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Response to Toast "Staff and Students of 1955" by Malcolm Oliver

Thank you, Bob, for introducing me and for your tributes to Staff and Students who cannot be with us today. Thanks also Bob for the 1955 end-of-term photograph - a splendid idea.

Again you have done me the honour of asking me to give the Reunion Address and I assure you it is an immense privilege and pleasure to do so. Mind you, if anyone else has a burning desire to become your 'President', I shall not be offended!

Now, someone said an Address, where appropriate, should inform, pay tribute - and make 'em laugh! Please make sure your glasses are full with some liquid as I shall be asking you to join me in a few Toasts.

On the subject of Toasts, I recall that in Dickens novels there are often an astounding number of toasts made at a single sitting when gentlemen friends meet - much like us - for a get-together. It seems it was customary in the 19th century to gather for a meal and drink toasts to each other and anyone else they could think of.

An excuse to drink as much Porter as possible appears to have been the motivating force. Porter, by the way, was a dark beer - a little like stout - of which many glasses would be consumed during an evening by each participant. Indeed, drinking and toasting would often go on until they were thrown out of the hostelry a little the worse for wear but in good voice.... In the Pickwick Papers, 'Dickens wrote, "……the worthies of Dingley Dell and Muggleton were heard to sing, with great feeling and emphasis:

'We won't go home till morning,
We won't go home till morning,
We won't go home till morning,
Till daylight doth appear.'

A theme song for our reunions, perhaps…………….. ?

Be that as it may, I do think it's worth trying the idea of mini-toasts. If for no other reason, it gives us a little arm exercise which we all need as we get older (we're told) Instead of Porter, you may use whatever is in your glass -wine, orange juice, water; it's no matter. Also, I would ask that you remain seated until the last toast.

My thanks first of all must go to our Organising Committee - led by Keith Hart - who once again have done a magnificent job. I believe we ex-apprentices here today total around 18, and wives and partners bring the total to 31. After 55 years, a truly great attendance. There must have been something in that dockyard tea we used to drink! As with any reunion celebration the behind-the-scenes work is enormous and requires a lot of tact and diplomacy to discover who is able to come, where it should be held, what we should have to eat and so on. So from all of us, a very big THANK YOU. Please raise your glasses to: - OUR ORGANISERS; KEITH, TWO BOBS WORTH!, MIKE AND JOHN!!

Now, what a fantastic job Keith has done of the Portsmouth Dockyard Apprentices & School website! Keith may call me President - or 'Top Gun' (relation of Top Cat?) but he is certainly our Commander-in-Chief. His website is something we can all be very proud of and turn to when we want to go down 'memory lane' and remember what we did and how we looked all those years ago. A mixed blessing, perhaps - but I ask you to raise your glasses to: KEITH. AND HIS WEBSITE!

As last time, the venue and the meal has been splendid and we are indebted to those who maintain the ambiance of this lovely old Royal Naval Club and the Catering Staff who have fed and served us so well today. So, with grateful thanks - I give you: THE ROYAL NAVAL CLUB AND CATERING STAFF!

In June this year, as you know, there was an National Armed Forces Day to pay tribute to our military personnel. Since we've all been associated with the Defence service in one way or another - thanks to them we all came through the World War II, for a start - I think you'll agree this is a fitting occasion for us to salute our armed forces, past and present.

Today we are all too well aware of the difficult jobs they have to do in places like Afghanistan, and the stress their families undergo. But 70 years ago, in the summer of 1940, momentous events were being played out across the English Channel which effected every British family. Britain's very survival as we know was being threatened as at no time since 1066.

First, there was Dunkirk: The British Expeditionary Force and Allied troops were stranded in Normandy with German battle groups advancing to wipe them out before invading England. In addition to our soldiers, thousands of ordinary British civilians were also on the front line as an amazing rescue mission was put into action. Owners of nearly 1,000 'little ships' - ferries, pleasure craft, fishing vessels, sailing boats - set out from ports all along the south coast from Falmouth to Margate to pick up our lads from the French beaches near Dunkirk or get them to the larger Royal Navy ships waiting off shore, and bring them home. Over 330,000 British and Allied troops were evacuated that summer and the 'miracle' of Dunkirk has gone down in history as the most successful retreat in modern times which later would be turned into victory.

