Well we’re into month two of lockdown and I’m glad to report there’s been no talk of divorce in the Oliphant household yet…..murder yes, but divorce no! Presumably, in an effort to maintain morale, I have noticed an upturn in the number of clips/jokes which have been circulating on Whats App and other mediums. I think my favourite this month was the observation that Osama Bin Laden had been stuck in lockdown with three wives for five years and perhaps he called in those Navy Seals himself?!! Fortunately, I don’t think my long-suffering wife reads the Semaphore Circular so I might just get away with that one.
On a much more sober note, I have had it confirmed that we have lost at least 2 Shipmates who have crossed the bar as a result of Covid-19 and I offer their families our deepest condolences. Indeed, it has been a sad month where we seem to have lost more shipmates this spring than we might normally do and not necessarily due to the virus. It has been particularly troubling as social distancing restrictions have meant that we have not been able to accord the usual marks of respect at funerals which has, of course, been disappointing and distressing for relatives and fellow shipmates.
It may be of some comfort to know that our honorary RNA chaplain and very great supporter, the Chaplain of the Fleet, The Venerable Martyn Gough, has been in touch and offered to conduct a memorial service to all our shipmates who crossed the bar during the crisis. The obvious place to do this is at the National Memorial Arboretum and we may look at some regional options too when things improve and we get our Station Cards back.
As well as a social impact, please be aware that there is also a financial consequence to the crisis. We are bracing ourselves for a hit on the Central Office budget this year, as we are anticipating the income from our investments will be virtually wiped out. In order to redress this, I have had to take the unprecedented action from 01 May of furloughing some of the team and reducing the hours of the remainder. Please be aware therefore that this will mean that it will definitely not be business as usual in Central Office. Although we will still maintain our basic functions, I would be very grateful if you could please remain patient with respect to communications and especially financial transactions throughout this challenging and unpredictable period. Regrettably, the Morale Messenger may be a casualty. To all the Central Office staff, I thank you all wholeheartedly for your support and understanding.
Notwithstanding, the Helpline (07542 680082) is still in operation and continues to play a key role in the support we are giving the membership from Central Office. In addition, we have been fabulously well supported by Geoff Apperley who is doing a fantastic job as our Deputy National Welfare Advisor providing advice notices which are being published on the website, our Facebook page, the RNA Community site and being passed to Branch/Area Welfare Officers and also across the Conference of Naval Associations. BZ Geoff!
Also, while I’m on the subject of BZs, I take my hat off to all Branch Committees and especially Branch Secretaries who we have loaded up with lots of additional tasks throughout this crisis. Not only have we been pushing out more missives and advice notes for Secretaries to cascade, but now we’ve started to task them with supporting us in improving the Central Office database which I am glad to report is coming on. The database currently only holds info on HQ Roll and Branch Officials and has proven extremely useful in allowing us to find shipmates close by to those who have called the Helpline for assistance. We have however also been frustrated by not understanding the whereabouts of 9/10ths of our members who may well be living in the same vicinity as a shipmate in need. Frankly, I feel that, in this day and age, we ought to be doing better for our shipmates.
We’ve had lots of good questions from Branch Secretaries regarding IT security which we have answered on an individual basis. Please know that IT security is absolutely at the top of our priority list and, for those who have elected to pay their subs by Standing Order, we do not hold any personal banking details in Central Office as a Standing Order is an instruction from you to your bank.
Branch Committees deserve a chuck up too in establishing some sort of system to ensure their shipmates have a support system in place. Some branches are using a cascade system, some have established a buddy-buddy system and others simply have a call round routine to reach their more vulnerable shipmates. Also, we are all learning new lessons about video teleconferences (VTCs) with some branches having successfully achieved theirs using online technology. Well done all!
Following that theme, and with social isolation a real concern, please take a few minutes to have a look at the excellent piece Julie Royston has put together for us about using Zoom. It’s really not as complicated as you might think, indeed, once you know how, it’s easier than picking up a phone and we are in the process of getting NCMs spammed up so that the next National Council meeting can be conducted on line. That should be fun!! Thanks Julie – you’re a star! Details for the virtual RNA Conference/AGM will be promulgated next month.
You will also have seen that we have an appeal running at the moment to raise money for a ventilator. Much like the appeals that ran during WW2 whereby cities and towns raised money for ships and Spitfires, the idea is to contribute to the current war effort by raising money for a vital item of kit to fight this enemy. Please see the separate item on this and thank you to the branches and shipmates who have already made generous donations. As I write, we’re already nearly half-way there …!
Moving onto events, you may already have seen my call to arms last week for a Two Minute Silence on VE Day. On 8 May, we plan to join with the RBL and people across all generations and communities to join in a national moment of reflection and remembrance at 1100 as we pause for a Two Minute Silence to honour the service and sacrifice of the Second World War Generation and reflect on the devastating impact Covid-19 has had on so many lives across the World. There is no right or wrong way to take part in the Silence, some may wish to stand at their windows, step outside their homes while remaining distanced from others, or simply sit in a quiet moment of reflection.
Finally, you will glad to know that our Navy is still busy. Training establishments are still hard at it and I watched HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH slip out during the 1st Dog this evening (29/4); a real contrast to the fanfare of previous departures and arrivals. This time her departure wasn’t even announced in QHM’s harbour shipping movements as they didn’t want to attract a crowd to the Round Tower. The gallery was empty - strange times indeed.
Please stay safe and continue to follow UK Government advice. Drink rum and not antiseptic!!