Friday, 22 November 2013

A guest post by Carol Mason - A Remembrance Week Visit to Lisbon

Heads were turning in the Arrivals Hall of Lisbon airport on Friday 8th November when a Chelsea Pensioner walked through in his scarlet uniform. Chelsea Pensioner Brian Cumming MBE had arrived from London to take part in Remembrance ceremonies, both Portuguese and British.

The morning of Saturday 9th it was off to the fort at Belém, headquarters of Portugal´s Liga dos Combatentes.  This organisation is Portugal´s equivalent to The Royal British Legion and actually predates it. For its main Ceremony of Remembrance delegates arrive from all over Portugal and members representing all their Armed Forces are on parade.  

Brian Cumming MBE with General Joaquim Chito Rodrigues

On arrival Brian was received by General Joaquim Chito Rodrigues, President of the Liga and presented him with a Fraternal letter from the Governor of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, the home of the Chelsea Pensioners. General Chito in turn presented Brian with a signed book and a commemorative medal before taking him out on to the parade ground.  As the various dignitaries arrived, the troops on parade presented arms and were then inspected by the General Chief of Staff. Speeches ensued, medals and decorations were presented and then it was time to lay the wreaths in memory of the fallen.  

Brian, accompanied by the Lisbon representative of The Royal British Legion lay his wreath, and it was a proud moment seeing this gentleman in scarlet marching up to do so. With the wreath laying completed, the march past began and it was impressive that there were so many standards carried emanating from so many different parts of Portugal. 

Brian with Mark Hanmer from the Royal British Legion
and Carol Mason from the Royal Hospital Chelsea

At the end of it all, despite the many high ranking officers, dignitaries, ministers and others being present, everyone wanted to photograph or be photographed with the Chelsea Pensioner!

A quieter afternoon programme saw Brian going to tea with the residents of The British Retirement Home in São Pedro do Estoril.  He gave them a short talk on life at the Royal Hospital Chelsea and how he came to be part of it all and then made time to speak to everyone present individually. The residents greatly enjoyed having him there and apparently spoke about his scarlet uniform for days afterwards.

Sunday 10th was the day for the British Service of Remembrance at St. George´s Anglican Church in Lisbon, which is always very well attended and included diplomats, members of different Armed Forces serving with NATO, Portuguese delegates, and of course many members of the local community. Fortunately again it was dry and sunny as everyone gathered round the Memorial Cross for the laying of wreaths before the Church service. 11 wreaths were laid, Brian laid his on behalf of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. Two minutes silence were observed and buglers from the Exército played their versions of the  Last Post and Reveille. An uplifting service then took place in the church where the Chaplain had several assistants and the Church of Scotland Minister gave the Sermon. It was particularly nice that six young children were asked to give readings which they did beautifully.

British Service of Remembrance at
St. George's Anglican Church, Lisbon
Brian laying a wreath at the British Service of Remembrance

Back outside in the sunshine, Brian was approached by the Chefe of the Bombeiros Voluntários de Lisboa to lay their wreath on the grave of Darlaston Shore, an Englishman who was a founder of their organisation and is buried at St. George´s. In the meantime, Colonel Faustino Hilário, representing the Liga dos Combatentes, was so impressed that a Chelsea Pensioner had come over to Lisbon that he promptly took off his Liga tie and presented it to Brian as a memento!

The British Embassy kindly invited everyone present at St. George´s back to the Embassy for a reception, hosted by the Deputy Head of Mission, Joanna Kuenssberg O´Sullivan. The lovely grounds of the Residence were the perfect setting for everyone of all ages to socialise and enjoy the plentiful food and drink. Jo introduced Brian and he entertained everyone with tales of his life as a Chelsea Pensioner. All in all, it was a memorable day.

Monday 11th being Armistice Day, it was fitting that Brian went to visit a class of 11 year olds at the International Preparatory School.  They had been studying World War II, the reasons for Remembrance Sunday and so on, and were full of questions to ask a Chelsea Pensioner - though on arrival a few younger children thought he might have been Father Christmas come early.

Lunch by the sea then it was back to Blighty for an old soldier.  He had a marvellous visit, and was overwhelmed by the kindness and hospitality shown to him. Special thanks must go to The Royal British Club who sponsored his air fare and to Mark Hanmer, the Lisbon representative of The Royal British Legion who organised his programme.

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At 24 November 2013 at 01:18 , Blogger Stephen Roworth said...

Well done Brian.


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