Second, there was the Battle of Britain: this was fought between young British and allied pilots in their Hurricanes and Spitfires against the Luftwaffe's Messerschmitts in August of the same year. In 2 weeks, Fighter Command lost over 500 planes. With the development of radar - coupled with the sheer determination, courage and considerable loss of our airmen - the RAF finally gained the upper hand in the air. Allow me, if you will, to quote some of Winston Churchill's immortal words on their gallantry:

"The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."

Ladies and gentlemen, in this year of the 70th Anniversaries of these stupendous events, I ask you to raise your glasses to the indomitable spirit of our military personnel - Royal Navy, the British Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Marines - paying tribute to their deeds in the past and in the present…….. With pride and gratitude: TO OUR LADS AND LASSES IN UNIFORM - GOD BLESS 'EM!!

Before turning to ourselves, I came across a couple of quotes from Winston Churchill's days - and they both concern Lady Astor, Winnie's greatest lady adversary in government. Possibly the most famous of all such anecdotes reports that Lady Astor said to Churchill,

"If you were my husband, I'd poison your tea," to which he responded, "Madam, if you were my wife, I'd drink it!"

But I think I should leave the last word to Lady Astor. Lady Astor was said to have responded to a question from Churchill about what disguise he should wear to a masquerade ball. She said,

"Why don't you come sober, Prime Minister?"

And how are we - we assembled here today - faring as the years go marching on in this 21st century? This story perhaps touches a little on an issue beginning to effect us………

An elderly couple was celebrating a wedding anniversary. They had married as childhood sweethearts and had moved back to their old neighbourhood after they retired. Holding hands, they walked back to their old school. It was not locked so they entered and found the old desk they'd shared, where Andy had carved "I love you, Sally."

On their way back home, a bag of money fell out of an armoured security van, practically at their feet. Sally quickly picked it up and, not sure what to do with it, they took it home. There, she counted the money - £30,000! Andy said:" We've got to give it back." Sally said: "No-o-o ! Finders, keepers!"

She put the money back in the bag and hid it in the attic. The next day, two policemen were canvassing the neighbourhood looking for the money and knocked on their door. "Pardon me, did either of you find a bag of money that fell out of a security van yesterday? " Sally said, "No" Andy said, "She's lying. She hid it in the attic." Sally said, "Don't believe him, he's getting senile.

Realising the sensitivity of the situation, one of the policemen turned to Andy and sympathetically said to him. "Now take your time and tell us in your own words the story from the beginning. So Andy began, "Well, when Sally and I were walking home from school yesterday………" The first police officer stopped him, turned to his colleague and said: "I've heard enough. Let's get out of here…………..."

Now many of us, no doubt, have children and perhaps grandchildren. Here's a little story about one of the little 'darlings':

The boss of a big company needed to call one of his employees about an urgent problem. He phoned the employee's home and was greeted by a child's whispered voice: "Hello."

The boss asked: " Is your daddy home?" "Yes" whispered the small voice.

"May I talk with him?" the boss asked. To his surprise the small voice whispered "No."

Wanting to talk to an adult, the boss asked: "Is your mummy home?" "Yes" came the whispered reply. "May I talk with her?" Again the small voice whispered "No."

"Is there anybody there besides yourself," the boss asked.

"Yes" whispered the child, "A policeman."

Wondering what a policeman would be doing at his employee's home, the boss asked: "May I speak with him?"

"No," whispered the child. "He's busy."

"Busy doing what?" the boss asked, now getting impatient and a little cross.

"Talking to daddy, mummy and the fireman." Came the whispered answer.

As the boss grew more concerned he then heard what sounded like a helicopter over the phone. "What is that noise?" he asked.

"A hello-copper," whispered the small boy. "

"What on earth is going on there?" The boss was now alarmed.

In an awed whispering voice, the child answered,

"The search team just landed a hello-copper."

The boss, very frustrated, almost shouted: "Why are they there?"

Still whispering, the small voice in a muffled giggle, replied "They're looking for me!"

This, I think, leads me into our final toast - one we would do well not to forget, gentlemen!

How lovely all the ladies here look today? I'm sure you gentlemen agree. Coupled with our children, grandchildren and dare I say it - great grandchildren! - let us be upstanding and raise our glasses one final time, To our ladies. With our love and affection, we thank you for all you mean to us and all the happiness you bring. To: OUR LOVELY LADIES!

Let's hope we meet again, perhaps in 2015 - when we can include a Toast to Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo!

Thank you!

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