OF all the organisations in Lyme that I have been involved in over the years, the Royal British Legion is the one in which I have most pride.
Although my grandfather was a career soldier, I don’t come from a military family. Neither my brother nor I served the forces.
I got involved in the Legion when I was asked to compere the Festival of Remembrance organised every year by the Lyme branch.
As a thank you my wife and I were invited to the Albert Hall a few years back to watch the national Festival of Remembrance. It was an unforgettable event, one which I watch every year on television.
I thought this year’s festival, with no audience and social distancing being observed rigidly, was brilliantly staged – a classic example that even a pandemic will not put an end to our nation coming together to honour this country’s war dead.
When former chairman David Manners asked me to become president of the Lyme branch of the Legion to succeed his late father-in-law Cecil Quick, I was really taken aback.
The role of president is not an onerous one but it has opened my eyes to what good work the Royal British Legion does, much of it behind closed doors and without public recognition.
One of the roles as president is to read the Roll of Honour containing the names of all the men of Lyme who made the supreme sacrifice at the Remembrance service in the parish church.
But there’s more to this than reading out a list of names. I knew none of those whose names appear on the war memorial but as I was reading the names to a packed church for the first time, I suddenly realised I had grown up with the sons and daughters of these brave men, members of some of Lyme’s most respected families, many of them friends.
Sat in church were representatives of those families and it dawned on me how important it was to deliver those names every year.
This has been a most difficult year for the Royal British Legion, as it has for all charities. The Lyme branch has a splendid record in collecting for the Poppy Appeal which finances much of the Legion’s wonderful work in looking after those suffering the trauma of war. But COVID will have decimated those takings all over the country which could impact greatly on the Legion’s ability to continue their good work.
This year’s Remembrance service at Lyme had to be held at the war memorial and not in church for obvious reasons.
Unfortunately, due to recurring health issues, I was unable to attend but did manage to make it to the Armistice service on Wednesday where the names of Lyme’s fallen were read by the chairman, Major Ian Marshall, who conducted proceedings in his usual efficient manner. It enabled me to fulfil my obligation as president to lay a wreath on behalf of the Legion.
The staging of the town’s Remembrance commemorations is a joint arrangement between the town council and the Lyme branch.
The two services at the war memorial observed social distancing with members of the public attending having to stand outside George’s Square with council staff on site to ensure the restrictions were respected.
My term of office as president will come to a close next November, the year when the Legion will be celebrating its 100th anniversary. The Lyme branch was formed ten years later.
It has been a huge privilege to have been associated with an organisation which ensures that those who made the supreme sacrifice in two world wars and subsequent conflicts will never be forgotten.
Minnie lays a wreath at The Cenotaph for brave pilots
HOW great to see former Lyme Regis resident Minnie Churchill laying a wreath at the Remembrance service at The Cenotaph in Whitehall on Sunday.
Minnie, a former Deputy Lieutenant of Dorset, took part in the ceremony, much scaled down due to lockdown restrictions, and laid a wreath as honorary president of the Air Transport Auxiliary Association (ATAA).
She was among members of the Royal Family, politicians, service organisations and Commonwealth leaders who laid wreaths at The Cenotaph.
The Air Transport Auxiliary, founded at the outbreak of World War II, was a civilian organisation which made an enormous contribution to victory by taking over from service pilots the task of ferrying RAF and RN warplanes between factories, maintenance units and front-line squadrons.
During the war, 1,250 men and women from 25 countries ferried a total of 309,000 aircraft of 147 different types, without radios, with no instrument flying instruction and at the mercy of the British weather. Often they were presented with a type of plane they had never seen before.
Minnie was the granddaughter-in-law of the late Sir Winston and Lady Churchill, formerly married to the Prime Minister’s grandson, also called Winston, who was a Member of Parliament for 25 years.
With her partner, Simon Bird, she lived at Ware House, one of Lyme’s most grand homes, where they hosted many local events.
During her time in the town they made many friends and supported numerous community events, including the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. They also opened their garden on several occasions for popular outdoor concerts in aid of the organ appeal at St Michael’s Parish Church.
Minnie Churchill is the director of Churchill Heritage and co-author, with art historian David Coombs, of ‘Sir Winston Churchill His Life and His Paintings’.
Sally Holman was the Mayor of Lyme Regis during the time Minnie and Simon were living in Lyme Regis.
She told LymeOnline: “It was lovely to see Minnie laying the wreath at such an important event. She was a great friend of Lyme Regis and couldn’t do enough for the town, joining in all the civic occasions. She has been greatly missed.”
I have cause to be very grateful to Minnie. She arranged for my wife and I and our two daughters to go to a Buckingham Palace garden party in 2011. At that time it was the best day of our lives; a joint celebration with Francesca graduating with a first class honours degree in journalism with lunch at The Savoy.
I say “at that time” because we had no idea we would be returning to Buckingham Palace in October 2018 for me to receive an MBE from Prince William, an occasion never to be forgotten. Two years later I still can’t believe that happened.
Time for councillors to pull together
ANYONE who listened in to the latest meeting of Lyme Regis Town Council will come to the conclusion that it’s impossible to conduct meaningful debate via video conferencing.
Council meetings are difficult enough to chair in those (seemingly) far off days when councils sat around the table in the Guildhall and swapped verbal blows.
We shouldn’t pretend that things are all sweetness and light in the Guildhall – but when were they?
When the council first went into lockdown and public meetings were suspended, the mayor and town clerk were given delegated powers to make decisions and sanction expenditure up to £150,000, previously £10,000.
Inevitably, councillors started to get frustrated about not being able to have their say, although I understand they were kept informed on all decisions made by email.
Eventually, it was agreed that monthly full council meetings should resume by Zoom so members had a forum to express their views. Members of the public are also able to have their say by speaking in the public forum or submitting their questions in writing to the council.
During the first lockdown period, during which we had to cease the printed version of LymeOnline, we dedicated a page entitled ‘Ask The Mayor’ where residents were able to put a question to Councillor Brian Larcombe.
It was obvious listening to the recent council meeting that the patience of some councillors is being severely tested and chairing such meetings is clearly quite a challenge.
It is understandable that councillors want to have their say, but there cannot have been a more difficult time to conduct the affairs of the council.
It is important that councillors recognise this and, despite their varying opinions, they all get behind the mayor and town clerk to see Lyme through these most difficult times.
The cut and thrust of local politics can resume in earnest when this virus is beaten.