Saturday, 10th June 2017
To Llanwarne for the County Rally of the Royal British Legion for Herefordshire. We gathered at the War Memorial for the Commemoration, Last Post and Silence, and Reveille. The Northfield Caledonia Pipes and Drums then marched off, as we all made our way to Christ Church, Llanwarne, for the Service conducted by The Revd Mark Johnson, Rector of the Wormelow Hundred group of churches.
After the singing of O Valiant Hearts the Vice-Lord Lieutenant, Christopher James, laid a wreath at the altar on behalf of the Lord-Lieutenant, and I laid a wreath as High Sheriff. Eternal Father, strong to save, I vow to thee, my country, and Now thank we all our God were sung with gusto, and the Service ended with the National Anthem.
We then moved to the road outside, where the Vice-Lord-Lieutenant took the salute at the march past, and Brian Wilcox, the Chairman of Herefordshire Council, and I accompanied him on the dais. We repaired to the Village Hall, and enjoyed a superb tea. The afternoon ended with stall and a raffle in the churchyard of the old Llanwarne Church, just before the rain started…
Congratulations to the Royal British Legion and the county President, Major Alan Harrhy, on organising a a splendid and memorable occasion
Thursday 8th June 2017
General Election Polling Day, for which as High Sheriff I was Returning Officer for both our County constituencies. Robert and I arrived at the Hereford Leisure Centre just after the close of the polls at 10.00 p.m. I had had a very thorough briefing from Colette Maund, Herefordshire Council’s Head of Electoral Services, and Erica Hermon, the Deputy Head of Law and Governance, but I was nevertheless unprepared for the sight of the main sports hall set up with trestle tables, with overhead signs numbering each counting area and the sheer numbers of people waiting to start the counts for our two County constituencies: North Herefordshire, and Hereford and South Herefordshire.
I met Alistair Neill, the Chief Executive of the Council, who was in overall charge, and he explained the layout of the room and the roles of each area. As the ballot boxes arrived from the polling stations one of the count officials announced over the public address system the table it would go to. The first step was to count and record the number of ballot papers in each box and ensure that the numbers matched the totals recorded at each polling station; then postal votes were mixed with votes cast earlier that day; and then the count proper could begin. Colette had predicted results between 3.00 and 4.00 a.m., and the scene of concentration and activity was most impressive.
Every now and then Robert and I took a break from watching the counting and caught up with national events on the television in the foyer of the Leisure Centre. To say that the results starting to come in from around the country confounded expectations would be an understatement.
One particularly interesting aspect of the count was the reviewing of doubtful ballot papers – doubtful because the intention of the voter might not have been clear, or where more had been written on the ballot paper than the simple X against one candidate. Representatives of the candidates were able to see the papers and to challenge the judgement of a senior official if they disagreed; but all the issues I saw were quickly resolved.
As Colette had predicted, the constituencies were ready to declare at about 3.20 a.m.: Hereford and South Herefordshire first, and then, after a short delay for a partial recount, North Herefordshire. I was given the paper with all the numbers and then on the dais, with the candidates standing first in one constituency and then the other declared the results. My congratulations go to Jesse Norman and to Bill Wiggin, and my best wishes to them for the service they will give to the people of our County in the new Parliament. My last duty was to endorse the Writs for each constituency – the legal proof that they are MPs.
The Council had hired the Sports Hall for 24 hours, and less than 20 minutes after the declaration of the second result the hall had been almost completely cleared of all the tables, chairs, signs, computers, printers and boxes – very impressive.
I was most grateful to Alistair Neill for his company during the evening, and for the support he and his staff gave me as Returning Officer. Special thanks too to Colette Maund, the Head of Electoral Services. The whole team, both permanent staff and those brought in for the count, performed superbly; it was a very efficient and impressive operation which reflected great credit on everyone involved.
I think I have now just about caught up on my sleep!
Monday, 5th June 2017
To the Herefordshire Light Infantry Museum at Suvla Barracks, Harold Street. A fascinating briefing by Colonel Andy Taylor, the County Colonel of The Rifles and the Curator of the Museum. Andy traced the history of the Regiment from the Herefordshire and Radnorshire Rifle Volunteers, formed in 1861, via its existence as the Volunteer Battalion of The King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, to becoming the 1st Battalion, The Herefordshire Regiment, in 1909.
