Our guest of honour for the 75th reunion was Lord Petre, Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of Essex. He was introduced by our Chairman Veteran Peter Turrall. The toast to the guest of honour and Lord Petre’s response can be heard by clicking on the links.
For those without sound facilities a transcript of both speeches can be read below.
First of all I would like to thank Lord Prior for being our President and for the speech he has just made, which gives us a lot of invigoration and thanks for our future.
It gives me great pleasure now to introduce our guest of Honour today. Lord Petre, Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant for the county of Essex. Lord Petre is an extremely busy man but always ready and willing wherever possible to meet people from all walks of life. Over the past nine years in my charity work I’ve had the pleasure of Lord Petre’s attendance at various functions which I have organised. He’s a very modest person but takes great interest in activities and organisations for people with either physical or learning disabilities a well as animal welfare in addition to his requirements as patron or president of various organisations and also as Her Majesty’s representative in our county of Essex. I know he will give us an excellent presentation of his duties as our Lord Lieutenant; this position was, according to my investigations into the history of the family, held by the first Baron Petre in 1603. And so the current eighteenth Baron carries on similar duties to those who his forefathers started.
I, therefore, ask you fellow Veterans to welcome our guest of Honour Lord John Petre.
My Lord President, Mr Chairman, Veterans, Ladies and Gentlemen.
First perhaps I should correct Lord Prior, you haven’t missed the big match it isn’t on till tea time so so long as I don’t go on too long and you don’t live too far away, you’re all right.
I don’t know whether speaking last means that I’m the top of the bill or the bloke with the shovel behind the Lord Mayor’s Parade, but from time to time I am given the task of responding to the toasts of the guests, but I do say guests in the plural, I think this is the first occasion that I’ve been favoured with my own personal toast and I’m duly touched because I thought I was honoured enough merely to be invited to today’s distinguished gathering which, as we know, is billed as the 75th anniversary of the association. That in itself rather puzzled me because my rather slight research revealed that the association was actually founded in 1928 which either means that my information was wrong or that the command of mathematics one might expect from Marconi engineers isn’t quite what it seems to be, but at any rate I’m bowled over by the courtesies being showed to me by way of this toast and as a result I’m somewhat lost for words. I do thank Peter for his kind remarks. I was slightly shaking in my shoes because I didn’t know what sort of information he would be imparting to you because, as you know, these days, and we all suffer from this there are endless calumnies abroad in the ether about all of us so if you google the name Lord Petre, and I know this because I’ve tried it, you come up with 46,900 hits including such sites as ‘Nina in Lord Petre’s bedroom’, which I’m sorry to say is pretty much as bad as it sounds. Nothing to do with me.
But Peter said – kindly described me as a modest man – Clement Atlee said about someone, I can’t remember who, that he too was a modest man but mind you he had plenty to be modest about. But indeed I am Lord Lieutenant of the County and as such I am the personal representative of Her Majesty the Queen in these parts and hence it is my job to do all those things which Her Majesty might do herself if only she had the time. Now whether that permits me to say today that she sends her apologies, I am sure she would have been here but as you will be aware she has got a wedding to get ready for and there are an awful lot of sandwiches to make.
Now looking around the room I guess there are many of you who will remember my distinguished predecessor John Ruggles-Brise and in fact probably a lot of you were still under the impression that he was still in office. It’s amazing when we get to our age how easily and unnoticed the years slip away but he actually retired in 1978 but he is still held in the highest regard and I do frequently have people coming up to speak to me about him in the warmest of terms which is somewhat disconcerting because they seem to be saying “Ah those were the days, that’s when we had a real Lord Lieutenant.” But one had to get used to these slight faux pas and, particularly when I’m in uniform, misapprehensions. On at least two occasions I have been mistaken for a senior member of the Salvation Army and I do remember arriving to take the salute at some function rather early and managed to find out the person who appeared to be in charge who said “Ah yes, you’ve come to do the first aid haven’t you.”
What hasn’t happened to me, it happened to a colleague of mine, the Lord Lieutenant of Herefordshire some years ago when arriving at the town hall in full fig for some function or other, he was stopped by the man on the door who said “Oh no mate, you can’t come in here, the band are coming in round the back.” But I think the only one that had me quite dumbfounded was when, at some function or other, I was pinned in the corner by some lady who said “Now, you’re the Queen’s consort” – nearly right but not quite.
So being the Lord Lieutenant is a wonderful job participating in an astonishing diversity of engagements varying from the solemn and moving, through the jolly and convivial to, on very rare occasions, the rather embarrassing disasters. One of my responsibilities, of course, is organising Royal visits which take place in the county which can combine all three of those elements but mercifully very seldom, the last because as it’s so true about so many things in this county we do think we do Royal visits rather well thanks, I may say, to my excellent team who help me with this, but there are occasional mishaps I have to confess. I do remember we narrowly avoided assassinating the Earl of Wessex whose situation was that he’d come to Thurrock on a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award visit; all went well enough until we learnt the following day that the firm that had supplied the sandwiches for the lunch had had to recall their entire product because of a listeria outbreak. So did we inform the Earl of Wessex – like hell we didn’t. But all was well.
And then there was the time that the Prince of Wales was kidnapped; we were visiting the Maltings at Mistley which had been recently converted into flats and, as had been arranged, His Royal Highness was paying a call on one of the residents of the flats to have a cup of tea or something and that went fine and just as we were descending the stairs a lady who was resident in one of the other flats erupted for her front door and grabbed the Prince of Wales and took him aside in order to lecture him on her particular hobby horse which happened to be mercury tooth fillings, which was difficult enough, but she wasn’t satisfied by that; this, I may say, was before his marriage to the Duchess of Cornwall. She went on to say “Sir, you will remember I am sure that I had the honour of sending you a wedding present on the occasion of your wedding to Lady Diana and I am sure you will recall that that present was a book on cystitis.” I can’t remember what the Prince’s response to this… “Have you come far”? Wouldn’t have really been adequate would it.
The name of Marconi is still a very tangible part of the heritage of this town and, indeed, the county as a whole. As you will be aware the town sign still bears the legend “home of radio” celebrating that famous occasion when Dame Nellie Melba came down to make the broadcast in 1920. Now I know you know all this story, but it is such a good one it bears repeating, that when being shown round the station and the two enormous aerial towers, 450 foot aerial towers, were pointed out to her and her guide explained to her that from the top of the mast your voice will soon be heard throughout the world her response was “Young man if you think I am going to climb up there you are very much mistaken.”
But then, of course, there is still the very imposing tower/mast just over the way there at Baddow that continues to mark out the Marconi Research Station which lives on there and what is now Selex of course continues to carry forward the tradition of technological excellence inherited from the original company. I am sure everyone here will say “it is not quite the same” and, of course it isn’t, but I am just trying to show that the memory lives on. The façade of the old factory in New Street survives, well for the time being anyway, and you will all have seen the rather camp statue of Guglielmo outside the town’s theatre.
So at this point I was going to, sort of in rather contradiction to what Lord Prior said, bewail the sad loss to the town of the Marconi Collection but we’ve had the wonderful news this week of what I might call the Water’s bequest to the town which by all accounts, and Peter assures me this is the case, if anything trumps the original collection and so that is, indeed, great news.
So I am delighted to be present at today’s celebration and all I can say is “May the tradition long continue.”