RLI Ouens, their "Crows", families and honoured guests started arriving on the Friday evening from all corners of the world to attend the inaugural Annual General Meeting of the RLI RA. This was followed by the laying-up of the Queen's and Regimental Colours of the Rhodesian Light Infantry and the unveiling and re-dedication of the RLI Trooper Statue.
Complimentary green bags were handed out, each being adorned with RLI badge and picture of The Trooper, and containing a glass tankard with engravings of the badge and Trooper, an elegant souvenir brochure, a plastic wristband with Troopie picture (for security) and a name badge. The latter was to enable old comrades to recognise each other on the off chance that the years may have changed some of us. It was also suggested that, after swapping war stories at the bar and imbibing from the cup that doth both cheer and inebriate, these would be needed as aide memoir for our own names. On Saturday afternoon, George Dempster (supported by Shaun Ryan, Mark Pilbeam and our Patron, Ron Reid-Daily) chaired the AGM (which lasted nearly 2 hours) in place of the Association Chairman Ian Buttenshaw (no passport and stateless) and Martyn Hudson who was in hospital. The minutes of the AGM will be distributed within the next 10 days. The hotel bar was well supported from shortly after the AGM till the early hours of Sunday morning with dinner and a disco interrupting the many refreshments.
Sunday morning started with an early breakfast - hotel intact - couples still together (how we have aged) perfect sunshine and much anticipation. Four coaches were boarded at 0900 by 205 delegates for the short ride to Hatfield House to attend the service in the Chapel and the Armoury by kind permission of the Marquess of Salisbury. The steps of Hatfield House were graced by six standard bearers holding the Presidential and Regimental Colours of the RLI together with those of the RAR, Rhodesia Regiment and the RAA - supported by eight buglers of the Band and Bugles of the Rifles. The buglers greeted us with a triumphant fanfare.
RLI Colour Party - Gordon Harland - 3 Cdo and Marcus Austin - Support Cdo
Rhodesian Army and RAA Colour party - Jock Hutton - SAS and Iain Harper - 9RR
RAR Colour Party - John Wynn Hopkins - 1RAR
Rhodesia Regiment Colour Party - Ian Robertson - 1RR.
The chapel suffices for the household but is too small to seat two hundred and five delegates - so well over one hundred were seated in the armoury and honoured guests were seated in the Chapel. Our Patron, Colonel Ron Reid-Daly, in true Selous Scout style, managed to blend in with the crowd in the armoury until discovered and seated in the Chapel. A moving service lasting forty five minutes was conducted by the Reverend Clive Larrett. There were four large television screens in the armoury so that all could see and hear the service. Pipe Major John Spoor, in his splendid Scottish regalia, played the bagpipes and marched from the armoury into the chapel. The beautiful Isla St Clare, well known actress and singer, treated us to an emotional rendition of "The flowers of the forest". A real treat.
We returned to the coaches and transported to the banks of the River Lee. A short walk later and we came across the Troopie statue draped in the Green and White. A short service was conducted by the Reverend Clive Larrett followed by speeches from Lt Colonel Charlie Aust, the last CO of the RLI, and the Marquess of Salisbury. The Trooper Statue stands on a wide grass bank in a sylvan setting backing on to a commercial wood of tall straight pine trees fronted by a copse of deciduous trees. The statue faces out across the River Lee to the far bank where the deciduous trees were resplendent in their autumn colours. The RLI badge is prominently displayed on both sides of the plinth and our Roll of Honour faces the copse.
The Marquess of Salisbury then unveiled the Trooper Statue with NIMROD played by the buglers of the Rifles Band. Wreaths of Flame Lilies were laid at the base of the statue by the Marquess of Salisbury, Colonel Charlie Aust and the Chairmen of the United Kingdom branch (Martyn Hudson assisted by Mark Pilbeam), the South African branch (George Dempster) and Australian members (Shaun Ryan). This was followed by the playing and marching of the Rifles Band and Buglers who gave a stirring performance including a rendition of "The Saints". They received a rousing three cheers and a "Nog'n Piep".
We then returned by coach to the Comet Hotel bar. All at the same time and in true RLI fashion the bar-staff were overwhelmed in a fine frontal assault, with a few queue jumpers mounting determined flanking attacks. We were then ushered into the dining room where we were seated at round tables of ten, a mixture of Ouens and guests. Lunchtime speeches ensued by Martyn Hudson organiser superb of the Rededication followed by a rousing address from Pat Lawless, the Chairman of the RAA. It would be remiss not to point out that in a very short space of time Martyn has had three major operations and left his hospital bed to attend and supervise the proceedings. Martyn epitomises the "Can do" spirit of what made the RLI.
After Pat's speech Colonel Ron Reid-Daly, affectionately known to us all as "Uncle Ron" stood up to say a few words. To the delight of us all "Uncle Ron" described the history of the RLI and the emotional attachment that he has with the regiment. A brief history of the trials and tribulations of The Trooper was given and we have many to thank for its preservation but in particular "Uncle Ron" himself, Pat Armstrong, members of the RAA and Tim Calvert. A deserved standing ovation was then given to this fine soldier and gentleman.
This report would not be complete without a mention of the low level air display given by the RAF Dakota over the venue - arranged by Mark Pilbeam. Contrary to some reports the Dak arrived five minutes early. Martyn, taken by surprise during his speech, yelled "Contact" and, as per previous instruction, most of us poured outside to watch the display. We were treated to several low level passes, the Dak door open, the dispatcher waving - and tears were shed.
Some say our own Blue Job guests of the Rhodesian Air force used Mark to create this diversion - just before the lunch buffet opened - in order to gain forward positions in the buffet queue! In conclusion, our gratitude to Martyn and his team, Lord and Lady Salisbury and The Band and Bugles of the Rifles. Our thanks to Field Marshal Lord Bramall (Retd.) Lt. Colonel Richard Frost MBE of The Rifles, CSM Ewan Flemming of the Parachute Regiment and RSM Pete D'Alton of the Intelligence Corp of the British Army who attended as our guests. A special mention of thanks to Maggie Hudson, Diane Pilbeam and Brenda Larrett who amongst many other duties attended to the reception of the delegates.
Chairman SA Branch