A brief history of the Branch activities
What can we tell you about the Sittingbourne and Milton Regis Branch?
We do know that according to records from other sources the Sittingbourne Branch of the British Legion laid a wreath at the dedication of the Milton Regis war memorial in 1920.
In keeping with our promise to keep Remembrance this Branch has carried out various acts to that effect.
In April 2000 there was a problem that arose from the “scrapping” of the Angel of Peace, members were asking what was happening to the plaques that had been given to the sculptor for inclusion in the piece. They were “rescued by the then Chairman, Alan Rose, who stored them in his shed. We were approached by Mrs Ellen Matson, a member of the Living Memorial Committee, saying there was money left in their fund and she wondered if they could help at all? Having met with the Chairman and Mr Ron Dimond between them they came up with an idea, Mrs Anne Fleurs, a sculptress was approached by Mrs Matson and asked if she could come up with an idea. There it stayed for some while under discussion with the four people concerned. ( See photos 1 - 8 ).
In November 2001 the new sculpture, a bronze laurel wreath with poppies was erected atop the existing War Memorial in Central Avenue, with the assistance of Mick Matson and the two young Royal Engineers , who operated and drove the crane for the “lift”, with thanks to the RSME. The remarks made during and after the placement were very positive so we knew we had done a good job, with thanks to Anne, Ellen, Ron, Alan, Mick and Anne’s husband.
In July of that year a suggestion was made, through Rod Bedford and Fred Langworthy, that we bring back two trees from the continent and plant them locally as a memorial to all those who have died in all conflicts from the WW 1 and since. Fred approached Mr Chris Wicks for permission to plant them in the Tonge Mill Countryside Park which was given with much enthusiasm. Rod who now lived in France, approached the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and a friend of his , a Police Officer from Ypres, Conrad Dumoulin. In January of 2001 we went to France and Belgium to pick our trees one from Delvilles Wood, ( Devil’s Wood ), on the Somme and one from Sanctuary Wood just outside Ypres. But, because the sap had started to rise we couldn’t take them then. In August a mini bus carrying nine, of us went to the two sites again and this time with the very capable assistance of 36 Engineer Regiment, in the form of a three tonne lorry and two drivers, we collected the two trees.
At Devil’s Wood we were piped down to the tree by a piper, Jean-Luc Saint, from the Somme Pipe Band, one of the drivers was heard to remark “Bloody Jocks get everywhere don’t they”? Jimmy Grieve said “That bloody Jock can’t speak a word of English, he’s French” But once the tree was being lifted the piper also played the Last Post on the bugle, immaculately, as we left to go to Ypres he played “ Going Home” on the pipes very evocatively.
On arrival at Sanctuary Wood we loaded the second tree said our goodbyes and headed back to Calais in order to catch the ferry home where a television crew were waiting to greet us with the President Ron Dimond, all the way back we were plagued by thunderstorms and as we were approaching the port it got really nasty. On arrival we booked in and were told that the Channel was closed to ferries for the time being, we couldn’t get a signal for our mobiles so couldn’t let home know what was going on. We finally boarded the ferry and having got under way decided we would buy the drivers a crate of beer, but we couldn’t find them. I asked Rod if he had seen them No came the reply, it turned out there was no place for them on this ferry they were on the one behind. We waited in Dover for two and a half hours for them to dock, the weather on the way back to Tonge was atrocious having reached the park we just placed the trees inside the gate, Rod and Fred were soaked through to the skin. By now it was 01:00hrs and we still had to return the bus. The next day with the help from a mini-digger and two lads from the RSME we planted the trees and the following week had a small service of dedication carried out by our Padre, Bernard Foulger, attended by the Mayor of Swale, Brenda Simpson, and those of us who had collected the trees and Chris Wicks and his sister and brother in law. (See photos A - H ).
In June 2002, the year of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee we had a dedication service for the two trees conducted by our Padre and attended by, the Burgemeester of Ypres, Luc Dehahn, and the assistant High Commissioner, along with the Military Attaché, from South Africa. Because of the connection of the South Africans with Devils Wood, it being the first time they had fought as a nation and the Wood being their National War Memorial
The Mayor of Swale and various other dignitaries. The afternoon started with a parade of all the Ex-service Associations, their Standards in the van and the three Cadet Units within Sittingbourne, with members of the ACF dressed in First World War uniforms and forming Honour Guards next to the commemorative plaques. During the service Last Post and Reveille were sounded by a bugler from the Boy’s Brigade. The two dignitaries unveiled the plaques and spoke to the assembled crowd saying how pleased they were to be able to contribute the trees and attend the Ceremony and how well it had been organised. Wreathes were laid with those from Ypres and South Africa. Then the president of the Branch presented Certificates to the Dignitaries and other who had made contributions to the Branch. There followed a large buffet in the marquee afterwards. ( See photos J - U ).
In 2003 Rod, Ron, Fred and Bob were founder members of the Somme Branch, in France. The members of our Branch then bought the Standard for The Somme Branch for which Rod and his Committee were very grateful. It was dedicated at a ceremony at Thiepvaal on the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.
2005 we held a party in the Bapchild village hall to commemorate the Cessation of hostilities 60th anniversary. Organised by Ron Dimond, it consisted of a “forties night” with a dinner and entertainment of a home grown nature, music provided by Bernard de Soy. A spectacular night it was too, we need more of them.
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