Many of you who attended The Not Forgotten Christmas Party at St James’s Palace in December will remember the sight of two metal elephants perched on a table in the Throne Room. The story behind the Elephant Centrepiece is one of determination, comradeship and an opportunity to give back.
Eight years ago, a conversation began between veterans over some beers in the kitchen, after returning from a canoeing trip on the River Spey with The Not Forgotten. They wanted to do something to give back to us, a charity who they say have helped them greatly over the years. Many ideas and some scribbles later, the idea of an elephant centrepiece was born. It was initially created to mark the centenary year of the charity but it stands to represent more than just that.
An older elephant stands proudly next to a younger elephant, to represent the older veterans standing alongside the younger ones who are part of The Not Forgotten. But Johnnie Ray and Darren Swift wanted to go further, and decided they were going to include a reference to the three forces. Representing the Army are 30mm radon cannon shells. Representing the Royal Air Force is a piece from a Tornado Jet, showing its serial number. Finally the Royal Navy, represented by a piece of wood from HMS Illustrious.
For us, we wanted to say thank you to The Not Forgotten for all they have done for us. This is for all of you, a thank you for The Not Forgotten from every beneficiary. The Not Forgotten is a small, but mighty charity. We wanted to represent this with the centrepiece. Small, but in your face. On the surface, it looks simple, but there is a multi-layered story behind it.Johnnie Ray
From eight years until two days before the unveiling, the elephant centrepiece has been a labour of love, with the funding for the creation of the piece being raised through the generosity of the Associations beneficiaries. For nearly ten years, the idea would slowly become a reality, with a close relationship formed between the beneficiaries involved. Unaware of who would be doing the unveiling, Johnnie says that they had a number of the ‘Unveiled By…’ plaques made up, just in case. On the day, it was Princess Anne who was presented the Centrepiece.
This incredible piece of The Not Forgotten story is, however, tinged with sadness. Peter McMurray, another veteran volunteer who was instrumental in developing the project with his boundless energy and enthusiasm passed away before the centrepiece was completed. In Peter’s memory, there features a small plaque in his honour, as the base of the Elephants feet.
Chairman of The Not Forgotten, David Cowley, was just impressed as the rest of us. “A few days before the Christmas Party at St James’s Palace in December, a huge crate arrived at The Not Forgotten offices. As soon as we had managed to get it up the stairs and opened, we were all taken aback by the sheer intricacy of the piece. It sits as a real conversation starter with such a unique story behind everything, from its conception to the incorporation of all three Services.”
We really do appreciate this beautifully intricate gift. For us, as a small team, it helps us to cement our feet firmly on the floor as we move forward and take the charity on it’s next exciting chapter, reaffirming that the beneficiary is very much at the heart of all that we do.