A branch of the Royal Naval Old Comrades Association (became the Royal Naval Association in the early 1950s) was first formed in Norwich between the two World Wars but by the 1970s it had declined and little is known of its history. In August 1979 an advertisement was placed in the local paper by the late Mr Ben Riches. It invited anyone interested in forming a Branch of the RNA in Norwich to attend a meeting at the Royal British Legion. Six people turned up* and they made up the first Committee of the new Branch. The first meeting was held in September at the Royal British Legion, on Aylsham Road. The Branch was officially commissioned by the No 5 Area Chairman Shipmate Tug Wilson in October 1979, By which time membership had grown to about seventy and rose steadily to just over a hundred. It has since remained fairly static around this figure. The Branch has always welcomed wives and partners to meetings and the ladies have been great supporters of events. An average of 50 – 60 members attend each Meeting. (* Ben Riches – Ken Coffee – Esme Ketteridge – Jim Bowles – Stan Pusey – Malcolm Smith)
A Branch Standard, gifted to the Branch by the late Shipmate John Kemp, was dedicated in Norwich Cathedral in September 1982. This was a major affair with Standards from all over attending. A march, led by the Royal Marine Band started at the City Hall, progressed through the City, via Castle Meadow, King Street and Tombland to the Cathedral. The Service was taken by the Branch Chaplain, Rev Basil O’Farrell. The Salute at the March Past after the Service was taken by the Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk Sir Timothy Colman. A buffet meal followed by dancing to the Marine Band at St Andrews Hall completed the day.
The tenth year anniversary of the Branch in 1989 was commemorated by rededicating the Standard in a repeat performance at the Cathedral. A celebratory lunch at the Highwayman, at Winterton was arranged for the twentieth anniversary.
To celebrate the Branch’s 25th Anniversary on 26th September 2004. Four hundred shipmates of the many branches in East Anglia paraded, led by the Royal Holbrook Hospital School Band and 32 Standards, marched from Norwich Castle to the Cathedral for a very impressive Re-Dedication Service. After the Service they marched to St Andrew’s Hall. The Salute was taken by Captain R.Moland MBE R.N in the company of the Lord Mayor of Norwich Councillor Joyce Divers, Branch President S/M Jim Bowles, No5 Area President S/M Geoff Mills and No5 Area National Councillor S/M Doug Carter. At St Andrews Hall a buffet meal was enjoyed by all and the day ended with dancing to the Norwich City Concert Orchestra.
A proud and memorable occasion for shipmates of the Branch came in November 2004 when they were invited to parade with their Standard immediately behind the ship’s company of HMS NORFOLK during their march through the city with their Colours flying and bayonets fixed. The Commanding Officer, Commander David Burns RN and his ship’s company were in Norwich to receive the honorary freedom of the City and to bid their affiliated county farewell prior to the ship’s final decommissioning and subsequent sale to the Chilean Navy in March 2005. Before the parade, lead by the Band of HM Royal Marines (Portsmouth), members of the branch had been invited to a reception in City Hall to meet the officers and crew members of the ship. After a Service in St.Peter Mancroft Church the day was rounded off with a second reception, this time in County Hall where shipmates joined members of the ship’s company in a toast and the downing of a traditional tot of rum. Various items of memorabilia from the ship were presented to the City and County by Commander Burns. At a subsequent event some months later the branch was presented with the ship’s nameplate by HMS NORFOLK’s Executive Officer, Lieut-Commander Martin Simpson RN, who became the ship’s final CO. HMS NORFOLK’s nameplate is now a valuable piece of branch memorabilia and is currently on loan to Norfolk County Council and displayed on the ‘Norfolk Wall’ in County Hall. Four shipmates travelled to Devenport for the decommissioning ceremony of HMS NORFOLK.
