What a year it has been so far – I hope that you are all keeping well and safe during these somewhat challenging times and, at least, enjoying some of the beautiful sunshine during our extended period of lockdown.
This “strange” period has certainly allowed me the opportunity to reflect on the workings of the Regimental Association and the good that comes out of it. I joined the London Irish Rifles, or to be precise D (LIR) Coy “North Irish Militia” (NIM) 4th Bn Royal Irish Rangers, back in 1971. In those days, the company was strong and it was not unusual to take fifty to sixty men away on weekends and even more to Annual Camp. Likewise, the Association was equally strong, if not stronger, with Second World War veterans taking leadership roles as active members and not forgetting the small number of Great War stalwarts who were then still about, one being Percy Tomlin, who I was privileged to meet on regular occasions at our parades at the Duke of York’s HQ in Chelsea. I have vivid memories of the Association forming up on Loos, St Patrick’s and Remembrance Sundays with well over one hundred members on parade.
These days, the Association is a somewhat different beast with a much smaller number of participating members, although carrying out much the same key role as it always has: that is, to support veterans, members and also serving members of D (LIR) Company in any times of need or hardship, albeit in a very much changed world.
With this in mind, I had proposed to hold a special meeting of the General Management Committee (GMC) on 29th April to discuss the future role of our Association, particularly how we manage to secure a longevity for all traditions and also guard the huge range of precious historical assets eg the Museum, the War Memorial and the Band, as well as the vast range of portraits and regimental silver. Of course, this meeting did not place, but is still at the forefront of my mind and will certainly take place as soon as it is practically possible, as I feel we need to position ourselves for what is likely to be challenging times ahead. We shall keep all members apprised on the outcome of this review.
Looking back to the events of the past year, November was, as always, a month in which a number of members of the Association attend the opening of the Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey. It is a solemn and memorable event and notable that this time was probably the last time that Prince Harry would attend. The event is ticket only and we receive an allocation from the RBL so, if you would like to attend, please contact myself or any other member of the GMC for tickets: obviously these are limited and would be issued on a first come, first served, basis.
On Remembrance Sunday, with Brigadier Mooney as the Inspecting Officer, it was nice to see such an excellent turnout. Thankfully, the weather was kind to us and the parade was followed by a short service led by Paul Hilditch. For those not aware, Paul is a piper in the band and obviously is a man of many talents as he conducted an excellent service. As with all our parade days, an important part is the social aspect, and it was good to see so many members and friends in the bar afterwards!
As usual, a festive LIR Officers’ Club Annual Lunch was held in December with excellent food and wine and a guest singing spot led by our resident portrait artist David Rowlands. It was a lovely way to end the year and we hope it can be the same again this year – fingers crossed.
For this year’s St Patrick’s Day Parade, D Company were invited by the Irish Guards to attend at Wellington Barracks – a first for the London Irish Rifles as far as I can remember and it was fantastic to parade in such a historic location! Perhaps slightly surprisingly, there was a good turnout from members of the Association, even though we were not at our home ground. We were also kindly invited into the WOs and Sgts Mess so you can imagine that the Guinness went down extremely well and there was some foot-tapping along with the music from a Ceilidh band and, as an extra bonus, myself and Karen still have our shamrock growing in the front garden. This Parade marked the farewell of Major Bob Brown who handed over command of D Company to Major Dominic Masters. Fortunately, this was done in the week before lockdown began so the handover was indeed completed – my thanks and best wishes for the future goes out to Bob, and I look forward to working with Dominic in the very near future.
Like many events around the country, our AGM and Lunch was cancelled and, as yet, has not been rearranged and, as I am writing this, I think that it is unlikely now to be held this year. Likewise, no GMC meetings have taken place since January which was when we conducted our annual accounts audit and, as soon as government guidelines permit us, we shall hope to get back to business as usual, including holding the aforementioned meeting planned to discuss our future.
One of the other events which went by the board was a pilgrimage to Loos in September but we will look to rearrange this for either next year or 2022, so please watch out for details of any dates on the website if you are interested in attending.
I would also like to welcome Michael Shanahan as our new Pipe Major. Mike has a long family history connection with the LIR and we are pleased to have such an experienced PM at the helm. Mike is a resident at the Royal Hospital Chelsea and took over the Band just as lockdown took hold of the country, but never the less he has still been organising the band with new music sets which seems to have gone down well. They actually have been holding their band practice on a Friday evening on Zoom to run through the new sets, though I am sure nothing can replace the joy of getting the band together at Connaught House.
It is with much sadness for both D Company and the Association, but probably with great joy for the individual concerned, that Barbara Edwards MBE retired in May from her full time role. I have no doubt that she will be sorely missed in D Company as well as the wider London Regiment. Barbara is the oracle as far as the Association is concerned: if we needed to know something, she would have the answer and if she did not know, she would soon find out. Of course, we wish you well, Barbara, and hope you enjoy a long and happy “retirement” but, fortunately for the Association, she is continuing in her role as the assistant to the Welfare Officer. On behalf of all of us, I would like to welcome Barbara’s replacement – Francine (Fran) Garrity – and wish her well in her new role and look forward to meeting and working with Fran in the future.
I would also like to thank Carol Raper for all the hard work and effort she puts in to assist us and especially with refreshments at our meetings, and I am sure our committee members would agree that Carol’s tea, coffee and biscuits keep some members awake during the more boring parts of meetings – especially when the Chairman is speaking!!
Finally, and as always, I would like to thank the GMC personally for all their sterling work over the past year. The fact that we haven’t held an AGM this year means that our Committee continues to serve for another year for which I am very thankful. I would like to extend a special vote of appreciation and thanks to Richard O’Sullivan for not only keeping the web site current and up to date with interesting features and facts, but also preparing, proof reading and chasing copy for this year’s Emerald publication – the proof of that pudding is most certainly in the reading !
Keep well and keep safe, and hopefully we shall soon meet up in better times.
Peter Lough Major (Ret’d),
Chairman London Irish Rifles Regimental Association