Origin of the Armourers’ Association
The first Armourers’ Reunion Dinner was held at the Territorial Army Drill Hall, Davies Street, London W1, on the 10th December 1955. It was originated solely on the initiative of Major H. J. C. Dean (John) then Assistant Inspector of Armourers (AIA) at Headquarters London District, Horse Guards, Whitehall. As senior serving armourer Lt. Col. E. F. Smith took the chair. The first reunion proved so successful that those attending voted unanimously for a similar function to be held annually. Thus was the ‘Armourers’ Dinner Club’ born. It was considered most convenient to hold the dinner in May of each year to coincide with the REME Rifle Meeting at Bisley. At this period a very strong contingent of armourers came over every year from BAOR to compete in the competitions and this enabled them to attend. Reunions have been held annually since and whilst initial attendance was always in excess of a hundred a shrinking army has been reflected in diminishing numbers of those attending. At the 1957 reunion it was agreed that a committee should be formed to take over the organisation of subsequent reunions. A committee of three serving and three retired members was recruited. Lt. Col. Smith was confirmed as Chairman and Major Dean as Secretary. The first committee meeting took place at Whitehall on 26th November 1958. This by coincidence was the Centenary Anniversary of the formation of the Corps of Armourers.
The headquarters of the Dinner Club remained at Whitehall. Where the incumbent AIA filled the office of Secretary until 1965 when the AIA was transferred to HQ Eastern Command Hounslow, which then became the club’s headquarters. On 1st January 1970 the time-honoured title was superseded by the more embracing title EMAE (Weapons Trained) the initials being short for Electrical and Mechanical Assistant Engineer. To suit the convenience of members, the committee meetings were held in the Civil Service Club, central London. For many years and entirely due to the willing cooperation and goodwill of the Royal Victoria (Artists) Rifles, later the Royal Green Jackets, the club held its reunions in the Drill Hall, 56 Davies Street. This was a most convenient arrangement and for this unstinted assistance by the Officers and Staff concerned, our members were most grateful. In the years up to and including 1964 the reunions were formal dinners with a Guest of Honour but as the cost of these had risen to a level prohibitive to many of our members the committee opted for the simpler and less expensive buffet function for 1965. This change proved a great success and from then on a buffet reunion became the accepted practice. Many members appreciated the greater opportunity this type of function gave for circulating amongst those present and talking to old friends. However some members thought that the lack of formality was a loss to the evening as it was made more difficult for the chairman to conduct the necessary affairs of the Annual General Meeting. The result was a successful blending of formal and informal elements. Although buffet functions, the reunions incorporate periods when all are seated or attentive and brief formalities are dispensed with. This allows the Association the flexibility to invite a Guest of Honour to the reunion. Guests in the past have included many serving, retired military and civilian personalities who have close links with the armourers or who hold high military appointments. Among them have been DGEME, the Master of the Armourers and Brasiers’ Company, civilian designers of the RARDEN 30mm gun and the Small Arms 80 system, and our first Associate member from the RAF. An optional practice introduced at about this time was that of appointing a Chairman for the evening. This was in response to the need for someone who knew or was more closely associated with the Guest of Honour to introduce and entertain him. Also, during this period several proposals were put forward with the intention of changing the venue of the reunion. This was to give some of those further afield a chance to attend. Portsmouth and Bordon were among places suggested but it was eventually decided that such a change would be to the disadvantage of more members than the number it would help, and the reunions stayed in London. However some members expressed a desire for a more august venue and in response to this the club held its Silver Jubilee Reunion in the Victory Services Club near Marble Arch. This occasion was attended by a record 156 members, with the first Director General Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (DGEME), Major General T. V. Homan as Guest of Honour, a noteworthy occasion. By a small vote the 1980 reunion was also a formal dinner. However to give equal satisfaction to supporters of both views it was decided to hold dinners and buffets alternately in the future.
Election of A President
In May 1977 the Association’s first Chairman, Lt Col (Ret’d) E. F. Smith was elected as our first President. This honour was in recognition of his long service in the Association as Chairman and as an acknowledgement of the tremendous amount of work done to consolidate its position and enhance it’s standing. Also at this meeting a new committee was formed. Mr E.D. Stratford became the new Chairman and Mr R.J. Manning was confirmed as Secretary, the first non-serving member to hold this office. In 1978 a motion calling for the provision of a President’s Badge was proposed and carried and steps were put in hand for its production. The badge was to incorporate as its centre motif a representation of the ‘Armourer’ by Gaudex, the bronze figure in possession of the Armourers’ Hall, which so superbly symbolises the armourers’ craft. The Chairman undertook the task of bringing this idea to reality. The production of the badge was entrusted to Messrs Thomas Fattorini of Birmingham. The badge was completed and received by the Chairman in September 1980 and at our 1981 reunion Mr. Basil H. A. Chambers, Master of the Armourers and Brasiers’ Company, invested our President with the badge.