Shipmates were once again at County Hall in January 2006 when the Norfolk County Council and the Norwich Branch of the RNA co hosted the unveiling of the HMS NORFOLK WALL. In addition to the ship’s beautifully carved Battle Honours Board presented to the county when the ship decommissioned for the last time in 2005, and nameplate on loan to the county from the branch, many other items of memorabilia provided by the branch are displayed on the ‘wall’. A letter addressed to the Branch Secretary, Shipmate Kenneth Baish from HRH the Prince of Wales, whose first ship on being commissioned was the fifth HMS NORFOLK is displayed most prominently. The unveiling ceremony was performed by Sir Timothy Colman KG, a former Lord Lieutenant of the County. Guests present to witness the ceremony included Admiral Sir James Perowne KBE, a former CO of HMS NORFOLK, representing the First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Jonathan Band (the first CO of the ship), Vice-Admiral John McAnally CB, LVO, National President of the RNA, Shipmate Geoff Mills MBE President of No. 5 Area RNA, Members of Norfolk County Council, the Mayors of many Norfolk towns and representatives of other RNA branches in the county.
In November 2007, supported by a generous National Lottery Grant, twentyone shipmates of the branch made a two week visit to Malta GC, where many had served during and immediately after World War II. They stayed at the four star Waterfront Hotel overlooking Seliema Creek where, in the distant past many Destroyers, Frigates and other small ships of the Royal Navy moored to buoys. Their place now taken by the many private yachts and ‘Jolly Boats’ that compete to take the island’s visitors on sightseeing trips round The Grand Harbour where numerous visiting cruise liners now occupy the berths where once the grey hulls of Battleships, Aircraft Carriers and Cruisers were to be found. The far end of the Creek is now a massive yacht marina where literally hundreds of very expensive craft of various type and size are moored. There was many a yarn spun as shipmates looked out over the Creek towards the islands capital Valletta recalling their experiences of yesteryear.
During the visit shipmates participated with local and many other visiting ex-service men and women in the Remembrance Day Parade and Service at the Islands’s War Memorial at Florianna. Calls were made on the local branches of the Royal British Legion and Royal Naval Association; many of the numerous museums and places of historic interest were visited and while taking a sightseeing cruise round The Grand Harbour shipmates enjoyed identifying and reminiscing about the various buildings and landmarks that were so familiar to them many years ago. And how things had changed! The group took the opportunity to invite to dinner one evening local historian and former editor of the Times of Malta, Mr John Mizzi. During a two hour after dinner chat John spoke interestingly about life on the island during the war years when he had been a young lad, the development of the island since and his special regard for the Royal Navy. A most interesting afternoon was spent visiting the private maritime collection owned and displayed by Mr Victor Wickman at his home in the coastal village of Xghajra, a thirty minute bus ride out of Valetta. Branch Secretary, Ken Baish, who had served in Malta on the staff of Admiral Lord Louie Mountbatten, C in C Mediterranean Fleet, presented Victor with several items of memorabilia for his collection.
Since the introduction in 2006 of Veterans Awareness Day (July 27th) branch representatives to the Norfolk Combined Ex-Services Association committee have played a leading role in arranging events to mark the occasion. In the first year all activity was centred in the TA Centre, Aylsham Road. Disappointingly the exhibits displayed by the various ex-service organisations attracted very little public attention. However, in subsequent years with events staged in the city centre, exhibits displayed in the Forum and on the concourse outside, the general public showed greater interest. And in 2008, after an open air drum head service conducted by the Branch Padre, Shipmate Clifford Self, outside St Peter Mancroft’s Church the veterans who took part in a short march through the city received public applause. The day has concluded each year with a 1940s style dance and social evening – with a bangers and mash supper – in the drill hall at the TA Centre with Glenn Miller music provided by an eighteen piece orchestra. As a direct spin-off and in keeping with the purpose of veterans awareness, a small group of shipmates have been invited into Norwich schools to discuss their experiences with pupils and to encourage them to appreciate the veterans within their community. Arising from these visits arrangements were made for the pupils of two junior schools to receive direct from HMS NORTHUMBERLAND on deployment east of Suez (2008/9), periodical reports on the ship’s activities.
