poppy field

Brussels Branch

Welcome to the Brussels Branch of The Royal British Legion

30 May 2024

After five busy months as Chair, it never ceases to amaze me how Zoe managed to juggle a demanding full-time day job with running the branch - and always with such grace under pressure.

I never saw her trip up once.

Unlike me during our recent commemoration at Hotton. I nearly went flying after snagging my foot on the loudspeaker cable.

Luckily, Laura, my other half, reacted at lightning speed to prevent the speaker from toppling over, allowing me to just about retain my balance and a smidgin of dignity.

It was a lovely day, otherwise.

My thanks to the great turnout from branch members who made an early start from Brussels to take part in the church mass and ceremonies at the war cemetery and memorial at La Roche.

Brigade Pede

Special thanks to Canon John Wilkinson, who officiated at all three services, to British Deputy Ambassador Chloe Louter, to Phil Hyde and Alain Brogniez for efficiently setting up everything at the cemetery, to the ‘Brigade Pede’ – Jean-Pierre, Ethel and Viviane – for laying the wreaths, and Rainer Hiltermann for volunteering as a driver.

I received some warm messages afterwards from Chloe and the mayors of Hotton and La Roche, thanking the branch for our participation in the annual commemorations.

Two other recent notable successes were the battlefield tour to the Atlantic Wall museum and fortifications near Ostend, saved for posterity by post-war Prince Regent Charles, Count of Flanders, and the May First Friday of the Month social in Tervuren, where we had a turnout of more than 30. (Thanks to Steve, Alain and Phil for their great support at these events).

Gala Dinner

Do take a look at our online calendar, compiled by Scott Wilson on the Brussels branch website, for details of more upcoming events of interest.

The other main reason that the past few weeks have been fairly action-packed has been all the planning going on behind the scenes for our Gala Dinner to mark the 80th anniversary of the Liberation of Brussels. It will be held at the Club Prince Albert on 4 September.

By the time you read this, tickets should be on sale.

Members will have an exclusive window to secure seats – and will receive a €10 discount on the normal price, paying €85 a head instead of €95. Please don’t delay your orders as we expect this event to be extremely popular.

My thanks to Steve Grant, Mika-John Southworth and Rodolphe Lancksweert who have been working like Trojans to finalise the arrangements. I’d also like to express our gratitude to the Welsh Guards, the Royal National Federation of the Friends of the Brigade Piron, the Welsh Government office in Brussels and UK Mission for their support.


8 March 2024

Dear Members and Friends

Earlier this week, I was contacted by Keith Cima, Branch Chairman of the Soldiers', Sailors', and Airmen's Families Association (SSAFA) in France, with an urgent plea to help a Royal Navy veteran suffering from severe depression.

David – I won’t give his surname – was trapped in Mons with no means of getting back to Britain to seek medical support.

Thanks to a fantastic team effort involving Brussels branch members and RBL HQ, we were able to provide David with a £250 crisis grant. I’m happy to report that, as of today, David is now in temporary hotel accommodation in London, receiving resettlement support from HQ's welfare team.

I’d like to especially thank our Treasurer Jean-Pierre Pede, who rapidly released the emergency grant, and Susan Coleman, Overseas Case Officer at HQ, who patiently took me through the steps necessary to ensure David received the help he needed – as quickly as possible.

I’d also like to thank our President Zoe White, as well as Colin and Brenda Puplett, who were at the forefront of our branch’s welfare work for many years, for their helpful advice.

The funds we raise during the Poppy Appeal and events such as our battlefield tours and history talks ensure we’re able to provide an effective response when confronted with emergencies like this.

History talks

On the subject of our history talks, I’d like to congratulate Olivier d’Olne for his presentation on infantry webbing which took place at the the Fraternelle des Agents Parachutistes on 17 February. I confess that I thought it would be super niche but Olivier, supported by fellow WW2 uniform collector Alain Brogniez, kept us gripped tighter than the tightest bandolier.

I’m eagerly looking forward to the second talk, which takes place this Sunday, when historian Vincenzo De Meulenaere is taking us back to 16th century Antwerp and the revolt against Philip II.

Comité National Belge du Souvenir

I was honoured to speak at a memorable event marking the 50th anniversary of the Comité National Belge du Souvenir on 23 February. Treasurer Jean-Pierre Pede, Honorary Secretary Andrée Ferrant, Standard Bearer Freddy Roiseux, Mika-John Southworth, Mireille Picron and Jack Van Strang also represented the branch. Congratulations to our good friend Colonel Jean-Pierre Schellekens for organising such a moving occasion.

First Friday of the Month

We had a super turnout for our First Friday of the Month social on 1 March at the 1898 Brasserie. Many thanks to Steve Grant for organising.

Dates for your calendar

  • 13 March: Escaping Nazi Europe: Understanding the experiences of Belgian soldiers and civilians in World War II – conference debate (in French and Dutch) with branch member Bernard Wilkin. CegeSoma, Square de l’Aviation/Luchtvaartsquare 29, 1070 Brussels. 12.30-2pm. Registration required: isabelle.ponteville@arch.be
  • 22 March: Battles and Books, co-chaired by branch member William Bache, lunch at the Club Prince Albert (details: battles.books@icloud.com)
  • 26 March: Rhos Male Voice Choir from North Wales are giving a free concert at St George’s Church in Ypres (6pm – more info attached).
  • 5 April: First Friday of the Month social evening (location tbc).
  • 13 April: The Military Wives Choir Belgium will perform in Ypres at Talbot House (3.30pm) and at the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate (8pm) 
  • 20 April: Battlefield Tour, Ostend (more information to follow).
  • 5 May: Our first official commemoration of the year, remembering those who fell in the Battle of the Bulge, takes place at Hotton and La Roche-en-Ardenne (more information to follow).



