Cologne 2008


You may think, dear reader, that because there was no match report for our 2006 reunion in Guernsey, that the Singapore Dawn Watchers' Society had gone the same way as some of the reunion groups and faded away (as all old soldiers do). Obviously not, because at the excellent Guernsey function, organised by Mick and Kay Roberts, Nik Collett and I did what you are never supposed to do, and volunteered to organise the 2008 reunion in Germany where we both still work. The raison d’etre being that, despite the Dawn Watchers being Far East veterans, just about everybody moved on to serve in Germany; some for the rest of their careers.

Nik and I considered several locations, loosely based on the old BAOR main base areas, Hannover, Bielefeld, Dusseldorf etc, but after taking into account the usual SDWS success factors – convenience for travel, hotel standards, places of interest and shopping, the ancient city of Cologne was selected. Hours of research to find a suitable venue were carried out, including a trudge round Cologne by Nik and me and our wives, Chris and Pam, before the City Centre Hilton Hotel was selected. After all, this had to be suitable for the 40th anniversary of the foundation of the Singapore Daw Wwatchers, and the 20th anniversary of our first reunion in York. In fact, to commemorate the occasion Nik had got a Dutch jeweller to produce solid silver tie pins bearing the Dawn Watchers’ distinctive “Lion and Palm Tree” logo. 

Normally, the SDWS tour package is done and dusted about eighteen months in advance, but with typical Teutonic thoroughness, the Germans would not negotiate with us until we were within a fiscal year of the proposed date. This put a lot of pressure on Nik who, as a fluent German speaker, was doing all the face to face bargaining. With a little commercial guidance from me, as someone who has been involved in every SDWS reunion apart from London ’99, and Guernsey ’06, Nik cut a fantastic deal with the management. (And I do mean fantastic.) For those of you who may be familiar with Cologne, the hotel was within five minutes walk from the Cathedral, the Station, the Rhine and yes, you’ve guessed it, the shops! I think I can safely say, with the support of the membership, that this was the best hotel we had been in since our memorable return to the Far East in 2000. We agreed a commitment to the hotel of 60 guests for the weekend, with a strong possibility of some longer stays. Nik then did another deal for a drinks package for the evening of the function which was based on €38 per person for all the beer, wine and soft drinks you can drink before midnight. We took a look at the usual hotel drinks price list and you can probably guess the rest. Suffice to say, I suspect that the deal probably didn’t prove to be a major source of profit for the Hilton Hotel! 

Other factors crucial in organising a successful SDWS reunion are an excellent buffet, and good entertainment. Once again, the hotel came up trumps by offering an Asian themed menu, with something for everybody’s taste. Unlike UK hotels which usually have a resident DJ who comes in the price, German hotels are slightly different and don’t offer entertainment as part of the package, so we had to think outside the box. I know an ex-BFBS DJ who was available for the gig, but Nik hit the jackpot with a band from Rheindahlen, appropriately named “Half Cut”. We scrounged the fee from Mick Conway’s central fund and another top deal was done!

With all the arrangements in place, the next task was to disseminate the evidence to the membership. Out went the final mail-shot, and with bated breath we awaited the returns. Good grief! Almost within hours, there was a return from Mac and Hela Bryan, all the way from Oz, with a deposit! Before long there were 62 confirmed bookings, with Alfie Knought playing on the bus, off the bus. There some last minute withdrawals, namely Dave Hollinshead (on his way to his first ever Dawn Watchers), Willie and Sandy Lawson, as Sandy became ill once more, Dave and Sandie Peaks and Jock and Bridget Cassidy. We had provisionally booked accommodation for 60, and we finally ended up with 58 attendees – Alfie finally ended up off the bus, much to Pam’s disgust.

