Gravesend Sappers have a varied program throughout each year and September and October this year have been particularly busy. Here are a few examples of the activities available to us as members of the family of sappers and associating with our brothers and sisters in the combined services.
Corps Memorial Weekend
Corps Memorial Weekend is an annual get together over two days with the aim of having fun, updating yourself about sappery and sharing a meal together. On Sunday it is time to remember. As it is a national event for the whole corps, held locally in Brompton Barracks, Gravesend Sappers have every opportunity to attend. As most functions in the annual Royal Engineers calendar, it is a highly entertaining weekend. Gravesend Sapper Ray Ellis, kindly wrote the following account of this years event and his wife Angela together with Sue Nelmes provide the photographs.
Gravesend Sappers attended the Corps Memorial Weekend on the 15-17th September at Brompton Barracks. After being met and greeted by the Regimental Sergeant Major in the Sergeants Mess on Friday evening, the Royal Engineers Association Band entertained us for the evening. This got the weekend off to a great start. Activities on the Saturday consisted of workshop tours, RE Museum, boats and plant demonstrations (Diggers & Stuff). The weekend is lightly competitive: The Dove Cup which is the annual darts contest was won by the Chesterfield Branch. The Standard Bearers’ Competition was won by the Northern Ireland / Scotland branch. In the afternoon the Nottinghamshire Reserve Band RE gave a musical & marching display. On Saturday evening there was a lively function in the Sgt’s Mess with entertainment by the Army Air Corps quintet.
On Sunday morning the Corps Memorial parade was held on the square at Brompton Barracks. During this parade cadets, veterans and serving soldiers paraded in front of the Chief Royal Engineer who took the salute.
The memorial Service itself was conducted in the Rochester City Cathedral before the parade, where the Regiment exercised its Freedom to march through the borough with drums beating and trumpets playing.
Royal Engineers Association Annual General Meeting, Annual Dinner and Sapper Sunday
Three events in one weekend. Several highlights this year made this a special weekend. The Annual General Meeting was held at the Victory Service’s Club on Saturday 14th October and followed by the annual dinner.
At the AGM, REA Branch management come together from all over the country with the REA Council to give and receive feedback about performance, finance and to update itself. The meeting is well organised an planned to fit into the hour or so before dinner but nonetheless enlightening. The corps is currently dominating Army Sport according to the Corps Sergeant major and its ten thousand serving members are currently reorganising around barracks closures while serving in many countries abroad. REA Branches are being affiliated with host regiments.
Gravesend Sappers and their wives were omni-present alongside members of the many other REA branches. Ray attended as a delegate and Richard as a Branch Observer. Ken attended as Junior Leaders Branch Delegate and Stuart alongside Tom Milne as radio branch delegate.
In a report from the Benevolent fund two examples were cited where the corps helped an ex Sapper who needed a bathroom conversion to support his disability. Also when a young sapper was injured, his parents were helped with the financial cost of staying near the hospital.
A full account of the meeting will be published in due course. And then the bar opened, just prior to association Annual Dinner. The chef and staff of the Victory Services Club produced a spectacular meal, the type of which you often see on Masterchef and pay a lot of money for.
At the opening, all the standards present were marched into the room to the sound of “Wings” played by the Light Orchestra from the band of the Corps of Royal Engineers. Singing along to this got the evening off to a light hearted start and the music made the evening special throughout. After the dinner the Controller of the REA, Lt Colonel Neil Jordan was awarded the REA Gold Medal on his retirement. He is now one of only a few people to have earned the corps highest award for service. The toast’s were proposed by the President of the Association Lt Gen Sir Mark Mans, the Chief Royal Engineer. Notably a contingent of Sapper Chelsea Pensioners were our guests and some cherished memories were exchanged over more than a few beers afterwards.
Then on to Sapper Sunday. Branch members attended Sapper Sunday at the Royal Hospital Chelsea on the 15th October.
Prior to the service there was the Governors parade which consisted of RE In-Pensioners together with other RE Veterans and a parade of Branch Standards.
The parade was called to form up by a drummer from the Royal hospital. After the inspection a service was conducted by Reverend Steven Brooks. This was followed by curry lunch, in the club room.
Each year the Gravesend Royal Naval Association invites the branch to attend the service to commemorate the Battle of Trafalgar which took place in 1805. This was a naval engagement fought by the Royal Navy against the combined fleets of the Spanish and French. It was during this battle that Admiral Lord Nelson, one of Britain’s greatest seafarers and a national icon, was shot in the shoulder by a musket ball and died as a result of his wounds.
The service took place On Sunday 22nd October at St Peter’s & Paul’s church. As is usual the branch parades its standard alongside naval and other ex service organisations. The Reverend Graham Herbert officiated the service. The congregation included; his worship the Mayor & Mayoress of Gravesham – Cllr Harold Craske and Mrs Veronica Craske, Civic dignitaries, veterans and cadets. Light refreshments were taken afterwards in the church hall where the mayoress spoke about the importance of remembrance.
These are just a few of the events attended by Gravesend Sappers throughout the year. They are fun to attend and also have a serious side. From this it is hoped you have a good insight into how the Royal Engineers Family works together – Once a Sapper, Always a Sapper.
As a member of the armed forces, it was a privilege to be able to book into the victory services club and enjoy excellent hospitality and a comfortable room direct at the venue. (ed).