26 January 2024

First FFM of 2024 

For those of you who signed up for Dry January (not me!) and have kept it up (congrats), the good news is that a new month is just days away and you can celebrate on 2 February at our regular FFM (First Friday of the Month) social at the Fraternelle des Agents Parachutistes (Rue du Châtelain 46, Ixelles – 6.30-9pm). If you plan to attend and wish to order a buffet, please fill in the form here by 30 January at the latest. It’s €25 per person for the meal, still and sparkling water, glass of white or red wine and tea or coffee. Note it’s a cash bar only.  

Lunchtime talk 

Alain Brogniez and Olivier d'Olne will host the first of a series of fund-raising ‘historical lunches’ at the Fraternelle on Saturday 17 February (12.30). The theme of their talk is Second World War infantry webbing equipment. Details on how to sign up and book your lunch to follow soon.   

It’s already been a busy start to the year.  

Walthère Dewé

Alain Brogniez and I attended a commemoration at the Mémorial Walthère Dewé in Liège on 12 January. Belgian Resistance hero Dewé led a secret intelligence network, ‘La Dame Blanche’, in the First World War and his exploits were recognised by Field Marshal Douglas Haig. He also ran the ‘Clarence’ cell in the Second World War, until his death in 1944. He was caught trying to escape after a Gestapo raid in Ixelles: a Luftwaffe officer, in the area by chance, challenged Dewé and, when he refused to surrender, gunned him down. British historian Helen Fry, among those present in Liège, is writing a biography on Dewé. 

Antwerp 100th 

Antwerp branch celebrated their centenary with a reception at the beautiful Stadhuis on 19 January. The branch was founded in 1922, the same year as Brussels, but their festivities were delayed due to the covid pandemic. The event opened with the arrival of Antwerp’s eight (!) immaculately turned-out Standard Bearers, led by parade marshal Ian Newbit and 2-I/C Jean Dandoys. Burgemeester Bart De Wever gave a well-received speech highlighting the city’s ties with Britain which go back to 1338 and the birth of Lionel of Antwerp, brother of the Black Prince and son of Edward II and Philippa of Hainault. UK Ambassador Martin Shearman, President Bob Chambers and Chair Sid Wilkins also addressed the reception. I represented Brussels branch, together with my better half Laura Houlgatte, while Ypres Chair Patrick Buerms was also among the Belgian RBL contingent.  

CNBS 50th birthday 

To mark its 50th anniversary, the Comité National Belge du Souvenir (CNBS) is holding a ‘cultural session’ at the Prince Albert Club on Friday 23 February. Vice-Chair Jean-Pierre Pede has been a prime mover in our relationship with the CNBS and I will have the honour of being among the speakers.  

Battlefield tours 

Do keep a close eye on the branch calendar for details of our upcoming events including  a fantastic new series of battlefield tours under the auspices of Steve Grant. Please share the poster online or print it out and put it up in your office. If there’s an event you think we should include in the calendar, please let us know via Brussels.Chair@rbl.community 

2024 battlefield tours poster

You may have spotted that the website has had a mini-facelift, thanks to our ace site coordinator. Many thanks, Scott Wilson.  

Finally, in case you missed my New Year message on the website, I’d like to once again thank Zoe White for her stellar service as Chair during the past three years and for becoming branch President. I’ll do my best to continue her fine work.  


14 January 2024

Thank you, Zoe.

Happy New Year to all our members and friends.

It’s a privilege to be addressing you for the first time as new Chair of the Brussels branch. Thank you for putting your trust in me.

I’m delighted that Zoe White, the first female Chair in our history, has agreed to become branch President.

Zoe can look back on a hugely successful term. Warm, patient and personable, she has led the committee with aplomb and taken the branch to a new level thanks to her tireless work and impeccable connections.

Martin Shearman, UK Ambassador to Belgium and our local patron, summed up Zoe’s impact with this message, shared with both of us: “You have done a great job of breathing new life and energy into the RBL branch. That has been tremendous for the RBL of course, but also a valuable contribution to the wider British presence here. You have my sincere thanks.”

Well-chosen words which speak for all of us.

Surprise nomination

My nomination as Chair came rather out of the blue. The truth should be told. Our Vice-Chair, Jean-Pierre Pede, intercepted me at the end of our Remembrance Sunday lunch, as I was preparing to leave. It was quite noisy and (I thought) he said: “We need a new German.”

Behind him I could see Rainer Hiltermann, our sole German member, happily chatting away. Of course, we welcome members of all nationalities (and ages), so why not an additional German? Although somewhat surprised by J-P’s comment, I replied “Yes, that would be nice,” or words to that effect.

As I stepped outside the restaurant, I bumped straight into Zoe and her partner David (our ace Poppy Appeal Organiser). They were smiling.

“So did J-P talk to you?” said Zoe.

And then the penny dropped. Jean-Pierre had said: “We need a new Chairman...”

New German members are of course very welcome.

Diary dates

As well as our regular commemorations including Hotton (5 May), Evere (22 June) and Heverlee (10 November) – do please put the dates in your calendar – we plan to continue the successful FFM (first Friday of the month) socials and fund-raising battlefield tours (thank you for all your hard work, Steve Grant), as well as other activities and a special event to mark the 80th anniversary of the liberation of Brussels.

Watch this space.