24th Reunion at Royal Beach Hotel, Portsmouth
19th / 20th September 2015
Thanks to much lobbying by Mike Powell at the end of last years reunion, we made a departure from our usual haunts for our family get together this year. Mike was so right, of course, Southsea is a great location on the South Coast and the weather could not have been better.
Thanks also to Tony and Pam Miles (they live nearby in Waterlooville) for coming up with the Best Western, Royal Beach Hotel in Southsea as a possible reunion venue and recommending to Ivor that the hotel was well worth a visit to meet the staff and to confirm it was the right place, subject of course to Ivor being able to work a deal on room rates, etc.
On Wednesday 26th November 2014 by prior arrangement, Ivor and Margaret, Tony and Pam and Ivor's son Robert (the duty driver) arrived in Southsea to make a full assessment of the hotel, hosted by the Events Manager, Davina Jones. Hotel amenities, bedrooms and function rooms were all inspected and then it was down to discussing menus / prices, etc. to get the right deal. An initial reaction from Davina was that perhaps Ivor was asking for too good a deal compared to their normal rates for such a function. Clearly Ivor and Davina were able to come an agreeable arrangement and the scene was set for a great reunion weekend on the South Coast.
Unable to make the trip to Southsea for the 'official recce' with Ivor and the team, Janet and I visited the hotel in early March 2015 to have lunch with friends who live locally. Immediately apparent was the hotel is superbly located right on the sea front with easy access to the Esplanade that extends from Clarence Pier all the way to the Royal Marines Museum at Eastney; and just a few yards walk to get local buses into Portsmouth City Centre and elsewhere. It was also a good opportunity to have a chat with the very friendly staff, look around the excellent hotel facilities and importantly, sample the tasty food from a selection of excellent menu choices.
The Royal Beach Hotel
Thursday, 17th September
Leaving Guildford just after lunch we arrived at the Hotel just a hour later. Even though we thought the limited car parking might have been a problem it all worked out OK because the excellent local transport system meant there was no need to use our cars once parked.
When we arrived mid-afternoon, Dave and Jean Smith and Dave and Angela Taylor were already in residence having arrived the previous day. Other members had either just arrived and were checking-in or arrived from mid-afternoon onwards. By early evening most of our contingent were in residence with just five couples scheduled to arrive on Friday. Ivor advised us that sadly, Fred and Pam Findlay had to cancel at the last minute due to a family commitment in France.
After settling into our rooms, the natural focal point to get together became the bar / sitting / eating area. Whilst many cups of tea / coffee / alcoholic beverages and snacks were being consumed there were lots of conversations going on; so everyone could get up right to date. As usual, so many stories to catch up on and much discussion on what to do and what to see in the local area - plenty of choices for sure.
Friday, 18th September
After a hearty breakfast selected from the extensive buffet in the large restaurant, people left in pairs or groups to enjoy the local tourist attractions such as visits to the Isle of Wight, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, The Royal Marines Museum, etc.
Janet and I had previously planned to visit the Historic Dockyard with Ivor and Margaret having already purchased our Annual Pass vouchers on-line. The vouchers are good value because when the passes are initially issued, they are valid for a year and they cover entry to the wide range of attractions at the Dockyard and elsewhere in the Portsmouth and Southsea area. Armed with our bus passes we joined other members of our group at the local bus stop, for the short journey into the city.
There is so much to see and do at the Dockyard it will take a least a couple of days to cover all there is on offer. With just a few hours available we had to be selective if we were going to take a much needed comfort / lunch break as well. On that note we made our way to the far end of the dockyard to HMS Victory and The Mary Rose Museum passing HMS Warrior on the way
HMS Victory in process of restoration (topmasts and rigging removed).
Close-up alongside the freshly painted bow of HMS Victory.
HMS M.33 a unique survivor of the First World War with HMS Dauntless and HMS Daring in background.
HMS Daring - A Type 45 Destroyer from today's modern Royal Navy fleet.
The futuristic looking Mary Rose Museum.
A remarkable view of the Mary Rose inside the preservation hall located just a short distance from where the vessel was originally built.
A memorial and impressive reminder of the much admired Field Gun Crews that regularly competed for honours at The Royal Tournament.
At this stage we were all walked-out and in need of a sit-down, some light refreshment and the inevitable comfort break. With this in mind we dropped into the large building next to the National Museum of the Royal Navy. Here we found a pleasant cafe and took a light lunch which was timely; because it had just started to pour down with rain. After eating and with the rain still coming down we ventured into another part of the huge building and emerged into what can only be described as a massive antique shop given over to a myriad of cabinets, nooks and cranny's filled with every conceivable militaria and other stuff. The gun collection alone was enough to equip a regiment.