The annual Trafalgar Dinner and Dance is a most important social event, when shipmates and their guests celebrate Admiral Lord Nelson’s great victory over the combined French and Spanish Fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar on the 21st October 1805. The 2008 Dinner was held at the Wensum Valley Hotel, Golf and Country Club, Taverham. It was an occasion to remember – the meal was excellent, the staff efficient and cheerful. Following the serving of the traditional tot of Rum and toast ‘The Immortal Memory’ shipmates and guests were treated to a magnificent fireworks display and entertained by the City of Norwich Pipe Band. The evening was rounded off with dancing to the music of popular musician and entertainer, Johnnie Cleveland.
In January 2009 the branch successfully sponsored a Charity band concert in the city’s historic St Andrew’s Hall, performed by the Band of HM Royal Marines – Portsmouth (The Royal Band) under their Director of Music, Major N J Grace Bmus(Hons) FLCM LRSM RM. Guests of the Branch in the audience on the evening included The Vice Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk, The Right Hon. The Viscountess Knollys OBE, DL, The Right Worshipful the Lord Mayor of Norwich and the Lady Mayoress, The Sheriff of the City with his wife and Sir Timothy Colman (a former Lord Lieutenant of the county) and Lady Mary. The event was a sell out and marginally over £4,000 was raised for charities, which included The Royal Naval Benevolent Trust, The Royal Marines Benevolent Trust, Seafarers (UK) and The Royal Naval Association Central Charities Fund.
In addition to the £4,000 distributed as referred to above the branch sponsored to the tune of £500 an Iron Man Challenge undertaken by members of the crew of HMS NORTHUMBERLAND in aid of The Tumani Children’s Home in Mombasa, Kenya, a residential home – run by Mrs Joan Smith, an English lady – caring for orphaned children many suffering from HIV/AIDS.
A further £3,650 collected by branch members at store and street collections, and car boot sales, during 2008 was donated to various charities and local organisations. Help for Heroes received £1,000, as did the Norwich Sea Cadet Unit (T.S. Lord Nelson); RNLI’s Cromer Lifeboat received £550 and £500 went to the East Anglian Air Ambulance. The RNA’s No.5 Area (Roger Fitton Fund) received £400, while £100 was donated to each the L.S.T. & Landing Craft Association and the young cadets of T.S. Fearless, Troop Marine Band, based at Flegg High School, Martham.
As April 2009 drew to a close twenty shipmates joined with members of the Royal Marine Association (RMA) for a visit to RAF Mildenhall, home of the 100th Air Refueling Wing of the US Air Force. They were made most welcome and enjoyed an interesting guided tour of the base and its facilities. After a splendid lunch in the Officers Mess and a thirty minute film presentation, the three man crew of one of the Wing’s KC-135 Stratotankers spoke of their various duties and experiences before taking the group on board the aircraft for a conducted tour, including a visit to the flight deck. A most memorable day enjoyed by all.
A second branch lunch of the year at the Debut Restaurant at the City College in May was followed mid-June by a rather special event, the branch entertained Shipmate Commander Martin Simpson, who a few weeks earlier had been the Commanding Officer of HMS NORTHUMBERLAND, to a farewell dinner at the Oaklands Hotel before his departure for Abu Dabhi to take up an appointment with the UAE Navy. Earlier in the day Martin, accompanied by shipmates who had been engaged on school visits, visited the two Norwich schools that had developed a close liaison with HMS NORTHUMBERLAND during the ship’s deployment east of Suez, on anti-pirate patrol off the East African coast. He was well received by both the children and their teachers, who listened intently as he spoke of events during his ship’s time away from the UK and the Royal Navy generally. Towards the end of the month the branch committee splashed out on a subsidized coach trip to Chatham Historic Dockyard for the year’s Armed Forces Day celebrations. Over forty shipmates enjoyed a great day out and on the return journey donated to branch funds over half the cost of the coach. Then in July shipmates enjoyed the annual branch vist to Cromer for the Summer Spectacular at the Pavilion Theatre.
