This is a page about Remembrance. In the Royal British Legion we remember those who fell in the service of their country and so it is appropriate that the first story should be that
telling how the poppy came into being. We also have stories about some of the characters in the lodge.
1. Why Poppies at Remembrancetide?
This is the story of Col. John McCrae and of Miss Moina Michael. It was Miss Michael who sold the first poppy as a result of reading Col. McCrae's poem. Read the full story here
2. Bro Charles Dalgiesh
Bro Charles' story is one that you must read. It tells of how his life was perhaps saved by his love for a young girl who later became his wife.
3. W.Bro Joseph Henry McGill
You think your lodge has characters? Read about ours!
In a way the idea the use of poppies was all really started by a Canadian: one Col. John McCrae. He was a professor of Medicine at McGill University, Montreal; had served as a gunner in South Africa and at the onset of the First World War he decided to join up. It was he who first described the Flander's Poppy as the "Flower of Remembrance"
The powers-that-be decided that as a doctor, he would be better fitted to serve in duties other than in the fighting ranks and so he landed in France as a Medical Officer with the Canadian Army. In 1915 at Ypres during a lull in the fighting, he wrote the following verses.
In Flanders' fields the poppies blow|
Between the crosses row on row
That mark our place: and in the sky
The Larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago
Take up our quarrel with the foe
In January 1918 McCrae was brought into hospital as a stretcher case and he died three days later. He was interred at Wimereux, from where the Cliffs of Dover can be seen on a clear day.
An American lady, Miss Moina Michael had read McCrae's poem and was so moved and impressed that she wrote the following in reply.
Oh You who sleep
In Flanders' fields
Sleep sweet to rise anew
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high we kept
The faith with those who died.
We cherish to, the poppy red
And now the torch and poppy red
On 9th November 1918 Miss Michael was presented with a small sum of money by some of the war secretaries of the YMCA for whom she worked. She announced that she was going to buy twenty-five red poppies and, wearing one herself, she sold the other twenty-four to the secretaries. Thus started what was probably the first poppy collection. The French Secretary, a Madam Guerin, had the very practical idea of making artificial poppies that could be sold in aid of ex-servicemen and their dependents. As a result the first Poppy Day was held in Britain on November 11th, 1921
The war finally came to an end in November 1918 when an armistice was declared so that peace terms could be arranged. At 11am on 11th November the last shot in the war was fired. For many years afterwards Armistice Day was observed on the 11th November. However in Britain today it is known as Remembrance Sunday and is held on the second Sunday in November.
In cities, towns and villages across Britain, as well as across the world, scenes, such as the one shown on the right, take place. Here wreaths of poppies are laid in an Act of Remembrance by various ex-service organisations and active-service units.
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One winter's evening eight years ago in the lounge of the Jesmond Royal British Legion club, I was introduced to "David Niven" by "Windsor Davies". "Windsor Davies" was the type of man who knew everyone and in turn was known by everyone: he was the archetypal ex-army officer with a mischievous sense of humour and a view on everything; instantly recognisable with his bushy, military moustache, and whisky glass in hand.
"David Niven" is the opposite of "Windsor Davies": A tall, dapper gentleman with a pencil-thin moustache, always immaculately dressed. He is always polite, I have never heard him say a word of criticism about anyone and expect that I never will. This is not to say that "Mr Niven" doesn't share "Windsor's" sense of humour, just that he has the charm that makes it impossible for anyone to take offence.
"Niven" is that sort of man whom everyone would love to have as a favourite Uncle or Grandfather. As he tells stories of his younger days when he travelled the country, his eyes light up and one can tell that this is a man who loves life and loves people. Rightly so for a man whose love for his-wife-to be was so great that it saved his life a handful of weeks before the outbreak of the Second World War.
I must explain that "David Niven's" real name is Charles Dalgleish, and "Windsor Davies" is better known as Joe McGill, but if these two gentlemen were to walk into your living room you would recognise them as "Niven and Davies" immediately.
I spoke to Charles in the Legion a few days ago and asked if I could interview him for this assignment. He graciously agreed with a nostalgic look in his eye,
I've had a lovely life. I'd be happy to talk to you about it.When I got to Charles' house he welcomed me in to his living room, a comfortable room with books and pictures, everything was neatly in place yet very cosy. We sat either side of the warming fire and began talking.
Charles was born in a house overlooking the River Tyne in 1914, six weeks after
the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the beginning of the Great War. The Tyne was a prominent part of his childhood, he would swim in the river with his
The bigger lads would swim over to the Newcastle side and back, and we would watch their clothes for them".
He would also go to the public swimming baths in
They were a rough lot at Gibson Street baths, pinch your clothes as soon as look at you. We'd walk to the quay side from the baths on a Saturday at four o'clock to watch 'The Bemicia' set sail for London and we'd shout "Any pennies?" up at the passengers."
While this was going on, the engineers were building the Tyne Bridge, Charles remembers the cranes dominating the skyline.
He left school at fifteen to start work as an apprentice engineer and fitter at Clark Chapmans and stayed with the company until he retired. Fifty years at the same company! How many people can claim the same loyalty to their company these days?
When Charles turned eighteen he would go around the country to navy vessels with the chargehands, doing time trials, safety checks and such. It was while on these travels in Liverpool that he met Florence, his future wife. He had been given the address of a landlady in Wallasey by an apprentice he worked with and immediately fell in love with her daughter. They married and had two children.Charles has coped well on his own and occupies his time well. He reads a lot and keeps the garden tidy. I asked him about his hobbies, and again the eyes lit up.
"Model engineering, I've done it all my life, but I can't do it anymore because of the arthritis in my hands."
