It was in late November 2013 when Bill (Tab) Hunter tried to get in touch with Chris Whitehead (whom he served with when stationed at 14th Signal Regiment, Norton Barracks Worcester). In his efforts to locate Chris, others from ‘14’ who remembered both, saw the request for info and contacted Tab and each other. From small acorns…..
By Christmas 2013, a Facebook 14th Sig Regt Group had materialised and was thriving with over 40 members, even dragging confirmed anti-Facebook luddites like me into the Group. Talks of a full blown reunion were being mooted and a date was proposed – 14th June 2014 (lots of 14’s in there!). A consensus was that the first reunion had to be in in Worcester. Several of the group volunteered to be involved in the business of organising the event and the ‘wheels’ began turning.
After some deliberation and canvassing of opinion from the group, a suitable venue was selected. The Bank House Hotel & Golf Club, Bransford was approached. The management team there were found to be very supportive, prices were negotiated and an agreement was reached. The first 14th Signal Regiment Reunion was going to happen! Like several others, I immediately booked a room for the Friday and Saturday of the reunion
Regular mini-reunions began to occur at regular intervals in The Retreat, Norton village, Worcester, with other ad-hoc get-togethers across the country. 40year (plus) friendships were being renewed on a daily basis. By May 2014, the 14 Sigs Facebook Group had grown to over 90 active participants, all either ex-members or family of ex-members. The 14th Sig ‘snowball’ was rolling, gathering pace and scale daily. Steve Birch and a small core of members were using every internet tool they could muster to search for ex-members and Pete Towns was writing letters to anyone (and I mean anyone) who could possibly help locate those that were proving difficult to find.
As the reunion day slowly approached, it appeared to those not involved, as the serene swan gliding across the water, however, John (JP) Phillips and Steve Birch had become the feet, paddling furiously! A photographer was employed, meetings with venue staff attended, an internet ‘trailer’ produced, a Reunion Booklet outlined and transport organised. JP also set up a website, (http://www.14sigs.co.uk) that now holds much of interest for members and visitors alike. Reunion, mugs, plaques and polo-shirts were produced and sold to help finance the cost of deposits and help cover transport costs. Would it all come together for the 14th June, so many things could go wrong. Hopefully ‘Murphy’ would be unable to apply his Law!
Finally, the weekend of the 14th June arrived and as I travelled down to Bransford that Friday afternoon, I realised it was Friday the 13th! Would this have any effect on proceedings? Booking in at the Hotel, I couldn’t see anyone other than hotel staff, but remembering our 14th Sigs heritage, I walked around to the bar and inevitably found other early arrivals – Tab & Mrs Hunter, Hugh & Mrs Allison, and the indomitable Taff Mugford. It was really happening!
More folk were arriving and we were soon joined by others including Darrel and Mrs Allard who had travelled in his pretty unique, Allard motor car! Freddy (Fred as was) Almond made a noisy entrance (as would be expected!), quickly joining us and options for the Friday evening discussed. Most agreed that visiting old haunts in Worcester was a definite must. Tab, Taff and yours truly settled for a shared taxi to The Cricketers (The Shakespeare in our day), whilst some, including Tab’s good lady, opted for a more restful evening staying in the bar in the hotel (saving themselves for the actual reunion no doubt).
At 19.15hrs suitably washed, refreshed and smartly attired in our Reunion Polo-shirts, the three of us met in the hotel lobby to await the pre-booked taxi (the ‘Norton Flyer’ doesn’t pass that way unfortunately). Whilst waiting for our cab, we were entertained to a very ‘interesting’ impromptu fashion parade provided by some ladies attending a formal function in one of the hotel’s function suites. Needless to say they didn’t notice three ‘old fogeys’ ogling them.
As we were driven from Bransford, Tab was at a loss to recognise anywhere until we reached the river and racecourse, getting noticeably more comfortable as the location became more recognisable. 40 years is long time!
The cab driver dropped us off at the end of Angel Street and we made our way to the ‘Cricketers’. We were hoping not to be the first to arrive and looking ‘desperate’! We were not disappointed.
Immediately we spotted Dave Marland and Chris Whitehead who seemed to have settled in already. Allowing Taff to go to the bar (only a gentle push needed), Tab and I grabbed a table. Keith (Bones) Kenworthy-Jones, Owen (KOW) Evans, John Phillips, Steve Birch (with party) all arrived in short order. From that point on the evening settled into a pattern of meeting and greeting those that we recognised and those we didn’t. Although I didn’t tally up the exact number, it seemed that at least 30 ‘faces’ appeared over the first couple of hours. Far too many to name or even remember at my stage in life. It was really good fun and a brief foretaste for The Reunion the next day. During his ‘occasional’ smoke breaks outside, Tab was puzzling out where each of the old haunts had actually been and asking everyone to assist. I think he worked it all out in the end.
Like old times, not wishing to get tied to one place, we decided to move on to the ‘Horn & Trumpet’ (The Blower) just down the road. Change of venue and change of atmosphere, with a Disco in the back room. Not as bad as you’d first think as all they were playing was recognisable 60’s and 70’s music. Very apt for this particular weekend.