The Branch acknowledged their President’s 30 year service at the annual Trafalgar Day Dinner and Dance, held at the Wensum Valley Hotel, Golf & Country Club, Taverham, on Wednesday 21st October 2009. Shipmate Commander Ilkka (Jim) Bowles OBE was presented with an inscribed decanter in appreciation of his 30 years dedicated service to the branch. The presentation was made on behalf of the members by two of the branch stalwarts, Shipmates Ray Self and Colin Ayden. Present for the occasion was the Lord Mayor of Norwich, Councillor Eve Collishaw, accompanied by her consort Mr Vic Hope.
February 2010 and shipmates gathered once again at the City College’s Debut Restaurant for lunch and an informal get-together – the lamps were a’swinging! May Bank Holiday week-end saw shipmates joining with members of the Home Security Force for a tour of the battlefields of Arras and the Somme. In June, again in company with members of the HSF, shipmates visited the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas. Armed Forces Day at the end of June the branch had a display table in the Forum and shipmates participated in the march through the city. A subsidised visit to the Imperial War Museum in July was unfortunately not well supported by shipmates and members of the Combined Services helped out and made the numbers up. Overall it was an interesting albeit long day out. By contrast, the annual visit to Cromer was well supported. The branch Trafalgar Dinner and Dance in October was for the first time held at the Dunston Hall Hotel and attended by 114 shipmates and guests. Our guest of honour was Commodore David Burton RN who was accompanied by his daughter, Emma. As the year drew to a close shipmates were to be found at the ASDA Superstore, bag packing to raise funds for branch and naval charities.
During 2011 the branch hosted an evening with the Royal Naval presentation team which was attended by shipmates from other local branches and Sea Cadets from the TS Nelson. Here was a chance for all the old salts to compare the many changes that have taken place over the many years since we served and for the young cadets to see that which was on offer. It was an evening enjoyed by all.
Various speakers were heard throughout the year speaking on several topics of interest.
A visit to the Cromer pier show was organised by shipmate John Pain and enjoyed by all who attended.
Trafalgar night was held for the first time at The Park Farm Hotel and as well as being a sell out was considered a great success, and the year ended with a Christmas evening complete with buffet and music.
Early in 2012 a visit was arranged to visit HMS Dauntless whilst she was berthed at Gt. Yarmouth. She was then the navies newest ship and was akin to many of us in visiting an alien spaceship such was the array of computers in the operations room and the strange feeling that all was enclosed from the outside by steel bulkheads , nothing like the ships of old which had sea boats , motor boats, winches etc all on the outside.
A new branch standard was purchased and dedicated and the old standard laid up at a service in St Matthews church where it will eventually have a permanent place of honour.
After over a year of planning the branch held a concert by HM Royal Marines band at the Norwich Theatre Royal . Helped by the sea cadets from the TS Nelson it was a considered a resounding success, among the guests was General The Lord Dannett ,Vice Admiral McAnally, the Lord and Lady Mayoress and Sheriff of Norwich. A considerable sum was raised for naval charities.
As in previous years several of us attended the TS Nelson Sea Cadets awards evening and all felt that these young people conducted themselves in an admirable way.
Once again as usual shipmate John Pain organised a trip to the Cromer pier show.
Trafalgar night was again a resounding success and again a sell out.
A branch visit to RAF Neatishead the cold war underground radar station was made and turned out to be very informative . Good to see what the RAF was up to whilst most of us were on ships during the same period.
During March 2013, several members attended the sea cadet awards ceremony at St Matthews Church, and the Branch made two awards of seagoing trips to the top senior and junior cadet. It was hoped this will go on for the next three years and hopefully beyond, and the CO was also presented with three ship to shore radios.
Several members and the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress attended the 100th birthday celebration of shipmate Vera Read.
At the start of April an evening was held with Shep Woolley, who entertained 130 members and guests, and was a resounding success.
During the year we have had several shipmates cross the bar and they will be sorely missed. Amongst these was S/M Ray Self who campaigned fiercely amongst others to have the city Cenotaph turned around so as the face the city hall, a decision which was welcomed by all.
Several talks were arranged for branch meetings and enjoyed by all.
Trafalgar night was as usual a great success.