Pam and I overnighted with Nik and Chris on Thursday (to get some drinking practice in), and set off for Cologne on Friday morning. There were already Dawn Watchers in situ when we arrived, and more had gone sightseeing. Hela Bryan was accosted in the city centre by a friend from Oz who was passing through on a Rhine cruise! Small world eh? Nik did his genial host bit and went on a recce to see if everything was OK with the Friday evening RV. Time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted, and nor was it this time. Our proposed RV was fully booked, so Nik had to find an ERV. What a star! The ERV was the keller bar of Gaffel im Dom, even nearer to the hotel, and with its own brewery! Nik scrounged a flip chart and scrawled the details of the ERV in HUGE red letters on it, then left it in a prominent position in the foyer. Everybody managed to find the ERV except the Whitneys, who still went to the original RV. Doh! Fred and Liz Philpott couldn’t make the trip (Sorry Liz!), as Liz had broken her leg ski-ing, so they stayed in the hotel bar with Mick and Kay Roberts. Gaffel im Dom proved an inspired choice, as the menu consisted of massive plates of food, best shared one between three, and the boss was so pleased with the amount of beer we were shifting he gave us not one, but two free barrels of beer. When that was gone, it was back to the hotel bar for more late drinks and to catch up late arrivals such as Eric and Liz Fitzsimons.

Saturday morning saw the majority of the company enjoying a magnificent breakfast in the hotel restaurant before disappearing to enjoy the many activities offered in Cologne, whether it was a visit to the Chocolate Museum, the Cathedral, the Roman Museum, the shops or even a cruise on the Rhine. Saturday was Grand National day, and Brian Ashcroft had organised a sweepstake, followed by a showing of the race in the Sports Bar where we joined by some curious Germans. Once the race was over, Nik and I prepared the room with the Dawn Watchers paraphernalia (minus the shield which was stuck in Blighty with Dave Peaks), then did our roadie bit by helping in Half Cut with their gear. Then it was back to the room for the four “S”s.
The lobby bar was crowded from 1900 hours, with everybody in best bib and tucker with the ladies all looking sensational. John Barnes had finally made it, via an overnight stay in Dortmund, and was enjoying his first German beer for quite a while. At 2045 we made our way into the function room to be treated royally by Andrea, the Functions Manager and her staff. Nik made his welcome speech, and presented Andrea with a bouquet to thank her for the top class service. We gave our usual “Absent Friends” toast, mentioning Rod Harris and Nicky Cole-Mackintosh, both recently passed away, and welcomed back one or two close friends who had recovered from illness. Once we had explained to the wine waiters that it would be easier if they just left the bottle, rather than doing the polite hovering thing, waiting for an empty glass to fill, the party got under way. The buffet was truly marvellous, with a wide selection of soups, starters, fish and meat dishes, and even a selection of Eastern style desserts.

The band started their first set, and from the word go they proved a real success, with a crowded dance floor from their opening number. Halfway through the evening we held our raffle, with Fred Philpott having a particularly successful night (but then we had blagged him for double helpings of tickets). The raffle raised €276 for the central fund, which was presented to Mick Conway to put in the bank. The band came back for their second spot, which proved even more popular than their first. It was with some regret that they played their final number just after midnight, to conform with the hotel booking rules, but there was just time for a parade of the Chelsea Pensioners as a finale. Just out of interest, for those of you who don’t know, the band actually put an entry on their website, with pictures, of the gig, saying how much they had enjoyed it. We all enjoyed it so much, that this was the very first SDWS reunion at which the liar dice never made an appearance! Not even in the bar afterwards! Fitzy got his guitar out though, and the other guests were treated to a rip-roaring Dawn Watchers-style sing-song.

Another thing that didn’t happen was the award of the ‘Man of The Match’ trophy, but anyone who dares to oppose me awarding it to Nik Collett is treading on thin ice.

If anybody out there in the Green and Grey world still doesn’t agree that Dawn Watchers’ reunions are momentous events, please take note of the fact that when the Cologne Hilton reported their figures to Head Office in the Good Ole US of A, Hilton HQ expressed an interest in what Dawn Watchers was all about.

So, all that remains, dear reader, is to reassure you that Dawn Watchers is alive and kicking, and will take place again in 2010. Suggested venues so far are Falmouth and Spain, but I rather fancy a return to York (especially as a VERY reliable source tells me that you can get draught Tiger). Watch this space! 

Since I first wrote this, we have sadly lost both Sandie Lawson and Ken Smith. Our sincere commiserations go to Willy and Alison. 

[Dave Wakelam]