Change of Name
At the reunion of the 10th May 1980 it was agreed that the title of the association would be changed to The Armourers’ Association. This was a natural evolvement from the title of Dinner Club, which was no longer valid. It was thought that the words ‘Armourers’ Association’ would be acceptable to all Armourers and Weapons Artificers alike, who would wish the skills of the conventional weapons fraternity to be combined under one historic label.
Progression to the Current Day
A notable event took place on 12th July 1980. This was the day when the Association had its first Ladies’ Night. For years many members had endeavoured to get the Association to take this step, there were many wives who were as much part of the Armourers’ Association as were their husbands. Armourers and Weapons Artificers wives have always been available to help a newcomer in a strange station, put up with their husband’s absences on various duties and even learnt some of the mystique of the trade. To give them a chance to meet their counterparts could only strengthen the internal bonds of the Association. The Ladies night was held in the Union Jack Club and was attended by about thirty members and their wives. The 1980’s saw great changes in the Armed Forces and these not unnaturally had a knock on effect for the Association and its membership, a smaller Army meant there were less new members to fill the ranks and efforts were put into place to woo those were eligible to join, including membership for Armourers of the Royal Marines, who for many years have trained alongside their Army counterparts. By the 1990’s more changes in the Army, namely the recruitment of women soldiers into many of the trades previously closed to them, including that of Armourer and Weapons Artificer meant the Association could no longer look upon ladies purely as guests, they could be and were members in their own right. It was therefore decided that all future reunions would be mixed and that all members could invite a guest of their choice.
In 1995 the President, Major (Ret’d) Marshall Chetwynd, stood aside from his post, this decision forced on him by ill health. At the same time Eric Stratford, the Chairman, asked to be replaced in the office he had filled the last 18 years. A unanimous vote placed Eric in to the office of President and elected Marshall as Vice-President. Although the move was aimed at giving Eric more free time of his own he continues to serve the Association wholeheartedly.
In the year 2000 reorganisation within REME meant that the ‘Weapons’ trades would be amalgamated, the reasons were many and varied, but boiled down to the fact that in an ever decreasing Army there was a need to build in flexibility and it made sense that as the old Armourer trade had become increasingly familiar with heavier calibres and turret mounted systems working increasingly alongside their Gun Fitter colleagues. So the differences had become more blurred. However the proposal that the new Career Employment Group (CEG) be named “Weapons Mechanic” stirred something in the heart of Association members and all of it’s lobbying skills were brought to bear to get the powers that be to retain the ancient name of “Armourer” as the trade title. This was not purely a matter of retaining that historic title but recognised the fact that all the future Weapons trades trainees would be trained in the repair of Small Arms and then go on to equipment specific courses if they were to be employed on Armaments. The lobbying was successful and in October 2000 it was announced that the new weapons CEG would be retitled ARMOURER. Thus the time-honoured profession goes into the future. Long may it flourish and gain lustre from those who are yet to be ‘Armourers’.
On 4th September 2004 the Association held it’s 50th reunion dinner at the Victory Services Club. The Guests of Honour were Brigadier Stephen Tetlow, DEME(A) and Mr Anthony Pontifex, Master of The Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers, accompanied by his wife Jan. 90 members and their guests sat down to dinner and an excellent evening ensued. In response to a loyal greeting Her Majesty sent a message of congratulations and best wishes to the assembled company.
The Association motto ‘Make all sure – We are one’ is taken from the arms of the Armourers and Brasiers’ Company.
In 2013, Eric Stratford our President for 18 years and now into his 9th decade decided to stand down and let someone younger take over. He and his wife Betty were dined out at the annual dinner and the newly elected President, Chris Dennis was duly installed and presented with the President’s Badge.
On 6th September 2014 the Association held its 60th reunion dinner at the Victory Services Club. The Guest of Honour was Brig (Retd) Paul Cort, Master of the Worshipful Company of Gunmakers. 65 members and their guests attended the dinner and as a memento, each diner received an engraved wine goblet.
Over a number of years, membership of the Association had steadily declined and this was also reflected in the number of members attending the reunion dinners. The committee had noted this previously and in 2009 the Association launched its web site to advertise our presence and assist in attracting a broader membership base. Whilst the web site helped to boost membership, the younger serving armourers still seemed reluctant to join. To help promote the Association and provide a “talking shop” a closed group forum was started on Facebook and membership of this group quickly grew into the hundreds. This did not transfer directly to membership of the Association, so in 2015 two serving Armourers were invited to join the committee with the explicit intent of bringing the younger serving armourers into the fold. In the first year (2016) we saw an influx of 169 new members to the Association. The committee also took the decision to move the reunion dinner closer to the new home of REME, now based at The Prince Philip Barracks, DSEME, Lyneham, with the aim of attracting the younger serving armourer to attend the reunion dinner.
Since moving to the new home at Lyneham, the trade of Armourer has been changed to encompass the Gun Fitter trade. This is a reflection of the changing role and smaller size of our armed services. It does not change the constitution of the Association, as Gun Fitters have always been welcomed as members.