Having spent a long time browsing through the antiquities we emerged into the open air to find it had stopped raining. We then found our way out of the dockyard to catch the bus back to the hotel.
Arriving at the hotel the first instinct is to see who else had arrived and have a chat before returning to our room for a brush-up. Back in the lounge area the evening get together was full of tales of which attractions we had visited and the recommendations given for others to see. Then it was time to decide what to have by way of an evening meal before we all made our way to the Invincible Room for the Quiz Night at 8pm. Problem! The Rugby World Cup was taking place and England were playing Fiji at Twickenham, so that delayed proceedings.
NOTE: At least England won the Group A match with Fiji 35-11 on the day; only to lose the next two matches to Wales (25-28) and Australia (13-33) and despite a resounding 60-3 win over Uruguay the host nation were dumped out of the competition in the group stages. Not a happy outcome!
Following the traditional Friday night Parish Notices presented by Ivor to update everyone regarding members not present and the weekend events, the quiz night finally got under way with tables of teams and pairs ready for action. As Quiz Master, Ivor's style and the questions he comes up with are often greeted with moans and groans when the answers are revealed. However, the end results and prize giving are always taken in good spirit as is the fun game of 'heads and tails' in lieu of a raffle.
Heads down and concentrating on the quiz questions.
Now for 'Heads and Tails' with everyone joining in.
Only a few left standing.
Prize winners on the night were John Cheesbrough (Gourmet Society voucher), Pam Miles (Lancaster model) and Ann and Janet (Tea for Two vouchers).
ANOTHER NOTE: Shortly after the reunion, Janet and I attended a local village quiz night that lasted for 4 hours. The 'so-called' Quiz Master took so long to explain the questions and answers that we lost the will to live! The only upside was a fish and chip supper at half time. We must therefore congratulate Ivor on the relative brevity of the reunion quiz and apologize for our moaning and groaning about his questions and answers!
Saturday, 19th September
Another hearty breakfast and various arrangements made to fill the day with interesting things to do (e.g. trips to the Dockyard, Spinnaker Tower and Gunwharf Quays) led to Brian, Janet and me taking a brisk walk along the Esplanade (much needed exercise) for a visit to the Royal Marines Museum at Eastney.
An impressive sight on arrival at the museum.
The plaque on the plinth of the Royal Marine statue.
Janet and Brian alongside the Cockleshell Heroes' Memorial.
Close-up of the citation.
In recent years the Royal Marines have moved from Eastney across to Portsmouth so the old barracks and various buildings have been converted into private high quality apartments. However, the Museum is today housed in the very impressive building that was formerly the Officers Mess.
Just walking around the various rooms over 3 floors which contain many exhibits and interactive displays, the sheer opulence is almost overwhelming. Also, a trip down the grand staircase to a large ball room that was set out for a wedding just added to the experience.
The Royal Marine Band Drum Display in the entrance hall. Wow!! Note the silver drum on the right.
A short stop in the cafe for a sit down and a cup of tea and snack was much appreciated before we walked around the gardens containing many memorials and benches with personal plaques to 'fallen' marines. In the grounds, there are also some large artifacts from WW2 and the Falklands.
105mm Howitzer from the Falklands War.
After visiting the museum we planned to catch a bus back to the hotel only to discover that wasn't going to happen, so we had a long trek back along the Esplanade. However, we did stop by an Ice Cream van to enjoy a refreshing ice cream.
Arriving back at the hotel it was time to retire our rooms and prepare ourselves for the Reunion Dinner.
Gathering in the Bar prior to the Reunion Dinner in the Invincible Room
The hotel was scheduled to be very busy this evening with over 760 people to accommodate and feed, all without interfering with each others function. Incredibly, apart from our Reunion Dinner in the Invincible Room the amazing staff had to deal with a large wedding reception in the main restaurant and an adjacent room, another slightly smaller wedding reception including the wedding service in another of the function suites and finally a 40th Birthday Party in the Coast Bar and adjacent rooms.
There was some minor overlap of the people attending the various functions at the hotel but as the following pictures taken in the bar show, not a lot!
Brian, Maureen and Pam.
Dave, Angela and Kay.
Dave, Maureen, Mike and Dave.
Ivor and Mike.
Dave, John and Me.
L to R: Angela (back to camera), Mike, Ivor, John, Dave, Heather and Brian.
Mike and Mary
Marching-in to Dinner
Our Reunion Dinner was supervised by Bruno and his very efficient team. At the appointed time we were invited to 'march-in' to the sounds of 'The Bear' which on this occasion was played on a CD in the absence of our piper, Johnny Walker. Noticeably, the table plan was neatly displayed at the entrance to the room and in the corridor the Team had set up tables for our drinks and a serving area for the meal. A very neat arrangement.
The Invincible Room set out for our Dinner.
