Welcome to the final Semaphore Circular of the year. Indeed, the National Council meeting on 7th December will mark a year of me being in the chair as General Secretary – where has it gone? It’s certainly been eventful: I’ve lunched with Sir Donald Gosling, a huge privilege especially as he later this year crossed the bar – his memorial service is planned for 11 December in ; witnessed thee most fabulous and poignant D-Day 75 national commemoration in Southsea attended by Her Majesty and the leaders of the countries involved; I was proud of Sarah Clewes winning her award at the Soldiering On awards with her Project Semaphore iPad project; I enjoyed a fabulous Black Tot event in HMS BELFAST; a wonderful Biennial Parade in Whitehall with the First Sea Lord taking the salute and then, at the November ceremonies, had the distinct honour of acting as bearer to the National Chairman, S/m Keith Ridley, at the Cenotaph as he laid the wreath on behalf of all naval veterans.
I must tell you, it was a source of some amusement (not to Keith I hasten to add!) when one of Keith’s fellow wreath layers got the drill wrong and missed the “halt!” order before turning into line to face the Cenotaph. Well, just as he was recovering himself having marched some 4 or 5 paces further on, they then bent down to lay their wreaths, only for the chap to Keith’s starboard side slightly beating Keith to it and laying his wreath on Keith’s spot! Keith then had to push the other wreaths out of the way to make way for the rather splendid full anchor wreath he was laying. Everybody understands the reverence of the moment so it’s not really a laughing matter. The thing is, we all go to Wellington Barracks for a rehearsal several days beforehand led by the Garrison Sergeant Major who, being a guardsman, is a fairly fearsome fellow. I suspect next year we’ll be doing the drill till it’s dark, and if it’s not absolutely perfect and second nature, the duty watch will be getting called with their flashlights!
Meanwhile, the hospitality I have received this year from numerous Branches around the country has been simply amazing and I sincerely feel as though I have been welcomed into the body of the Kirk as it were, having been invited to a number of reunions and dinners throughout the year. I can honestly say, I now know more about the Battle of Trafalgar than I ever did in my 37 years in the Service! I genuinely never thought working for the RNA would be as much fun, so I thank you all for finding me and appointing me as your General Secretary.
However, I can assure you, it’s not all fun in Central Office and it is certainly a worry that we’re losing more than we are recruiting so my challenge is to put the RNA on a sustainable footing. I’m already engaged in some strategy work with a small team. The National Council has already agreed the following vision for the RNA…
I am sharing this with you now as whenever somebody mentions the term “Strategy,” certainly in business, it is often their code for ‘buckle up, we in for a bumpy ride’. I suppose in matelot language, we might be more comfortable with the term, ‘Stand by to stand by!’ Well, you will be glad to know, all I seek to achieve is the improvement of some admin processes. We are, after all, already a fifth of the way through the 21st century and the line that “it’s quaint” is, not only not good enough but frankly unnecessary. I will be doing my utmost in this coming year to try therefore to update our processes starting with the introduction of a new members database which will allow better communication with the membership and allow Central Office to continue to better meet the needs of our membership.
To establish and maintain the RNA on a sustainable footing which still meets the original Objects of the Association while maintaining relevance and respect in modern society.
We’ve already employed Sarah Clewes full time to expand into the welfare support area and I want the Association to be able to do much more for its members. I don’t believe that 1000 members are crossing the bar every year so I hope this will go some way to improving our retention.
One of the things we are looking at doing is more national events where we can meet and enjoy each other’s company. The Black Tot event in HMS BELFAST was a great success this year and was the “dry run” (anything but!) for the 50th anniversary of the end of the rum ration which will be commemorated next July again in HMS BELFAST and we are very much hoping that a VVIP will be joining us.
We’re also trying hard to connect the RNA better with the serving RN and our Biennial Parade in September at the Cenotaph was a helpful demonstration of that with platoons from both COLLINGWOOD and SULTAN marching alongside RNR, Sea Cadets and veterans from across not only the RNA but other naval associations too. With bringing us closer to the serving RN in mind, my other very exciting announcement is that the First Sea Lord, Admiral Tony Radakin, has just approved my request for the RNA to become the World Governing Body for Uckers and, as such, the license to organise and run the World Uckers Championships. More to follow in due course, but my thinking is that this competition will be open to all ships and RNA Branches and also across the wider naval associations. We already have sponsorship from Pussers Rum so it promises to be fun.
Finally, this is of course the last Semaphore Circular of the year so thank you to Andy for pulling the Circulars together and indeed all my team in Central Office who have patiently coaxed the office sprog along – it’s very much appreciated. I hope you all have a fantastic Christmas and a very Happy New Year.
Best wishes from the Central Office Team