Anniversary Luncheon Saturday 13th December 2014
Royal Beach Hotel, St Helens Parade, Portsmouth, PO4 0RN www.royalbeachhotel.co.uk
Over 150 Members of the River Plate Associations and other guests assembled at the Royal Beach Hotel, Portsmouth, England over the weekend 13th December 2014 for the Anniversary luncheon of The Battle of the River Plate.
The Saturday began with a quick Annual General Meeting for the HMS Ajax & River Plate Association followed by an excellent presentation on The Battle by Jonathan Harwood, grandson of The Battle Commodore.
Guests then made their way to the sherry reception and “Up-spirits” – the old navy tradition of issuing rum rations. Guests mingled and were treated to a fascinating precision display by The Corps of Drums HMS Nelson Volunteer Band, at the conclusion of which the leader took rum with Commodore Jeremy Rigby who was representing the First Sea Lord. Sea Cadets from TS Hornet were also present.
At 1 o’clock Malcolm Collis called guests to their tables and formally welcomed all to the Royal Beach Hotel Portsmouth on this auspicious occasion – quite fitting as HMS Ajax first sailed from here on her first commission in 1935.
He went on to say that;
‘75 years ago to the very day, and with the time difference, to the hour, the first naval battle of the Second World War was raging far away in the south Atlantic off the mouth of the River Plate separating Uruquay and Argentina.
Three quarters of a century sounds and is a very long time but remarkably we have four veterans from that Battle here today in the persons of John Garrard & Ted Wicks from HMS Ajax and Jim London & Basil Trott from HMS Exeter. We are delighted to see them here today. A fifth veteran from Ajax, Albert Smith, was due to attend but was not well enough to travel but we are delighted that he is represented here today by his son and daughter. I should also mention that our other Ajax veteran Frank Burton was also not up to attending today – we wish them well.
Also joining us today is Commodore Jeremy Rigby representing the First Sea Lord; Commander Andrew McMillan representing the New Zealand High Commissioner; Captain Juan Retamosso representing the Ambassador of Uruguay; Captain Tom Tulloch representing the Canadian High Commissioner; Mayor Steve Parish and others from The Town of Ajax, Ontario; The Lord Mayors of Exeter & Portsmouth and other distinguished guests.
Besides the River Plate veterans mentioned we are delighted to have here today Don Birrell and Dennis Talbot who were on Ajax after the River Plate Commission.
It is also wonderful to see so many families of those who served at the Battle:
A large contingent of descendants of Commodore Harwood headed up by sons Stephen & Henry.
Many descendants of the Ajax Captain, Captain Woodhouse again headed up by daughters Belinda & Hilary.
Jim Smith 3, Committee member whose father Tobias was on Exeter
Fiona, daughter of W.E. Greene awarded the DSM whilst on Exeter
Karen, daughter of Leading Signalman Bill Swanston HMS Ajax who spotted Graf Spee’s smoke
Grandson Jonathan & granddaughter Elizabeth of Tom Remick who died at River Plate on HMS Exeter
Kathleen, daughter of John Donnelly the Commodore’s coxswain
Diane, daughter of Victor Weekes, Commodore’s secretary & Plate veteran
Shirley & Caroline, daughters of Ralph Medley, the Commodore's staff officer
Son David & daughter Sarah of the HMS Ajax Seafox observer at River Plate, Richard Kearney
Son Cliff & daughter Lin of Douglas Hoppe from HMS Ajax
Nicola, daughter of Peter Lachlan HMS Ajax
Ken, son of Eric Smith HMS Ajax who was the founder of The HMS Ajax & River Plate Veterans Association 50 years ago next year and without whom we would probably not be here today.
Keeping that Association going for another 50 years will be in the hands of our Ajax frigate members, many of whom are here today, together with our many Associates.
We unveiled our splendid memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum in the spring, we visited Ajax Ontario in June and this luncheon concludes our 75th Anniversary events and we look forward to gathering here for the 100th Anniversary.’
Following this introduction we dined on a splendid lunch and at the conclusion port was served and the Chairman Peter Danks proposed the loyal toast with guests remaining seated having been granted permission by the Frist Sea Lord. We all stood to toast our veterans.
Short speeches were given by Commodore Rigby, Commander McMillan, Donald Lamont, former Ambassador to Uruquay, and Major Steve Parish who also presented John Garrard with his Street Sign, Garrardview Street, as John had been unable to make the June visit to Ajax where it was formally presented.
The Anniversary cake was cut by the four veterans symbolically using the Harwood’s dirk.
Stephen Harwood then introduced his presentation and newsreels of the day.
Guests were able to view the exhibition of Battle artefacts and to purchase Commemorative memorabilia: engraved Tumblers. First Day Covers, Bookmarks and books.
All too soon the luncheon was over and as guests departed there was a sense of satisfaction that everyone had enjoyed themselves and the day had been a splendid success.