The 25th ELMS Annual Reunion

ELMS Weekend 2015

( With many thanks to our Patron Sir Nicholas Young )

Twenty-five years ago, ELMS held its first annual reunion at the Eden Camp, and five years later we stayed for the first time at the Monkbar Hotel in York. We therefore had a lot to celebrate by way of anniversary this year – and what a great time we had.

The hotel produced a magnificent birthday cake, which about 100 members and friends who attended the dinner on the Saturday night consumed with relish, following a delicious meal. We then drank a toast to the staff of the Hotel, who have been so friendly and welcoming over the years, and one of our Patrons, Nick Young, proposed a vote of thanks to Roger Stanton and the ELMS team for all their hard work in organising the weekend.

There was another cause for celebration, as 25th April, the day of the dinner, also marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Italy by the Allies. As it happens, we had with us 20 young Italian people from the Marche area of Italy, from villages which had helped Allied escapers. The students played a lively part in the weekend, and some of them spoke of their gratitude for the liberation of their country in 1945 (“Thank you for getting rid of the Nazis” said one!).

But, as ever, the main focus of the weekend was our collective act of commemoration and thanksgiving at the Helper Memorial at Eden Camp. The day dawned blustery and cool, with dark clouds threatening from the north-west – but the weather held and, as the pipers of the City of Sheffield Pipe Band and the Band of the Northumbria Army Cadet Force marched smartly onto the parade square on the stroke of 11, the scene was set, and members drew themselves quietly to attention.

Roger, standing beside the granite rock which forms the Memorial, hewn from the foothills of the high-level escape route over the Pyrenees, welcomed in particular those original helpers and evaders, sadly fewer in number now, who had been able to join us, and reminded us why it is so important to pause and remember.

Then Canon John Manchester led us in a stirring and passionate Act of Remembrance. He spoke of his long relationship with the Eden Camp, as Parish Priest and Chaplain, and recalled a visit by HRH Prince Philip when Stan Johnson, who founded the Museum, had welcomed the Royal visitor with the words “We don’t need too many like you, because you don’t put money in’t till !” The Prince spent over an hour talking with some of our ‘helpers’ on that occasion, and Canon John remembered hearing his grateful “merci, merci, merci” as each helper told their story. “Why don’t you bring the wife and kids next time?” joked Stan, as a delighted Prince took his leave.

As so often in the past, we heard the quote about Freedom by Nancy Wake of the SOE (known as the White Mouse), and the poem The Life that I Have, written as a security code for Violette Szabo, before her final tragic SOE mission. Our Chairman Major Boris Spence read the Eulogy and, once the strains of the Last Post had died away, Major David Sharp, President of ELMS, intoned the words of the Kohima epitaph:

“When you go home, tell them of us and say: ‘For your tomorrow, we gave our today’”

Finally, as spots of rain began to fall, we heard over the loudspeakers the magnificent, bone-tingling words of the French Hymn of the Resistance:

“Montez de la mine, descendez des collines, Camarades!”

Then, to close, Lord Crathorne KCVO, sadly attending his last event as our Patron, marched out to lead us in the laying of thirty or more wreaths and crosses against the warm brown stone of the Memorial.