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BILL CORFIELD'S ADDRESS TO VIMY


At the Vimy dinner of 03 April, 2009, Bill Corfield was the "guest" speaker. This longtime Vimy member and respected local historian and author offered us a look at the branch's past and a challenge for its future. Here are his words from that 80th Anniversary meeting.

During 1927 and 1928, a group of energetic, progressive London survivors of the Great War became disillusioned with the veterans club they had joined. They did not protest not argue nor destroy. These comrades quietly formed their own fraternal organization that they named after the Battle of Vimy Ridge, and it has survived for eighty years.

They wrote a simple set of guidelines: A. there would be two meetings a year, B. the meetings would take the form of a dinner on dates that would coincide as closely as possible with the Armistice and the Battle of Vimy Ridge, And for eighty years there has been no change C. The branch would never at any time seek to acquire a club room. And for eighty years there has been no change. D. It would be a good idea to have music or some form of entertainment at the dinners meetings. And for eighty years this has been followed. Vimy orchestra was born and has been one of the great morale building elements that have made this branch unique in all of Canada. The 1933 program records that 'for the first couple of meeings, the Vimy Orchestra was a string trio composed of Murray Dillon, Edgar Westby, and Ed Shuttleworth. The next dinner we recruited a super drummer, Gordon Thompson, and annually musicians were added'.

The charter was issued in March 1929, and we should salute the fourteen founding members: Col Ibbotson Leonard, Lt Col E.G. Shannon, Lt Col Charles Grafton, Lt Col W.H. Kippen, Maj D.J.H.Ferguson Maj H.K. Ingram, Capt A.M. Dillon, Capt M.M. Dillon, Capt J.M. Watt, Capt D.B.Weldon, Capt. H. Dickinson, Lieut M.P.A Hare, Lieut Lloyd Chapman, and Lieut George Cogdon.

By the November 1933 dinner, the membership was exactly one hundred. The first wave of comrades enjoyed their boisterous reunions until the end of World War II when they were suddenly invaded by a gaggle of impudent young veterans who seemed to have no respect for anything. They were welcomed, it says in the history, but there were some reservations. There were some rumblings of dissent, not animosity by any means, but a resistance to change which occured when this second wave of veterans flooded the dinners in the Hotel London and forced some of the old-timers to sit in the annex.

The 'old sweats' and the new arrivals rapidly assimilated ino a vigorous Vimy Legion that really continued unchanged. However, the Canadian Legion was changing to admit relatives and others. There were those who worried that this branch's unique personality might change. So there was an understanding that only World War II and Korean veterans would be accepted. The year 1952 became the cut-off date. At some point, when I was a director, I was asked if I could figure out when membership would be so few that vibrant dinners were no longer possible. I figured that attendance of thirty must be a minimum and the branch then terminated with dignity.

I forget now which year I made this projection for termination, but I think it was about now. I counted the number of pre-'52 vets here tonight and arrived at 24. Fortunately, the Armageddon was avoided.

There were several influential members who wanted the base commander, the RCR commander, and so on, as members. After a lengthy discussion, I think it was Fred Vine who proposed that they simply add three words to the membership policy - "and by invitation". So post-1952 veterans and servicemen have been invited and they have joined, and we're sure glad they did. They have formed the third wave of enthusiasts that have given this branch new life.

Just as Howard Hayman became the first president from the second wave in 1950, Ed Quinn became the first present from the current one, in 2000.

Let us return to those early guidelines that the founders wrote. I omitted Clause E: that the executive would carry out all the business of the branch and would call upon and member to render assistance to any veteran in need or for any other cause in which the branch was interested. Vimy branch has fulfilled this veterans' service in many ways over the eight decades.

Colonel G.Eric Reid, the third Vimy president, established the Eric Reid Home that provided rooms and meals during the 1930's and '40's for veterans on small pensions. The branch put on Christmas dinners at the Hotel London during the Depression and few vets left without warm clothing if it was needed. Doug Weldon, one of the founders and 1935 president, was the first chairman of the London Poppy Fund in '33 and also a leader in creating the local executive of the Corps of Commissionaires (London) that provided employment for vets.

Vimy Branch raised $5000 to build a Reception Centre at the CNR Station in 1944 from which member George Foote and volunteers welcomed vets who were returning home. Jack Stevens and Vimy Branch founded the Boys Club in 1964 and sustained it over the years until now it is a great community facility as the Boys and Girls Club of London.

After the parade on Nov. 11, 1992, Vimy contingent swung left into City Hall and dedicated the portrait of longtime secretary, Jack Mahoney,VC. Among many celebrations during 1995 to mark the 50th anniversary of Victory in Europe, Vimy joined with the Military Institute to create the Wall of Remembrance in the Art Gallery, portraits of London's WWII casualties. (Writer's note: The mammoth and exciting parade of 08 May, 1995 resulted from 18 months of work by a committee which had at least five Vimy members. that group was chaired by Bruce Urquhart. Bob Newman was the parade commander, Mal Kay its Adjutant with Fred Vine taking the salute for the city. Other Vimy members were included in the procession and/or its planning.)

This led in 1999 to the dedication of the second volume of the Book of Remembrance that Vimy financed when it was realized that dozens of war dead had been omitted from the first.

Over the years, Bob Mahar, 2001 president, was chairman of the committee that arranged the Remembrance Day parade and ceremony. He also needled City hall for years to improve the deteriorating surroundings at the cenotaph. Bob ws always front and centre at the decoration of the war graves and the remembrance services at Westminister and Parkwood Hospitals.

It would be fitting, as an eighty year project, if a third edition of FRIENDS AND COMRADES was presented to new members of the Third Wave so that these good deeds of the past would encourage them to continue Vimy's fine legacy. I suggest, also, that they may have a challenge not encountered previously - the need to maintain a steady program of education and recruitment to maintain membership.

And so tonight there are no warriors from the first wave. Bill Davis and David Sanderson were the last to attend in 1997, the 80th anniversary of Vimy Ridge. Those impudent youngsters from the second wave, now venerable gentlemen, please rest easy in your chairs because the vibrant youngsters of the third wave are going to leap to their feet, and to terminate this eightieth anniversary celebration, salute the founders and builders.

OVER TO YOU, MR. PRESIDENT!

New Rules of Governance

After eighty years of operating -- quite successfully, it should be added -- under the six simple rules outlined earlier by Bill Corfield, the 2009 directors felt the time had come to add some meat to those bare bones. Questions were arising concerning issues such as appointment of officers, duties of various office holders, "recycling" of former officers, qualifications for Vimy membership, and others.

Comrades John McClure and Jim Driver, both past presidents of the branch, were tasked to develop a working paper that would allow the directors to put some updating in place. Jim and John presented their thorough and well considered draft proposals for discussion on 17 September '09. With only minor revisions suggested, these proposals were accepted and became Vimy policy. They are sufficiently flexible that they can be revised as required and, of significant importance, they do not alter or abandon any of the original six points which formed the Vimy constitution. They only serve to remove any possible ambiguity from those early policies.

Perhaps the most timely proposal has to do with the addition of the following clause to the traditional list (and the more flexible RC Legion list) of those who qualify for Vimy membership: "An individual who has been invited by the Branch Executive to become a member because of his/her standing in the community or his/her service to the community." Even casual reading of this clause will allow the reader to see that Vimy has turned a major corner here and has entered the 21st century. And definitely not kicking and screaming.


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