the Spanish enactors.

Once again the Torrevieja Pipes and Drums did a magnificent job leading the parade and march. There was also a very moving wreath laying ceremony at the local Cenotaph at which all the Standards of the various ex military Associations were displayed.

Wednesday 21 October was a memorable day for both the Branch and for District North. After initial work by the Albox Branch it was suggested that District North submit a proposal to the Spanish Foreign Legion for a joint Remembrance Service. As a result some 150 members made the trip to Viator in Almeria where they were hosted by the Brigada  de la Legion Rey Alfonso XIII. It was a wonderful day, attended by almost a full coach load from the branch.

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The General Comandante Sr D Juan Jesús Martin Cabrero addressed the visitors in excellent English, expressing his delight at the joining of the Legion’s here in Spain. After the parade and ceremony the Branch Standards were marched off. It was then followed by a tour around the Legion Museum and a reception in the Officer’s Mess. A great day out for all involved. Hopefully this could well become an annual event .

At this stage the Poppy Appeal was already in full swing with volunteers working hard to raise as much funding as possible at a number of local events and venues.

Remembrance Sunday was held in the Branch on 8 November. Over 400 people gathered to pay their respects and once again the Ayuntamiento Pilar de la Horadada provided us with the necessary support. The Rev Terry Baxter conducted the service and wreaths were laid by Snr Ignacio Ramos, the mayor of Pilar, Snra Sofia Alvarez, Orihuela Councillor, Guardia Officer Francisco Morales, as well as District North President and Chairman Lloyd Milen and Nigel Hails.

The Phoenix Concert Band provided the music  and during the service Elise MacGregor and Janelle sang ‘We will remember them’ accompanied by Alex Scott on guitar.  After the wreath laying ceremony the Standards and members lined up behind the Torrevieja Pipes and Drums as they marched past guests and dignitaries to the Olympia Restaurant where, once again, we were provided with a magnificent lunch. A very proud day that just keep getting better.

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Another uneventful AGM on 19 November with only a few changes to the new committee saw Kevin Reardon replace Pauline Breen as Honorary Secretary. He has now held the posts of President, Chairman and most recently Membership Secretary, so there are not too many more to go before he gets the full house.

There was a large turnout for the Poppy Count which again surpassed all our expectations. Monies raised during recent years:

2012       €28.688:47

2013       €24.891:00

2014       €30,045:90

2015       €35,506:69

Yet again the branch was at the fore in terms of monies raised in Spain. Well done to Eddie Coleman and to all his volunteers.

The December meeting saw Pauline Breen provide the mince pies and TAABS the Christmas entertainment, bringing yet another successful year to a close for the Orihuela Costa Branch.

Jim Watt

December 2015

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