At the start of the First World War the Regiment was expanded to three Battalions, and the 1st Battalion landed at Suvla Bay in August 1915 in the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign, fighting with great fortitude but suffering appalling casualties. As my New Zealand grandfather was fighting with the ANZACs only a mile or two away from the Herefordshire Regiment at the time, it was gripping to hear Andy’s description of the Regiment’s experiences. Had the senior commanders been more flexible and imaginative, the outcome might have been very different.
A feature of the Museum is the collection of medal groups, and the military and family stories that they tell. Andy has been untiring in bringing together all aspects of the Regiment’s history (including the pennant from Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz’s official car – kept by the Regiment “in safe custody” after being acquired at the surrender of German forces in Denmark).
My warm thanks to Colonel Andy Taylor for a fascinating morning. Do have a look at the website: herefordshirelightinfantrymuseum.com for information about the Museum and how to visit it. I can thoroughly recommend it.
Sunday, 4th June 2017
It was a great privilege to attend a Service of Remembrance at Ross-on-Wye Town Cemetery, Tudorville, to commemorate the 35th Anniversary of the ending of the Falklands War. This was an intensely moving ceremony, which took place at the graveside of Private Timothy Jenkins of 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment (3PARA), a Ross lad who was killed in the fierce battle for Mount Longdon on 12th June 1982 – poignantly, only two days before the Argentine surrender – and which was attended by a number of veterans of the Falklands War, many from his Battalion.
The Service was led by The Revd Colin Leggate of St Mary’s Church, and was accompanied by the Band of The Rifles. The tributes to a young man whose life was cut short while unflinchingly doing his duty were memorable, especially that by Trevor Bradshaw, a comrade from 3PARA who also fought in the battle.
After the Last Post, the Silence and Reveille, wreaths were laid at the grave, and I was proud to lay my wreath as High Sheriff. Major Patrick Darling DL, representing the Lord-Lieutenant, gave a masterly address describing the achievement of the Task Force: the meticulous planning, the boldness of execution, the outstanding teamwork – and, of course the determination and bravery of those who took part. Patrick paid tribute to those who fell, to those whose grievous injuries are still with them today, and to the families and friends of those killed and injured.
I offered up the Prayer of the South Atlantic Medal Association, and I will never forget the privilege of doing so by the grave of a courageous young soldier.
My special thanks to Graham Aplin, the Chairman of Ross-on-Wye British Legion, and to Margaret Jones, the Secretary, for their perfect organisation of the Commemoration.
Thursday, 1st June 2017
To Buckingham Palace for one of The Queen’s Garden Parties. Beautifully organised as always, with the Royal Household’s great skill at making everyone feel valued and welcome. A baking hot day (so good that High Sheriffs are not expected to wear their uniform to Garden Parties!). The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh led a considerable number of members of the Royal Family down the steps from the Palace and through the throngs of guests in the gardens.
It was a pleasure to meet a number of friends (Herefordshire well represented!) but the highlight of my day was a conversation with the High Sheriff of Greater Manchester, Kui Man Gerry Yeung. We talked about the right response to the horrific events at the Manchester Arena on 22 May, and what role he as High Sheriff could play in remembrance, recognising the heroism of many, and bringing communities together.
Saturday 27th May 2017
To Eardisland, to take part in the celebrations of the tenth anniversary of the twinning of Eardisland with a remarkably similar community in Normandy, La Vieille Lyre; like Eardisland, a vibrant rural community, concerned with apples, cider, and beef (as well as tourism).
What I had not realised was the ancient close relationship between the two communities. This goes back for almost a thousand years, when Eardisland’s Norman overlord William Fitz-Osbern (who had arrived with William the Conqueror) raised taxes to support and enrich his abbey in La Vieille Lyre. But, as the Vice-Lord-Lieutenant Christopher James pointed out in his witty speech, the Hundred Years War intervened, and Eardisland thought that is was rather unfair to help subsidise the opposition…
I was able to explain the ancient origins and the modern role of a High Sheriff (not known in France) and, in keeping with the bilingual nature of the celebrations, my speech was interpreted into French by my husband Robert.
The occasion ended with lovely singing (in English and in French) by the Choir of Kingsland Primary School, in which we were all encouraged to join; and, in a week marked by the dreadful events in Manchester, the songs they sang reminded us of how love and understanding will always overcome hatred.
Best wishes to La Vieille Lyre and Eardisland for the next ten years of this very successful twinning.
Friday 26th May
I was able to snatch a sandwich at home before setting out again for Withington Primary School for the Passing Out Parade of Young Police Cadets. This was a fascinating experience: the result of the County’s first Young Cadet Scheme involving Year Six pupils aged 10/11 who are in their last year of primary school.