I can’t remember any of us getting up and ‘strutting our stuff’ but we did have a good time. As it got later, seats were becoming empty and we noticed that Chris Whitehead ‘disappeared’ leaving a full pint! Take 10 demerits young sir! Conserving limited energy for the following day (and night), we decided that a return to our hotel was now due so a taxi was soon organised.
Arriving back at the hotel, there were not many still about but for a few in the bar where the World Cup was showing on the TV. A unanimous decision was made to have a night-cap before retiring. Savouring our drinks, we agreed that it had been a very enjoyable evening. Friday the 13th had not been unkind to us after all. Tab was the first to weaken and leaving only half a glass of red wine (5 demerits), bade Taff and I goodnight. On finishing our drinks, having seen the end of the football, Taff and I departed to our rooms with plans to rendezvous at breakfast.
Reunion day had arrived. Saturday 14th June 2014! Hopefully to be a very memorable and enjoyable day for those that could attend, I was certainly looking forward to it. I dragged myself from the hotel bed, somewhat ‘fuzzy’ from the night before. Refreshed from the shower, I struggled down to breakfast (my room was on the top floor). Going via the terrace, I joined Tab Hunter who was having a slow and peaceful start to the morning. (Sounds good but we were actually getting our nicotine fix). Having enjoyed a brief chat with Tab it was off to breakfast.
There in the sunny dining room, bright and as brown as a RSM’s belt, was Freddie (Fred as was) Almond, already tucking into what appeared to be a substantial meal. More folk soon started to arrive and we were soon joined by Taff Mugford, Pete Caddy and others at Fred’s table. Over several cups of good coffee and a ‘Full English’, plans were made to fill the hours before the evening ‘Do’. Fred, Taff and I accepted Pete’s offer to act as chauffer on a visit to what remains of Norton Barracks and anywhere else that came to mind.
So we, the ‘Fantastic Foursome’, took our trip back in time to Norton. Pete navigated us there easily, it taking only about 15 minutes by car. We found the memorable Keep and attached buildings, now surrounded by a large residential estate. Although still found on Norton Lane, the front aspect is easily missed if you are not observant, as the old square on the south of Norton Lane, which gave it an uncluttered open aspect, has disappeared under houses. Undaunted, and determined to see more of anything remaining of the old camp, Pete negotiated us through the estate to the back of the Keep buildings.
From what was the main square, the Keep and buildings are much more impressive and certainly more in keeping with shaky memories. There was even a sign to confirm this was STILL Norton Barracks. Too good a photo opportunity to miss.
Turning our backs on the Keep, we found the cricket pitch looking in pretty good condition. In the distance we could see the ‘Village Hall’, location of many a good ‘party’ for the lads and the families. Next to it is still the Pavilion. Both buildings looked in a well maintained condition and apparently still in use.
Feeling in need of a coffee or similar refreshment, we then took the short journey to the old watering hole, The Norton Retreat. Unfortunately we found ourselves a tad early and the hostelry was shut. So with a half hour to while away, we decided to retrace our tracks back towards the barracks and visit the Parish Church.
The churchyard itself impressed us by appearing both cared for and well maintained. The early summer green grass was well trimmed with edges clearly defined. The paths were weed-free and there was no obvious litter problem. The bright, warm June sunshine, and the quietness, despite the closeness of the M5, added to the overall peacefulness of the place. We searched for, and found the small corner where the headstones of those members of the regiment who had died whilst serving at Norton Barracks, could be seen. We took a few moments there to reflect, before going to see if we could go into the church itself.
As we approached the main entrance to the church, a lady was just leaving. Freddy quickly applied his ‘charm’ and she agreed to open up the church and show us around. We were given the five star guided tour, which included the ‘new’ annex/hall that had been recently built on the side of the church thanks to a kind legacy from a villager. We noted that the altar, donated and installed by 14th Signal Regt, was still present and being used. It was an entertaining ‘tour’ and the detail covered was very interesting. Before leaving, we all emptied our pockets to provide a small donation towards the church, for which she was very appreciative.
Being past ‘opening time’, we unanimously agreed that The Retreat was to be our next port of call. On leaving the church, Pete, ever the gentleman, waited to let a young family cross the road in front of us. I’m not sure if it was for ‘gentlemanly reasons’ though, as there were two young ladies in the party.
With the sun shining, it was decided to commandeer an outside table with a large parasol whilst drink was ordered. Not long after our arrival, the young family from outside the church trooped past on their way to another outside table. Again heads were turned to admire the ladies. (Steady the Buffs!). Banter was exchanged as one of the young ladies was carrying a child’s scooter, which did give rise to some comments from Freddy and Pete.
It wasn’t long before others from the reunion started to arrive and we were soon joined by Owen Evans and Keith (Bones) Kenworthy-Jones who were staying at a B&B in Worcester. They were about to start their tour of remembered sites. Owen took the opportunity to get his camera out to capture the moment when the couple at the next table offered to take a group photo of us. Someone said that we were ‘Old Age SAS’ to which the lady replied “That’s OK, he IS SAS!” (We went a bit quiet at that point).