The customary 'March-in' to 'The Bear'. Sylvia and Jim, Tony and Pam.
Jacqui, Angela and Janet with Ivor (just visible) greeting everybody.
L to R: Jane, Mike, Mary, Stefan, Tony, Pam, Heather, John, Jacqui, Jerry, Dave and Jean.
L to R: Maureen, Mike, Kay, Mal, Jane, Dave, Jim, Heather and Pam.
With everyone assembled, Bruno our Master of Ceremonies, called the room to order and invited Mary to say Grace. As always her words were well chosen and delivered with humour in her Scottish brogue.
Mary delivering Grace.
There followed an excellent 3-course dinner which was served piping hot to our tables; much to the appreciation of everyone. An example of the fare was my choice of starter, the duck and port pate' with red onion marmalade and ciabatta. My main course was the slow-cooked blade of beef finished with a red wine and thyme sauce accompanied by a selection of seasonal vegetables. For pudding I chose the white and dark chocolate mousse with vanilla sauce. It was a truly splendid meal that was delicious on all counts and was swiftly followed by the cheese board and coffee, prior to taking the Port.
On cue, Bruno our MC introduced Dave Taylor to lead the loyal toasts.
Mr. Vice (Dave Taylor) leading the traditional toasts to The Queen, the RAF and the 83rd Entry.
After Dinner Speeches
I reported on Friday evening during Parish Notices that the after dinner speaker we had planned to entertain us had to withdraw at the last minute. For this last minute change Paddy, a serving senior RAF Officer, asked me to convey his sincere apologies. As we are all well aware, a serviceman has to go where and when instructed. In this case, Paddy and his wife Helen had just returned from an overseas tour only to be re-deployed as unaccompanied back from whence he came.
However, having advised Ivor about the change of arrangements Ivor quickly sought out some of our members to fill the breach. Dave Stone, Mike Powell and Dave Smith all stepped up on the night to entertain us with some very humorous recollections.
Dave Stone recalled his humorous experiences with the Elsan toilets installed on RAF aircraft.
Dave's recollections prompted Mike Powell to follow-up with his experiences with Elsan's.
Dave Smith gave a monologue about 'Bill the Binder' and his pursuit of a young lass. Dave soon had everyone laughing and a couple of times when Dave briefly 'lost the plot' and had to go into recall, his tale became ever more amusing and was greeted with even more laughter.
In summary, our reunion dinner was most enjoyable and we cannot say enough to congratulate the hotel staff on how they coped with four separate functions in the hotel that night. We would be surprised if any one event would have any complaints about the food, service etc.
The gratuities collection to show our appreciation to Bruno and his team came to over £100 and was handed to the senior waitress who split it between the waiters and some of the kitchen staff.
It was getting late and as is usual, the tables were cleared and the room set up (with the help of Bruno and his staff) for the traditional group photograph.
It took a little time to do this and during the intervening period Mike and Kay Murphy's transport arrived to take them back to Fareham where they were staying with friends. As a result they had to leave before the group photos was taken.
So Mike and Kay would not be left out I took a picture of them on their own against the photo back drop. The plan was to Photoshop them into the main picture but this hasn't been possible.
Mike & Kay
Click on image to enlarge and see all the names.
The friendliness, enthusiasm and attention to detail we encountered throughout our stay deserves special mention because it is the whole hotel team that makes it all happen and contributes to the success of our reunion weekends. Our sincere thanks go to:
General Manager: Chris Gilmore
Events: Davina and Lisa
Reception: Alicia, Will and James
Bar: Sarah and Sandy
Restaurant: Bruno, Henry, David, Teresa, Suzannah and Esle
Kitchen: Paul the head chef, Stewart and Ronald
Housekeeping: Margaret and Team
Sunday, 20th September
Yet another full English Breakfast was enjoyed by me on the premise that we would be stopping off on the way back home to briefly visit friends for a cuppa and therefore, we would not have another meal until the evening. Thereafter it was the usual bill paying, packing and transferring luggage to our cars prior to saying our goodbyes to everyone until we meet again next year.
As we said our goodbyes and went our different ways, I think we all agreed that the reunion this year was one of the best and of course the good weather made such a difference. Some of our members have had various health, house sale, etc. problems during the year and we can safely say that our most enjoyable reunion weekend cheered us up no end.
After our reunion Ivor and I received personalized notes of thanks for organizing the event. Gratitude expressed for a great weekend means a lot to us and gives us all the encouragement we need to do the same again in 2016.
Before I close this missive a ‘quick reminder’. If any other members would like to contribute words and / or pictures to a reunion write-up or future website update, please do send your articles to me. Also, if you would like to suggest future reunion venues or have a speaker in mind that would be happy to entertain our members with an interesting after-dinner speech, then please let me or Ivor know.
Narrative and Photos by Janet & John Burt