Welcome to the Brussels Branch of The Royal British Legion
Dear branch members, friends and visitors to our website,
As the summer finally breaks into full swing (although as I write this, the weather does need to catch up a little), we reflect on a busy last couple of weeks and I trust you are all taking the time to get away from work and relax. Take a break and read of Dennis Abbott's account of our act of remembrance held on 26 June 2021 below. On a personal note, it was superb to finally get out and meet people (appropriately distanced in the open air of course) and hear the buzz and chatter of a gathering after many months confinement.
Take a look at our future events here. In particular, the committee is excited to announce two battlefield tours planed for 11 Sep and 9 Oct. Steve Grant has spent his evenings researching and planning a couple of superb days out for us all to enjoy, please contact Steve direct to book a place while spots remain.
With regret, I also inform you that Mrs Denise More passed away on 26 June 2021. She was an active member of the branch for decades, both in her own right and support her husband, Harry who was branch chair, vice-president and president. Remembered by Jean-Pierre as a positive, warm person, Denise was always the first to offer help. We will remember her.
Denise and Harry More.
6 June 2021
Annual Act of Remembrance at Evere Cemetery, Brussels
26 June 2021
by Dennis Abbott
The branch’s annual act of remembrance at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery is always a special occasion but, judging from the universal appreciation expressed by members and supporters following this year’s ceremony, the bar has been set very high for the future!
The commemoration, held on Saturday 26 June, attracted a large turnout and, despite the presence of a few ominous clouds on the horizon, the weather gods were kind, for once.
Before the service, master of ceremonies and branch events coordinator Phil Hyde, responsible with Steve Mace for the faultless technical set-up, reminded everyone to scrupulously respect social distancing rules.
Chair Zoe White, flanked by branch Standard Bearer Freddy Roiseux and his counterparts Jean-Marie Vanwelkenhuyzen of the Political Prisoners’ Association (Confederation Nationale des Prisonniers Politiques et Ayants Droit) and Erik Ramakers from the European Confederation of Veterans (CEAC-ECOS), warmly welcomed members and guests, signalling that the event would include a number of new features, more of which later.
The British Ambassador to Belgium, H.E. Martin Shearman, set the tone for the commemoration, reminding those present of the enormous sacrifices made in the cause of freedom. During the First World War, 880,000 British forces gave their lives, 6% of the adult male population. The figure rises to over 1.1 million when the future Commonwealth countries are included. In the Second World War, 384,000 British soldiers were killed, as well as 70,000 civilians.
Branch Chaplain the Reverend Canon John Wilkinson unfortunately could not attend the event, but prayers were answered when Padre Nia Williams, serving with the European Joint Support Unit at NATO Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Mons, kindly agreed to deputise.
Nia echoed the Ambassador’s theme of sacrifice and highlighted the ordeal of living under enemy occupation, citing the poignant words of a distinguished Belgian branch member, the late François Roberti-Lintermans: “Freedom is the air that you breathe. It’s only when it’s taken away that you realise it exists and how important it is.”
One of the undoubted highlights of the ceremony was the presence of the Military Wives Choir Belgium, conducted by Nigel Ward and making their first live appearance since the start of the Covid pandemic. Their beautifully sung opening rendition was Carry Me, a song written by renowned film score composer Adam Langston.
Branch Secretary Andrée Ferrant read the 67th Psalm, a fitting call for “salvation among all nations” at a time when global tensions are once again on the rise.
Dennis Abbott, branch historian-researcher, paid tribute to two of the heroes buried in the cemetery. Flight Sergeant George Thompson used his bare hands to extinguish the burning clothing of two gunner crewmates, left unconscious when a shell hit their plane and set the fuselage alight. The 24-year-old, from Kinross in Scotland, later died of his injuries and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. Major Robert Mélot, from Brussels, served with the British Special Air Service in North Africa, Italy and France. Twice wounded in action, he was awarded the Military Cross. He saw his hometown liberated, only to lose his life in a vehicle accident with his driver.
As customary at the annual commemoration, Vice-Chair Jean-Pierre Pede read the names of some of the fallen. The list included men from the Royal Army Service Corps – in which his late father-in-law, Harry Moffatt, also served.
Didier Nollet, immaculate in a three-piece suit, traditional bowler and carrying a rolled umbrella, paid tribute to branch member François-Marie Jacobs, who passed away last November, aged 95. François-Marie served with the 5th (Belgian) Special Air Service and was Honorary Chairman of the Marche-en-Famenne branch of the Fédération Nationale des Combattants. Didier’s moving words, delivered in English, French and Dutch, were received with spontaneous applause.
Eight-year-old Oscar, a pupil at the British School of Brussels, gave a wonderfully confident reading of Major John McCrae’s famous First World War poem In Flanders Fields, also receiving a well-deserved round of applause.
Following the Exhortation, read by Zoe, wreathes and flowers were laid on behalf of the British Embassy by Ambassador Martin Shearman and Defence Attaché Group Captain Justin Fowler, for the branch by Mireille Picron and Patrice Lotiquet, as well as by Nadine Clarisse for CEAC-ECOS Brabant (Confédération Européenne des Anciens Combattants) and Tibor Albert, Vice-President Western Europe of the United Nations Peacekeepers’ Association (Association Internationale des Soldats de la Paix).
Following prayers, the Military Wives Choir gave a pitch-perfect performance of We Will Remember Them. The ceremony closed with God Save The Queen and La Brabançonne, the Belgian national anthem, followed by the traditional laying of poppy crosses.
Zoe expressed thanks to the speakers, behind-the-scenes team and many members present, who included Belgian veteran Jean-Luc Deswaene, a branch member for more than 30 years.
Several branch members later joined for a convivial lunch at Le Lion Belge in Evere.
Photographs: David Bizley, Viviane Pede.
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A warm welcome to both our existing and future friends of the Brussels Branch of the Royal British Legion.
Our branch meets regularly in and around the Brussels area and has been meeting since 1922. Join us to carry on this tradition of help and support to those who have served and their families. Our branch is made up of both British and Belgian members and we would love to meet anybody who would like to join us. Our friendly committee team will be delighted to answer any questions you may have about membership, contact us over phone or email.
Our main fundraising activity is the Poppy Appeal, you can read more about our 2020 appeal and the generosity of the people in Belgium here.
Belgium is a particularly relevant place for an organisation like the Royal British Legion and our members often join commemorative walks or parades across the country, taking time to remember the sacrifices of so many young men and women on Belgian soil. Look up what's coming up in the diary here.
About the Royal British Legion
We provide financial, social and emotional care and support to all members of the British Armed Forces - past and present and their families. The Legion is also the national Custodian of Remembrance and safeguards the Military Covenant between the nation and its Armed Forces and is best known for the annual Poppy Appeal and its emblem the red poppy.
Founded in 1921, the Legion is not just about those who fought in the World Wars of the last century, but also about those involved in the many conflicts since 1945 and those still fighting for the freedom we enjoy today.
If you wish to contact us or to report any inaccuracies or omissions on this site, please email Zoe White at firstname.lastname@example.org