He showed me a model from a shelf on the wall "Just a little reciprocating engine I made as an apprentice." We went into a back room where magnificent scaled down engines were gathering dust. They were the product of countless hours loving work, incomplete due to the encroaching years. How sad, and yet how stoically Charles accepts this.Back in the living room he indicated a set of scales on the mantle piece "I saw them in Fenwick's some years ago and thought to myself 'I could make a set of them, ' so I did. "
He pointed to a shining horseshoe on top of the television, "That was an old rusty pit pony's shoe and I brought it into work and cleaned it up, then I had it chromium plated' and "Do I think it's brought me good luck? Well, I don't suppose it's brought me bad luck, put it that way."
I asked him if he had any regrets about his life.
"It was a submarine, the Thetis, sank in Liverpool Bay. It went out and there
had been a slight fault with one of the Hydroplanes, it was sticking: the sub
was out to try to cure this fault as well as to complete its trials. Someone had
left one of the forward torpedo doors open. Lieutenant Woods was going round
inspecting these for leakage's when this was discovered. There was an escape
apparatus and four crew managed to escape, two at a time: the testing captain,
Seaman McGuinness, Lieutenant Woods, and Frank Shaw, the foreman fitter on the
ship. He was a big pal of mine, served his time at Cammel Lairds, we had some
good laughs together. They got out but nobody else did. I found out not so long
ago that all four of them are dead now"
"So being in love probably saved your life, Charles?"
He put on his hat and coat and I dropped him off outside the Legion Club. I
watched him walk towards the building, a tall, dapper gentleman, hunched up
against the elements. To passers by, just another anonymous stranger going to
the club for a pint. To me, the epitome of Englishness. Just like David Niven. Back to the top
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"Not really, if I have, I've forgotten them, I'm just glad to be alive, put it that way. I had a good time: a better time than most Town lads, what with travelling about the country since I was eighteen, and all the different people I met, I was hardly ever at home. I've been a lucky lad, really."
And the twinkle returns to his eye as parts of his remarkable life rush through his mind.
"Aye, I'd been asked if I wanted to come aboard for the trials, but I'd said "No, my work here's finished", but really I wanted to see Florence because we were courting then and I knew she would be at her mother's house"
W.Bro Joseph Henry McGill
Past Provincial Assistant Grand Director of Ceremonies
Joseph Henry MCGill was born on 25th November 1914 in Derby Rd, West End of Newcastle. After leaving school he worked alongside his father who owned a butcher's shop. Later Joe went to work in Vicker's, first as a wheelwright and then as a tool hardener.
During the latter half of the war Joe served with the King's Own Scottish Borderers and saw action in Burma. On his return Joe worked as a postman and was a well known figure on his round in Jesmond. On retirement from the post office Joe was a Commissionaire at Wellbar House. Joe was also a stalwart of the Branch Committee of the Central Branch, Royal British Legion, Newcastle and he served as Branch Treasurer and Standard Bearer for many years
Joe was fiercely proud of tradition as you would expect of an ex-serviceman, Legion Member and Freeman of the City of Newcastle upon Tyne. Joe became a Freemason in 1968 being initiated into the Lodge of Free Burgesses No 4504. This Lodge is restricted to Freemen of the City and Joe was a member of the Coopers' Company. He went through the chair in 1975 and became a Founder of Legion Lodge in the same year.
Joe's role in the formation of Legion Lodge is well documented, it was probably his knowledge of the membership of the Central Branch that helped towards gathering the 40 founders. Joe was well known to many a candidate as our Tyler, "spoken to" by Joe and you never forgot it! He gained his Provincial Honours in 1989.
Joe came to enjoy the role of "Lodge Character". He could be "abrasive" ..... "forthright" was what he called it, but it was typical of the man that he insisted on standing in as Tyler when he clearly was not well. Joe died only three weeks later.
Some say that Joe had an excellent voice. He certainly made his presence felt with his renditions of "When My Old Wedding Ring Was New" and more especially "Ghost Riders".
Lodges need their characters. We certainly had a "good un" in Joe McGill.
Joseph Henry McGill PPAGDC died on 19th June 1994
W.Bro George Willis died 1999
W.Bro Norman Wright died 24th August 2002
Bro Robert Stephenson died 6th July 2004
Bro George Davidson died 6th August 2004
Bro William Blyth Smith
Past Provincial Grand Steward
Bill was born in Newcastle, the son of a Master Mariner. He attended no less an establishment as the Royal Grammar School in Newcastle upon Tyne.
W Bro Brian Parry died 10th January 2005
"It was a submarine, the Thetis, sank in Liverpool Bay. It went out and there had been a slight fault with one of the Hydroplanes, it was sticking: the sub was out to try to cure this fault as well as to complete its trials. Someone had left one of the forward torpedo doors open. Lieutenant Woods was going round inspecting these for leakage's when this was discovered. There was an escape apparatus and four crew managed to escape, two at a time: the testing captain, Seaman McGuinness, Lieutenant Woods, and Frank Shaw, the foreman fitter on the ship. He was a big pal of mine, served his time at Cammel Lairds, we had some good laughs together. They got out but nobody else did. I found out not so long ago that all four of them are dead now"" I thought I'd heard somewhere that you were supposed to be on board that ship, Charles?"
"So being in love probably saved your life, Charles?""Aye, that's about the size of it"
He put on his hat and coat and I dropped him off outside the Legion Club. I watched him walk towards the building, a tall, dapper gentleman, hunched up against the elements. To passers by, just another anonymous stranger going to the club for a pint. To me, the epitome of Englishness. Just like David Niven.
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