Old friends looking out for each other

2009-06-25 00:00

FAMOUSLY, old soldiers never die they just fade away. The Guards Association of Southern Africa has decided to join their number. The association’s members are drawn from soldiers in the British Army who had direct or indirect connections with guarding Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and other members of the British royal family.

“In the UK, all regiments have associations,” says Captain Tim Ward, Howick-based businessman and former equerry to Prince Charles. “Here that didn’t make much sense — three Welsh guards couldn’t form a viable association — so we formed a guards’ association which fell under the umbrella of the Household Division in London.”

The association was formed 25 years ago and held its first reunion dinner at Rawdons Hotel, Nottingham Road, on February 11, 1984. “Rank was not an issue,” says Ward. “That’s true of all regimental associations.” The Guards Association was made up of former officers, non-commissioned officers, troopers and guardsmen of the two regiments of Household Cavalry and the five regiments of foot guards who were working or had retired in southern Africa. It reached a membership of 64.

The association’s first president was Lord Ben Nunburnholme of the Blues who, on his return to England, was succeeded by Major Philip Erskine Scots Guards, now a well-known Cape artist and a former equerry to the late Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, who has held the appointment to the present day.

“The association was not quite a welfare organisation,” says Ward. “It was old friends looking out for each other and making sure they received what they were entitled to in the way of pensions.

“If members fell on hard times they would be helped out. Their widows and families too. Over the years, we distributed around R90 000.”

Right: Major Ian Crowther, secretary of the Guards Association of Southern Africa presenting an award to George Maistry, functions’ manager at Rawdons Hotel.

The association also sent an annual message of loyalty to the Queen. “We always got a reply,” says Ward. “This year it was longer because we were standing down.”

The archives of the association will go to the UK, while excess funds have been donated to the South African Legion.

Ward emphasised the role that the secretary and treasurer of the association, Major Ian Crowther of the Royals, played in the association. “He is the man who made the whole enterprise the success and fun it was,” says Ward. “His role can be gauged by the fact that although he was living in South Africa, he was awarded an MBE by the Queen and then recognised by the new South African government with the John Chard Decoration for his contribution to the Reserve Forces.” Crowther is also the Prior of the Most Venerable Order of St John in South Africa.

As the passage of time saw membership dwindle to 15, it was decided to close the association “with dignity and efficiency” at a formal celebratory luncheon.

Over the years, the association was a regular patron of Rawdons. “We had at least some sort of function there every couple of years,” says Ward. “They treated us very well.” So it was decided to hold the final farewell there on June 6, the 65th anniversary of D-Day.

Overseeing matters was Rawdons functions’ manager, George Maistry, who a quarter of a century ago, did duty as a barman at the association’s first reunion dinner. Maistry was given a memento in recognition of his help and enthusiasm for the association. “George represents the spirit of dedication and service that the association was all about,” says Ward.

To mark the occasion a message was sent by Major General Bill Cubbitt, general officer commanding London district and the Household Division, who commended the association on a “a job very well done — mission accomplished”.

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