Rum ceremony comes to an end

When three ex-sailors sat in a village pub bemoaning the loss of the Royal Navy's rum ration, they were about to begin an annual tradition which would last 17 years.

When three ex-sailors sat in a village pub bemoaning the loss of the Royal Navy's rum ration, they were about to begin an annual tradition which would last 17 years.

And today a small coffin containing an empty rum bottle will be processed through the streets of a Suffolk village miles from the sea for the last time before being buried in the garden of the Queen's Head pub, beneath a wooden tombstone.

The maritime tradition at Stradbroke, near Eye, began after a conversation in 1990 involving ex-naval ratings, Alan Macnee, Fred Barfield and Bob Osborne, about the ending of the Royal Navy's rum ration 20 years earlier.

So the trio - soon joined by a fourth ex-sailor, local postman Bob Rayson - built a cart and organised a procession in which an empty rum bottle was carried in a coffin through the village.

The next year the Navy Day procession was joined by other villagers and a "flag deck party" of local youngsters became involved, taught their skills by Mr Macnee. Invitations went out to such notables as US President Ronald Reagan, the Duke of Edinburgh and Diana, Princess of Wales to attend the parade but all were met were polite excuses for non-attendance.

Then, following a request to the First Lord of the Admiralty to attend the event, the Royal Navy became involved, sending an "inspecting officer" to take the salute and, eventually, hosting a visit to HMS Bristol at Portsmouth by the young members of the flag deck party.

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The Royal Navy also supplied the youngsters with uniforms.

Soon, Stradbroke's Navy Day became a celebration which was enjoyed each year by a large crowd.

Now, however, the rum bottle is to be carried through Stradbroke for the last time before being placed in its grave.

Mr Barfield and Mr Osborne have both died since the tradition was established.

Mr Macnee, who spent nearly three years in the Royal Navy in the latter years of the Second World War and later served for 14 years in the Royal Naval Reserve, is now 80 years old.

He feels he cannot continue to organise the event or train a new batch of flag deck youngsters.

"I can't cope any more with making all the arrangements and it is time to call it a day," he said.

Mr Macnee joined the Royal Navy in 1944 and served on an aircraft carrier, a landing ship and a destroyer before being demobbed in 1946/7.

He worked in the Middle East, in the oil industry, before returning to the UK in the 1960s and spending 14 years in the Royal Navy Reserve.

A photograph of him as a young man in naval uniform hangs on the wall of the Queen's Head - together with portraits of Mr Barfield and Mr Osborne.

The last Navy Day parade at Stradbroke begins from the parish church at 8pm tonight and will be followed by music from the Old Hat Concert Band and fireworks.

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