St James Park 2005

On arrival at the site, I queued up to get my passes etc. then made my way to our display area. Everyone was busy setting up tents/vehicles/equipment etc. having driven through the night from Blackpool. I went over to the Jungle Jitters display where I was going to be based and started setting up some of the bits I had bought in the back of the Tilly.

There was a bit of a buzz going around as it was press day and Prince Charles & Camilla were going to be on site. Jonathan ushered them around our display and they watched the 25pdr detachment going through their drills. They then stopped to shake hands and have a chat with most members of our group. At the AA/Searchlight display, they posed on the Bofors, which got in several newspapers along with the indomitable members to the detachment. Nell McAndrew showed up dressed as a NAAFI girl but even she couldn’t outdo our glamorous ATS girls all lined up to meet the royal couple. I think everyone was chuffed about it and it set the show up for the rest of the week..

After a very tiring day, we were all dished out our info’ packs on our accommodation by Paul Mason. There was some confusion over who was staying where but after a drive across town in the minibus to Kings Cross we finally crashed out. I was just dozing off when the fire alarms went off frightening the life out of me! Luckily, a false alarm - some kids smoking in the corridor(?)

Prince Andrew came around the second day. I remember going to the khasi (I was really getting into the terminology by now) after the show and when I emerged, everyone had gone so I made my way back on the tube, slipping and sliding on the polished surfaces but Londoners don’t bat an eyelid when they see someone in a slouch hat and jungle uniform on the tube. I remember seeing a Sealed Knot type person on a tube train once in his full cavalier outfit reading a paper. No one noticed!

My parents came up to see the show on the Wednesday and Graham’s parents (his father being a Burma Star veteran) spent some time looking around and chatting to the public. I found my Tommy Gun was creating quite an attraction - everyone having seen them on gangster films. Paul Mason’s two ATC lads were great at entertaining the public, although the rifles must have been worn out by the end of the week! Up the other end, our Geordie friends were doing sterling work in the field kitchen producing much needed nourishment in what were long days on your feet. I found I only had a chance to go for a pee now and again and that was it.

I could hear the air raids going on and saw the subsequent photos of the ATS in their pyjamas and tin hats - very fetching! The large marquee with all the plotting tables, maps, telephones and typewriters was proving a hit with the public - the kids particularly liked the typewriters!

Of course, no one had any idea what was going to happen on Thursday. Good job James delayed us a bit and we got to the tube station late otherwise we might have been properly caught up in it. The morning was very fraught with rumors rife about what had happened and with mobile phones down, it was proving difficult checking on peoples safety. Naturally, the show was pretty quiet that day. Penelope Keith turned up but her visit was somewhat overshadowed by events unfolding outside. Several members had some close shaves with the bombings, but thankfully all were safe. Our usual evening pub venue was closed off as Kings Cross was sealed off that night. Some of us went for a drink further up the road while others ventured into Leicester Square but naturally, some places were closed. On a lighter note, subsequent reports in the media told of 'troops being deployed on the streets of London’ - later denied by the Met.

Despite all this, the show did pick up again and climaxed with the big parade of veterans down the Mall and the Royal Family, Household Cavalry etc. We then watched the fly-past and poppy drop - quite an amazing spectacle watched by thousands of public, defying the terrorists. Sometimes, it still makes me proud to be British!

With the event over, we finished off with a meal laid on by the Army and then it was time to pack everything away and head for home. After borrowing some fuel off Dave Nesbitt, Ian Hagger got the Tilly started on the handle but I subsequently broke down just over Tower Bridge whilst stuck at the lights (yeah, OK, I took a wrong turn over Westminster bridge!) One of those nice men from the AA jump started me after receiving abuse from some motorists and picture taking by tourists. I ensured the throttle was on fast tick over the rest of the way home.

Months of planning had finally paid off and the group did itself proud. We have been invited to put on a Ack Ack/searchlight event next year in Hyde Park (?) - Keith will no doubt have more details on this later. Fort Nelson have also asked us to do an event at Easter, based on what they saw in London. Well done everybody!

Gavin Cooper