100 Women, Royal Guard & another first!

Festival of Remembrance photo Royal Albert Hall Nov 2017 TBC

Festival of Remembrance 100th Anniversary of Women at War, the first RN female to stand guard at Buckingham Palace and the first woman to hold the position of Deputy Governor of the Tower of London (YouTube link)

At this prestigious annual event the AOW National Standard was paraded by Chris Walker, and Bunny Taylor carried her local RBL Standard. Chairman Carol Gibbon and her husband Dave, were honoured to be invited to sit in the VIP box. We were very proud to hear WWII Veteran WRNS Cypher Officer Joan Picton read the Citation and also to have WWII Veteran Switchboard Operator Marie Scott wearing her AOW sash join us for the display.

Representatives from all three women's services; 50 veterans and 50 serving women, including twelve  AOW members took part. They are pictured in the photo on the stairs in Imperial College which was our 'green room' between the performances. Debbie Whittingham's ceremonial dress, feathers and spurs, in her role of the Deputy Governor of the Tower of London made quite an impression. She is the first RN officer, and female, to hold this important position.  The photo also includes her ToL colleague Yeoman Warder, Amanda Clarke (ex British Army AGC) and CPO Evadne Gordon RNR, from HMS PRESIDENT. See below for AOW names. 

The invitation to join this amazing event was unexpected and after many calls and cancellations twelve of us met at the Royal Albert Hall at 1.30pm on Friday 10th feeling rather apprehensive.  We were mightily relieved to find that this year the format would be quite different - we were to join with other association members from the WRAC and WRAF, and serving personnel from all three Services, for the display.  And we only needed to walk  informally, and carefully, down the stairs to make two halves of a circle around the arena.

What a good idea!  We were all one company, gathering together.  No hierarchy, no priority!  After we’d completed at least 5 practices on Friday  we returned on Saturday at 8.30am for more rehearsals, this time with the accompaniment of Mel  C (aka ‘Sporty Spice’) singing 'You Raise Me Up'. Then we returned to the ‘green room’ in the Imperial College next door, to eat our bag meals and be visited by Mel C; cue 'selfies' and requests for autographs! Our first performance to a very enthusiastic audience was  both scary and fulfilling, and we then filed off for  more ‘down’ time before being led to the basement Loading Bay of the RAH, where a massive field kitchen had been set up for a very good hot supper!

The evening  performance was even more memorable – thrilling and emotional, hopefully many of you will have watched on TV. This time we were allowed to join the audience filling various 'spare' seats, some in boxes! 

Photo on stairs:top row: Linda Mitchell, Maggie Watson. 2nd row:Mary Hawthornthwaite, Jane Nesbit, Janette Crisp. 3rd row: Crissie Proudley, CPO Evadne Gordon RNR, Pat Jones. 4th row: Wendy Lagden, Celia Saywell, Carol Asam. Bottom row: Debbie Whittingham, Annie LaGrue, and Amanda Clarke (ex Army AGC)..

Footnote post performance: while waiting to 'do our bit', standing next to me was AB Alex Tracey wearing her HMS SEAHAWK tallyband. A photo was taken for sentimental reasons as Culdrose was my first draft! Later I realised from photos in the national press and RN online that she was 'the female face of the ROYAL GUARD! 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=vqnquw2qVQ4&app=desktop

Above is the link to Debra Whttingham feature from YouTube entitled First Woman sent to the Tower of London. She is the first female, ex RN Officer, to be appointed as Deputy Governor of the Tower Of London. Congratulations. See Debra in her feathers and spurs in the photo above.