A service to both celebrate and commemorate Armed Forces Day and the Centenary of the Royal British Legion was held in Orihuela Cathedral (La Santa Iglesia cathedral del Salvador y Santa Maria de Orihuela) on Saturday in the presence of Her Majesty’s Ambassador, Hugh Elliott, and the Mayor of Orihuela Emilio Bascuñana.

They were joined by guests who included the British Defence Attache, Captain Ian Clarke RN, Liz Bell, the British Vice Consul in Alicante, Orihuela Councillor for Foreign Residents, Dña. Mariola Rocamora Gisbert, as well as members of the British and Spanish Armed Forces and Security Services.

Unfortunately, however, both the traditional parade to the church, and the cloisters reception following the service, were cancelled because of current Covid restrictions, whilst the number attending the service itself was severely restricted by social distancing.

It was also necessary to cancel the attendance of Pensioners from the Royal Hospital Chelsea because of the current health situation, although 95 year old D-Day Veteran Joe (the Cat Man) Billet was able to make the journey from his home in Quesada, but Fr Richard Dunstan-Meadows and Fr. Emilio M Sanchez were still able to deliver a most fitting and appropriate bilingual service to a congregation of almost 200 people, the maximum that social distancing allowed to gather for the event in the cathedral.

The service got underway as Standard Bearers representing the RBL Spain, RAFA, RNA, RMA, British and Spanish military veterans, marched into the cathedral accompanied by The RBL Concert Band in Spain, led by David Last, as it played the Royal British Legion March.

During the joint denomination service of readings and hymns, conducted in English and Spanish, there was further musical accompaniment by the Royal British Legion Band, as well as a moving duet of ‘The Prayer’ from the Musical ‘Quest for Camelot’ performed by local entertainer and supporter Stevie Spit BEM and Lucina O’Connell, that was especially arranged for the service.

Also during the service the Last Post was played by Alwyn Pollendine followed by Piper David Heaney who promenaded though the cathedral as he played the lament ‘Hector the Hero.’

It was the first time that the Ambassador, currently the Patron of the Royal British Legion in Spain, had attended the annual event, but during his speech he spoke of his pride at being the Patron of the Royal British Legion in Spain, the 100 years of the RBL, it’s history and it’s achievements, as well as the binding relationship that exists between the UK and Spain Armed Forces

Mayor Bascuñana, also addressed the congregation, the first time he has done so in English. He said how delighted he was that the RBL was able to hold the service, commemorating it’s centenary, in the cathedral’s magnificent surrounds. He also spoke about Orihuela’s perpetual support for the British Community in the municipality and about how moved he had been during parts of a very emotional and extremely appropriate ceremony.

In his sermon, Fr. Richard talked about the history of the RBL, about which he said “we all owe so much.” He added “This event is also a great opportunity to recognise the bravery and dedication of all those who have served, in whatever branch or arm, and it is so humbling to be among you all today.”

Following the service a small reception was held for the guests in the Tudemir Hotel, where the Ambassador told guests, “It was also good to see so many veterans from the many different organisations here in Spain, and their amazing standard bearers.” I was delighted to see such a great show of support from them all, who, despite the pandemic, turned out in such numbers to demonstrate how much they value the service that our veterans have provided.”

The RBL would like to convey it’s thanks for hosting the event to the Orihuela Mayor, Emilio Bascuñana and his staff, to the Bishop of Orihuela-Alicante for making the cathedral available for the service and to the standard bearers, piper, RBL musicians and vocalists, who all performed so wonderfully on the day.

Armed Forces Day, held once again in the surrounds of the historic Catedral del Salvador y Santa Maria, truly was an especial occasion. It is hoped the event will continue to grow in both size and reputation for many years to come.