Recently, Gravesend Sappers made the short journey to Aylesford in Kent to the RBLI factory to see first hand the work that goes on and to understand the objectives of the RBLI.
The tour was arranged by Emma Nugent who had previously visited the branch during the year.
From the battlefields of the First World War, many soldiers left to find they were now fighting a personal battle against tuberculosis. In 1919, Industrial Settlements Incorporated began helping thousands of the 55,000 soldiers who were discharged from the service with tuberculosis. In 1920, Industrial Settlements Incorporated purchased Preston Hall which was home to 240 ex-servicemen and women. This was the start of a Village ideology where healthcare, training and employment was provided. Shortly after the end of the Second World War our name was changed to British Legion Industries (Preston Hall) Incorporated. We are proud to be a sister charity of the British Legion, with a shared ethos of supporting the Armed Forces community. In December 1975 the Village was visited by the Queen Elizabeth II who was hugely impressed. Local school children were given time off to come along to see the Queen during her visit. In the early 2000’s we began our LifeWorks courses, providing employment support to Veterans across the UK. This has since expanded, and we now also deliver courses abroad and to the families of serving personnel. In 2013, RBLI was awarded National Charity Times Awards Charity of the Year. At this point, The RBLI had been providing training, employment and support to the Armed Forces community and disabled people for 94 years.
On arrival at the factory we all booked in and made our way to the boardroom . There was a presentation on the Lifework project which is a UK wide employment support programme designed to help veterans back to work when they leave the services. It is a 5 day intensive course followed by 12 months of reachback and remote support.
After the presentation had finished we donned hi-vis vest’s and made our way to the factory. We were met by Mr Tim Brown Ex-RE who was to be our guide around the factory. In 2016, the.RBLI re-launched their social enterprise as Britain’s Bravest Manufacturing Company (BBMC). Today it provides employment for a team of over 100, 70% of whom are either ex-service or have a disability/health condition.
The products made in the factory vary from road signs to safety signs for the railway network, wooden pallet refurbishment and another product is the “There But Not There” a commemorative Perspex Tommy partly inspired by a photograph taken in WWI by Horace Nicholls a keepsake Tommy, a 25cms (27.5cms with stand) transparent figure of a World War One soldier. The Tommies and their commemorative packaging are made by the Royal British Legion Industries and, appropriately, by ex-Service Veterans employed by RBLI.
After leaving the factory we made our way to the Base Camp community hub and café which is available to be used by anyone, walking through the Garden of Honour a permanent reminder of the Sacrifice’s of the Armed Forces, we made our way to the Mountbatten Pavilion which is short term accommodation for veterans who have fallen on hard times or in need.
The tour finished back in the boardroom with lunch, all branch members agreed it was a very worth while visit and to see the good work done by the RBLI.
One of the features of being a sapper is remembering those who have given their lives for their country. This remembrance day was no different since it was first started after World War One when so many people gave.
Gravesend Sappers had a busy day in and around the Borough attending a number of ceremonies.
The Hill Northfleet
Dave Ward attended a service at the hill Northfleet and laid our wreath alongside our member of parliament, the deputy mayor David Hurley Rosemary Dymond, for the Lord Lieutenant, Kent Scouts the Rotary Club Police Fire Service and others. The salvation Army Band played during the service conducted by the Reverend Joe King it was a cold and windy morning but this didn’t deter a large number of people from attending to show their respects.
Fields of Remembrance, Gravesend Borough Market & Cenotaph.
Bill Stanley attended the annual Fields of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey on Thurs 9th.
Bill said, “There were over 6,000 present representing Regiments past and present. The Royal Engineers had a large plot of crosses etc, but there was only a small group of onlookers from the REA. Prince Harry was present.”
On the 11th Bill went with Jamie to attend the Gravesend Armistice ceremony which was held for some unknown reason in the Borough Market this year. There’s not much to say about this except when we checked the towns website we were drawn to a ceremony in the town square which was clearly last years information (ed) and when we were there it wasn’t well organised.
Bill also formed up at the Cenotaph in Whitehall On Sunday 12th with the 60 strong REA Bomb Disposal Branch contingent.
He said, “Despite the wet start to the day the weather turned out good in our favour. Lots of old friendships were renewed and new friendships established. After the parade we made for the “Branch pub”, The Sherlock Holmes in Northumberland Ave for a few pints and a catch up.”
Garrison Church – Brompton
The RE Garrison Church serves what was the thriving garrison town of Chatham during several wars.
Kye Robinson – “I attended the service at the RE Garrison church in Brompton and took my my wife and kids, mother, sister and nephews. While there I bumped in to some rather smart looking chap called Ray Ellis – another Gravesend Sapper.”
After the service the marching contingent made its way to Brompton barracks for a short service. Where wreaths were laid at the RE cenotaph. Afterwards there was a chance for a beer in the pub round the corner….. For some reason it was full of Sappers of all ages young and old.”
Mick Dobson – “I attended Meopham Service of Remembrance and laid a wreath on behalf of the branch . The service was also attended by local MP Adam Holloway, Gravesham Mayor & Mayoress and Capt John Mason a serving Sapper Officer – who lost leg in Afghanistan.”
Windmill Hill Gravesend
Ken Trevor, ” I attended the Armistice Parade at the Memorial in Windmill Hill Gravesend and laid the wreath on behalf of the Branch. Also in attendance was the Mayor Councillor Harold Craske and other dignitaries. Branch members Mary,Jamie, Roy our new member Shaun Shand and Mary and Owen also attended the service. I also met up with the three soldiers from 1R.S.M.E.”
Basildon Borough Veterans Breakfast Club Remembrance Service.
Ray Ellis, “Two local MPs met up with a group of veterans on Armistice Day at the Campenile Hotel in Basildon for a hearty breakfast followed by a service of Remembrance.
Rayleigh and Wickford MP Mark Francois and South Basildon and East Thurrock MP Stephen Metcalfe joined with a group of 30 veterans , for the two minutes silence at 11am .
Mr Francois said: “It was a privilege for Stephen and myself to have the chance to share a meal with so many men who have given their time in the service of their country. The veterans were a really jolly bunch and much banter was exchanged.”
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).