In a four-week course, fitted into their school commitments, the Young Cadets learned how to use the police notebook and radio procedure; saw how an emergency call is received and acted upon (and they were allowed to apprehend a “suspect”, followed by a ride in a Police van!); were taught about forensic techniques and fingerprinting; and, to complete the course, took part in a mock trial which showed them how the gathering of evidence fits into the judicial process.
My warm congratulations go to West Mercia Police for taking this initiative, and especially to Sergeant Duncan Reynolds and PC Chris Lea, the Youth Engagement Officer. The experience that these young people have had will be invaluable in letting them see the Police as trusted guides and advisers, rather than in the negative way that can so easily arise in some of our communities. I am looking forward very much to seeing this splendid initiative involving other young people in the County.
It was a great pleasure to be able to present certificates to some of those involved, and I very much hope that this experience will be a positive and formative one as they move through their education and into the world of work.
Friday 26th May 2017
Our third Royal Visit of my term of office – Herefordshire is doing very well! This was the visit by HRH The Duchess of Cornwall to Jamie’s Farm, near Rowlestone, of which she is Patron. Jamie’s Farm is a splendid initiative, which helps disadvantaged children to flourish at home, in education and in the community through an intensive week-long immersion in rural life. “Farming, family and therapy” is the theme, and the care and commitment of the staff is really something to be seen.
After the Duchess’s arrival and the presentations, I toured the farm with Emma Thacker-Vuts, the Senior Visit Coordinator, and we moved from cookery to woodwork, vegetable gardening and ponies, and past the cattle and sheep. In each area, the very high staff/young people ratio was crucial in increasing self-confidence and the ability to engage and contribute.
Jamie’s Farm now welcomes more than 700 young people a year, and in addition to a farm in Bath and the one in Rowlestone is about to open another near Monmouth. I especially enjoyed meeting a range of volunteers who support this endeavour (and sampling some of the snacks I saw the young people cooking earlier!).
This was a wonderfully happy occasion, in brilliant sunshine, at the end of which HRH unveiled a plaque marking the opening of this Herefordshire Farm. Jamie’s Farm performs a unique and invaluable role. There will be an Open Day later in the year – do look out for it.
25th May 2017
A fascinating meeting at the Town Hall with Colette Maund, Head of Electoral Services, and Erica Hermon, Deputy Head of Law and Governance, of Herefordshire Council. By law, a High Sheriff is the Returning Officer for the County Constituencies within the County for which she or he is High Sheriff. In Herefordshire we have two constituencies: North Herefordshire and Hereford and South Herefordshire.
My predecessor-but-one, Edward Harley, was in office for the 2015 General Election which under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act happened predictably, five years after the 2010 Election. Mrs May’s surprise calling of an Election means that I will act as Returning Officer following polling on 8th June.
The meeting with Colette and Erica was for them to brief me about the process of counting the votes after the polls close on 8th June, leading up to my declaration of the result in the early hours of 9th June.
I was hugely impressed by the thoroughness of the preparations by Electoral Services staff (even though the calling of the Election took many of us by surprise). And the processes and cross-checks to ensure that the count is accurate were complex but extremely reassuring. After my briefing we went upstairs to the main hall to watch part of the first day’s processing of postal votes. Here a process of counting and cross-checking was being carried out by twenty staff.
I am much looking forward to the experience of announcing the results in our County, and I urge everyone who is entitled to vote to exercise their precious democratic right on 8th June.
Saturday 20th May 2017
An unforgettable evening in the Cathedral to commemorate the 35th Anniversary of the Falklands War, the local Servicemen killed in action and the loss of Hereford’s own ship HMS ANTELOPE. The Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines, Plymouth, provided the music, which was outstanding, with talented soloists as well as pieces for the Band as a whole.
The first half of the evening was a splendid programme of music written for, or arranged for military band; but the second part of the evening was more reflective, as we sang the hymn Eternal Father, strong to save, and a White Ensign, marking the strong connection between the City and the Royal Navy, was presented to the Dean and laid up in the Cathedral. The 27 names of those from Herefordshire and its Armed Forces units who lost their lives were read, and were followed by the Last Post and Reveille. It was an intensely moving and emotional experience as we remembered with sorrow but also with pride those who had been killed.
It was especially poignant for me to meet, at a gathering before the Service, the family of Steward Mark Stephens, who was killed on 23rd May 1982 when a bomb hit ANTELOPE.
As I say, an unforgettable evening. My thanks go especially to Rear Admiral Philip Wilcocks and to Kevin Ebsworth of SSAFA for all their hard work in organising the occasion.