Guest Speaker: Admiral The Right Honourable The Lord West of Spithead, GCB, DSC, PC.

The Society held its Annual Dinner as usual at the Fairlawns Hotel, Aldridge, on Wednesday 29th April. Guests filed in past the uniform Jerome wore while serving as an ambulance driver with the French Army in the First World War, a poignant reminder of his contribution to that tragic conflict, the outbreak of which will be marked nationwide in August. As a further reminder, long-standing member Mike Evans later read an extract from My Life and Times in which Jerome recalled his days on the front line.                                                                           Indeed, national service was very much the theme of the evening, for the President had managed to persuade one of Britain’s most distinguished public figures to be the guest speaker: Alan West, otherwise known as Lord West of Spithead, joined us with his delightful wife Rosie (in elegant matelot attire). They were piped in to a bosun’s whistle enthusiastically blown by Entertainments Manager John Alsop. Alan served with distinction during the Falklands War and subsequently was appointed First Sea Lord, then a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for national security.                                                                        The excellent dinner aptly  included a main course of various fishy things – sea bass among them – followed by rhubarb crumble, perhaps an oblique reference to the Chairman’s speech of welcome to the guests which, this year, had been typed out in full in large characters and was delivered more or less coherently. Only the order in which the pages were arranged defeated its complete fluency, putting one in mind of Harris’s valiant but doomed performance of the lyrics to the First Lord’s song from HMS Pinafore (‘…And now I am the Ruler of the Queen’s Navee!’).                                                                                                                                  It was to this episode in Three Men in a Boat that the President alluded when introducing Lord West. In return, Alan gave us the welcome assurance that he would not be attempting to emulate Harris’s efforts to entertain the assembled company by singing. Instead he entertained us with one of the most memorable and hilarious speeches we have heard, tales of mishaps at sea, gaffs by him and others in the presence of eminent heads of state – and some very good jokes. He made obvious his love and knowledge of the Thames, and reminded us in a rare serious moment of the need for surveillance – no matter how much many of us dislike the idea of Big Brother – to work against the ever-present security threats to our nation.                                                         The evening concluded with the raffle – many thanks to those who donated such generous prizes – and members drifted out well-watered with their hand-delivered copies of the latest edition of Idle Thoughts (No.35). The Hon Sec (aka Hon Chairman Gray) had worked tirelessly to bring this before the members in time for the Dinner. Even more miraculous is the fact that this is the second edition of IT he has produced within the space of 12 months. Bravo! All this – and the Christmas Concert still to come. Who says membership of the JKJ Society isn’t good value!

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