On a slightly cloudy Saturday morning on the 25 June, the Helensburgh and District Branch of the Royal British Legion Scotland were making finishing touches to an important day. At 11am the Branch, invited VIPs, and the local community gathered at the Hermitage Park war memorial, for the dedication of the new Branch standard. 

The Branch chose to hold this event on the 25 June, Armed Forces Day, as a fitting tribute to all that had served and continue to serve. To be inclusive to all beliefs and religions of those attending both within the Branch, those invited and the community attending, an outdoor, non-denominational ceremony took place, as opposed to a more conventional setting in a church. 

Presiding was Father Jude Okorie, from Her Majesty's Naval Base Clyde. The Branch extended invitations to the Lord Lieutenant of Dumbartonshire Dr Jill Young MBE, who was accompanied on the day by her Cadet Petty Officer J Durnan of Clydebank sea cadets and Vice Lord Lt Linda Moffat. Deputy Lord Lt Dr Gill Aitkenhead also accepted the invitation and it was a great sight to see all three in their capacities at one event. Naval Base Commander Commodore Bob Anstey and Mr Martyn Hawthorn MBE, National Chairman of the Royal British Legion Scotland, were also in attendance. 

The parade started with a march from the war memorial gates to the memorial. The ceremonial party consisted of Mr Chris Rice, ex REME (standard bearer) accompanied by two escorts: Lt Barry Neil RN and Mrs Melanie Neil, ex RAMC. The ceremonial party was then followed by the rest of the Branch, VIPs and members of the public, with Mr James 'Lew' Jack (Branch secretary) acting as Parade Marshall. Branch Chairman Geoff Coles assisted Father Okorie throughout the service, and all experienced a poignant moment, when Branch President Dennis 'Spike' Jones delivered the exhortation: “We Will Remember Them". 

During the service, hymns were chosen to represent the tri-service element of the Branch members, all of which turned out to celebrate this symbolic day. The Branch was also happy to welcome the West of Scotland Military Wives Choir to the ceremony, who really lifted everyone's spirits with their wonderful harmonies during the singing. 

Following the Branch dedication, there was an opportunity for photographs, and a quick informal chat, before invited guests and Branch members made their way to lunch. 

Just before everyone relaxed for lunch, RBLS National Chairman Martyn Hawthorn thanked the Branch for inviting him to the ceremony, and confessed that he enjoyed his time in Helensburgh so much during his naval career, that he always looked for an excuse to travel back, and relive those happy days. 

Spike Jones also stood to thank all those that had attended, and to praise Geoff Coles, for all his hard work and effort in reforming the branch and organising the ceremony. 

The dedication ceremony is just one of the events in a busy period since the Branch reformed in September 2021, including aiding several veterans under a welfare capacity, and recently attending Hermitage Academy on 27 June to participate in their Armed Forces Day events. 

The Branch has also entered this year's Best Kept War Memorial campaign. Members were extremely keen and enthusiastic with many volunteering their time and resources. Rhu war memorial and garden were chosen for this year's entry, with some 60 hours of volunteer effort and help from naval base personnel and staff from ABC, the memorial and garden are starting to look in great shape.  

One of our recent members Melanie Neil, on joining the Branch took on the social media manager role and was key in organising and running our Facebook and Instagram pages, as well as designing the Branch website (to launch soon). Now termed the public relations officer, she is our first stop for all things promotional and media related.  

So what is next on the radar for this new Branch? The Branch is passionate about informing the local veteran community that they are there for all their welfare needs. Plans are also currently underway to help restore the Helensburgh War Memorial and Garden in Hermitage Park. A much larger project than the Rhu war memorial, and with listed status, it will require a lot of collaboration between Argyll & Bute council, the community council, historians, specialist contractors, gardeners and the local community. 

It is hoped the finished garden will provide the ideal setting where people can find a moment of peace, to reflect and remember those that have made the ultimate sacrifice.


Photographs courtesy of: Anne Stewart Freelance photographer