Again at the annual Remembrance Day parade we as a branch were the biggest ex service organisation in attendance something we will try to attain in the coming years.
Our Christmas meeting was voted the best ever. We were lucky enough through S/M Bob Knights to have a wonderful group of young singers called Mixed Voice who gave a performance suited to the West End. Whether we can top this next year we will have to wait and see.
During 2014 we lost two of our longest serving members both of whom sadly crossed the bar. S/M Ray Self was one of those who tirelessly lobbied for the City War Memorial to be turned around so as to face the City Hall. This was finally achieved after a long campaign . Ray was also a founder of the branch and a life member. It was decided to purchase a bench in his memory and this is now engraved and installed outside St Peter Mancroft church on the Forum Plain
We also lost S/M Elsa Perry another long standing member and the only lady to hold the chairpersons position. Elsa was a fine singer once appearing in a musical at the Theatre Royal
As usual we attended the annual memorial service supporting Beccles RNA at Happisburgh church in memory of those who lost their lives whilst serving on HMS Invincible which was lost off Happisburgh on 16th March 1801 . Many of the crew are buried in the churchyard.
Visits during the year included a visit to the National Arboretum for the unveiling of the Naval Services memorial and a visit to the USA airbase at Mildenhall both visits were thoroughly enjoyed by all who attended.
Our president Commander Jim Bowles OBE is standing down for health reasons and will be moving from the area. Jim has been an excellent president and will be greatly missed. A suitably engraved tankard has been purchased to mark his many years of service to the branch.
Despite losing several members throughout the year our membership is holding its own due more recruits joining.
Many congratulations to S/M Ken Mansfield who has received the Arctic Star medal. Seventy years overdue.
As usual February 2015 saw us attending the Sea Cadets Awards evening which was enjoyed by all.
March and we were at the annual service at Happisburgh for the memorial service for those who lost their lives when HMS Invincible sank in 1801; many of those drowned are buried in the churchyard and it was decided after this meeting that members of the Nelson’s County Tot Club would take on the duty of keeping the memorial in good order. (Many members of the tot club are also branch members.)
The summer months had several jollies including a trip to the Royal residence of Sandringham and we were also lucky enough to attend the Families day at RAF Marham which was a superb day of static displays and flying performances including the Red Arrows display team.
Later several of us again attended Marham to visit the meteorological section which is Royal Navy run. These visits were arranged by one of our shipmates who has a close connection with RAF Marham.
October saw our usual Trafalgar night dinner which as usual was well organised and attended.
December and again as in the past the branch hosted it’s Christmas party and we had quite a few guests attending from RAF Marham.
Events in 2016 continued aplenty, starting in January with many members celebrating Burns Night, and our annual attendance to the Sea Cadets Awards evening in February was enjoyed by all. A new event also appeared on the Branch Calendar in February with the formation of the Branch Breakfast Club.
March and we were at the annual service at Happisburgh for the memorial service for those who lost their lives when HMS Invincible sank in 1801
The summer months saw several jollies including a couple of trips to RAF Marham for Families Day, and also a private visit to the Meteorology Office at the base, and a small number of Shipmates were also lucky enough to attend a guided tour of Carrow Road, and guest speakers saw the RSPCA and Clive Lewis MP entertain the assembled members.
Another regular social event also laid it’s foundations as the Breakfast Club rotated on a monthly basis with the newly formed Branch Run Ashore, offering members to meet in a less formal setting; pull up and bollard and swing the lamp.
October once again saw our usual Trafalgar night dinner at Wensum Valley; which as usual was well organised and attended, and also saw the SNO from the Meteorological Office at RAF Marham in attendance as the Branches Guest of Honour.
November saw the Branch Run Ashore held to commemorate Pickle Night, and the Branch was again the largest ex-Veterans Organisation present at both the Armistice and Remembrance Day Parades.
December, and although the darker nights were upon us, it was again time for the Branch to host it’s Christmas Party, with the disco provided expertly by one of the Branch Members.
The above was by no means all that we did but are just a few of the highlights.
And so we head into 2017.