Having exerted ourselves and with breakfast but a distant memory, Taff and I decided to partake of a rather good Chilli Sausage and Mash lunch. We needed fortifying for the coming evening’s festivities! More folk were arriving and we were soon joined by Hugh & Mrs Allison and a little later by Paul Ellis and his good lady.
Ever keen to improve their ‘local knowledge’, Freddy and Pete struck up a conversation with the ladies from the family at the church earlier. It transpired that one of them was something to do with the company that was building on the old camp site and that low cost housing was being made available to ex-soldiers. The lady was Emma Webster and Pete Caddy has since passed on the details to The Group.
After a very enjoyable time at The Retreat, Pete took us back to the Hotel. Some of us needed to have a few quiet moments before donning our ‘glad rags’ for the evening’s festivities. It would probably be a long night!
Having had a relaxing snooze and a bracing shower to set me up nicely for the evening I made my way downstairs to the function room of the hotel. Although it was only 7pm, there had been much activity and preparations made since I had ‘checked it out’ after breakfast. There to greet everyone at the entrance was the old 14th Signal Regiment barracks sign, borrowed for the occasion by Steve Birch from The Norton Shooting Club, who have been its guardians since the Regiment left in 1976.
Stepping into the Function Room was quite a surprise, so many folk already there! John Phillips’ daughters were handing out name tags and booklets, John was at the front with the projector and audio equipment showing the DVD that he had created from everyone’s input. Steve Birch was making sure that everyone knew what was going on; a real hive of activity.
Just beyond the ‘booking-in’ table was a Royal Signals flag complete with marker pens for everyone attending to sign (if they wished). A novel idea and a great memento from Reunion No.1! Having successfully managed to clip on my name badge (relatively straight) and put my name on the flag I went to check-out the bar. The bar appeared both well stocked (necessary) and very well staffed; a very good indication that things would go well.
Moving on into the room itself, I saw, apart from a good few people (already!) that the tables were large with seating to what appeared to be ten folk but with plenty of room to move around between them to encourage everyone to ‘mingle’. The DVD was playing but the volume was at a level that didn’t intrude into conversation (well done JP). Looking behind me I saw a throng of folk that were familiar, stood in line collecting their badges with lots of smiles and handshakes going on. Things were really moving along.
Eventually the line of newcomers dwindled to a trickle and it was time for The Group Photo. Like a pair of well-trained collies, John and Steve corralled everyone outside on the lawn and the photographer performed his duty admirably without drawing the procedure out. It was then back inside (Via the bar of course.) for the nice and short opening address from Steve Birch.
As Steve completed his oratory, I took the opportunity to present John Phillips (totally unscripted) with a small memento to acknowledge the sterling work in producing the booklets, the DVD and setting up the website. Wear your pink Reunion shirt with pride JP!
The rest of the evening was spent ‘circulating’, gossiping and reminiscing with old mates. The list of those that were there who shared memories was almost endless. The food was served and was plentiful and I’m sure that most folk, like me, found the choices and quantities to their liking. I didn’t hear anyone complaining!
My major whinge was that, although the bar staff were great, getting a top-up drink was difficult! It took ages to get past those that recognised me and those that I recognised, needing to exchange stories. I’m surprised that I didn’t do myself a mischief with laughing so much.
One of my personal highlights was getting to spend a few moments with Colin & Daphne Heaps who had made the long trip down from Scotland. Having spent many hours over the previous months sorting, copying and transferring Wire Notes, it was good to be able to thank Colin, in person, for his efforts in making those notes that he wrote whilst at 14 Sigs, so entertaining.
The photographer had not finished his job with just taking the Group Photo; he spent the rest of the evening capturing both posed and ad-lib pictures of small and larger groups that would be available at a later date. Chris Whitehead managed to lose the soles from both his shoes and was last seen walking around in his socks!
Bill (Tab) Hunter and I, kept meeting outside in ‘the smokers lounge’ for a quiet smoke and exchange ‘have you seen’ stories. Thanks for the company Tab! It was great that the weather was kind although it did drop a bit chilly towards midnight.
The evening drew to a close with the inevitable die-hards around the Function Room Bar where Freddy (Fred as was) Almond was holding court. I joined this merry band until my body told me that discretion was the better part, and I dragged myself off to bed. I took little rocking to get to sleep. What a fantastic night it had been.
Managed to get up ok for breakfast and was surprised to find that Freddy, who I’d left at the bar a few hours previously, was already there! How does he do it? After having an extremely good breakfast, I had to take my leave as duty at home called. With promises to ‘do it again’, I sadly had to go. Yes, I will be there next time. Wouldn’t miss it for the world. Thanks to all those that organised and especially thanks to all that attended.
Next Year! ….Certa Cito.
|Some Images of OUR first Reunion|
|Food is served||Steve Birch Adresses the masses|