Gala Charity Dinner 2 June 2016 for the Mercian Regiment Benevolent Charity
The Bowyers enjoy a close and rewarding relationship with The Mercian Regiment and the Regiment's Benevolent Charity is one of our Charity Fund's core charities. On 2 June 2016, 170 Bowyers, Mercians and their guests were treated to a sensational mix of pageantry, remembrance, high spirits and good fellowship that will surely be talked about for years to come.
The Honourable Artillery Company provided the perfect location for a combined City Livery and military event. Guests were greeted at the entrance to Armoury Hall by one Private Derby, whose toenails were polished black to the same high lustre as the boots of his rather taller comrades in red tunics to his left and right. Private Derby is the Regimental Mascot, a Swaledale Ram; he looked pretty fierce, notwithstanding the shiny toenails, but thankfully his two burly keepers had him under close leash.
After Derby, and lesser mortals also known as Bowyers, Mercians and guests, had posed for photos, arrivals were ushered through to the champagne reception at which the Mercians had put together a fascinating exhibition of weaponry and records charting the journey of the Regiment (and its antecedent regiments) entitled "From the Somme to Afghanistan". Perhaps the most impressive exhibit was a huge, six feet high model of men going over the top of a trench in the first war - made entirely of brown paper. My guests wondered how the artist managed to fit it in her house, but, before they had the chance to ask her and find out, more champagne and friends arrived, introductions were made, and it became clear that a full hour for the reception and exhibition was going to set the evening off to a very jolly start.
The Long Room, with its battle standards and military portraits, looked splendid. Each table had a place for a decorated Mercian: the Regiment displayed exceptional service during the Afghanistan campaign, gaining the reputation of being one of the most battle hardened infantry Regiments in the British Army today. This led to an impressive haul of gallantry medals, including Conspicuous Gallantry Crosses, Military Crosses and other decorations for distinguished service. Sadly it also came at a terrible sacrifice, with 28 men killed and over 250 wounded, many with life-changing injuries. It is the role of The Mercian Regiment Benevolent Charity to provide relief to members of the Regiment and their families who are in conditions of need, hardship and distress. And it was the purpose of the Gala Dinner to raise funds for this most important and worthy cause.
The Master Bowyer, the Revd John Hayton TD, opened the welcoming addresses in his most genial, inimitable style, followed by the Deputy Colonel of the Regiment, Brigadier Simon Banton OBE, who also delivered a personal note of welcome from the Colonel-in-Chief of the Regiment, HRH Prince Charles, referred to within the Regiment as the Earl of Chester. All heads bowed for the moving Sanderson Grace, which was written by Lt John Sanderson shortly before his death in Afghanistan.
A most excellent dinner was served and the increasing levels of banter, laughter and noise in the room showed that there was no shortage in the supply of fine wines. If my guests weren't already looking quite enough gobsmacked by the wine, the novelty of Private Derby and the almost Napoleonic War era feel of setting (some of them had not seen the red tunics of the Officers' Mess Dress before), there was more to come as the Victory Beating took place. The Drummers of the 1st Battalion, The Mercian Regiment did themselves and us proud with renditions including the tune to "The Great Escape", which I found myself whistling to for several days afterwards.
After the dinner, the volume of champagne and wine imbibed paid itself a considerable dividend in one of the most extraordinary live auctions I have ever witnessed. The auctioneer - Infantry Command Sergeant Major Paul Muckle - clearly has a second vocation in life should ever the time come that he leaves the Army. He paced up and down, yelling out the lots and working up the bids. With an increasing frenzy and shouts of "ONE THOUSAND", "TWO THOUSAND", "THREE THOUSAND!" it soon became clear that a combination of wine and Mr. Muckle was going to see all expectations exceeded. The final amount raised during the course of the evening is yet to be announced but it appears to be approaching £30,000, a fantastic result.
Back to more sober thoughts, Lt Col (Retd) Bill Temminck BEM and Mr Muckle gave us fascinating short presentations illuminating both the experiences of active service in Afghanistan and the great work undertaken by the Benevolent Charity. If this quietened us down after the boisterous dinner and auction, it was in the knowledge that the evening had done very well for the Charity.
The evening ended with renewed jollity over a pint or two in the bar, and, for the more intrepid, a trip to the private members' club, Home House. I did feel sorry for those poor Mercians who faced a long drive back to Regimental Headquarters in Lichfield, Staffordshire with all of the exhibition material - our thanks to them.
And, finally, a tribute and hats off to the hard work of Court Assistant Mark Elliott, whose dedication, skill and energy over many months made it all possible.
Charity Committee Chairman