Monday, March 27, 2023

Piper Sheila is reeling after being awarded a BEM

LITTLE THURROCK resident, Sheila Hatcher has been awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) in the New Years Honours list.

Sheila has been given the honour for her decades of work for the Dagenham Girl Pipers.

Sheila told YT: “It has been a tremendous honour. I have loved being involved with the pipers. It has taken me all over the world and made so many friends.”

Sheila joined the Dagenham Girl Pipers in May 1958 as an 11 year old raw recruit. She has completed 54 years of continuous unbroken service. She has held every rank/office in the band and learned every discipline which she can impart to her mentees.

Through dedication and hard work she climbed the ladder of achievement to the ultimate rank of Pipe Major on 2nd October 1980.

She worked on tirelessly and did not allow her duty to be breached. She put the band first and conscientiously gave her time and expertise in training and performing.

On the day, her husband and she became engaged, she had taken the band to a circus in Italy to perform in the big top.

She carried out her duties in training and leading the band whilst also becoming a mother herself and was leading the band on engagements up to one month from the birth of each of her children only taking the minimum of time needed before returning to duty.

Even now, in her 65th year, Sheila has not relaxed and attends practice sessions and goes out with the band. The normal ailments that come with age have not dampened her commitment or prevented her in carrying out her duty. She is available any time for “her girls” and regularly takes telephone calls and provides help and counselling at any hour or day.

Over Sheila’s 54 years involvement with the band she has become a role model for the members and the women of Dagenham for her commitment and motivation.

She has taken young girls and taught them self discipline and social skills to become respected members of the community. She instils values on how to be young ladies, the difference between right and wrong, to earn and pride in the reputation and respect the band enjoys worldwide.

She has mentored the young recruits, steering them through the learning process, to become upright and useful members giving them pride in their achievements. She even opens up her own home acting as a surrogate mother supplying helpful guidance and advice on their journey through life. Many have referred to her as ‘a second mum’ always there and willing to listen.

Over the past 54 years many girls have joined the organisation under Sheila’s wing and she has prepared them for the future by following the disciplines and ethics of the band’s founder The Reverend Graves. They come to the ‘Pipers’ as young girls from Dagenham and leave as young ladies with a set of values to equip them to become better members of society.

Many residents of Dagenham either know or are related to someone who has been a member of the Dagenham Girl Pipers and has probably been in Sheila’s care and guidance and they proudly declare they know someone who was, or is, a piper.

The band is known as an ambassador for Dagenham and has been responsible for not only making the name Dagenham renowned all over England but in many other parts of the world. They accompanied the Mayor and members of the council to Germany for the twinning because without The Dagenham Girl Pipers – Dagenham is not ‘the real Dagenham’.

The other name synonymous with Dagenham is Ford Motor Company who has shut much of their operation but Sheila has fought and worked hard to keep The Dagenham Girl Pipers alive up to today.

In 1967 Sheila travelled to Singapore and trained 30 young Singapore girls who had not played an instrument or danced before. This was kept secret for The Peoples Association. In six months, through Sheila’s hard work and determination, and skill in bringing out the best in people, The Singapore Girl Pipers were born. Sheila had trained and prepared them not only to take part in, but to lead, the National Day Parade in front of the president of Singapore. Sheila herself marched with the girls, she had trained, in the parade. She has not forgotten them, nor them her, and they still keep in contact today she too has become part of their life.

She has accompanied the Dagenham Girl Pipers to Oman, in the United Arab Emirates, and played for the Sultan which at the time was unique for a female band and whilst there they performed for the English garrison.

They have performed all over Europe, America and South Africa.

Under Sheila’s leadership The Dagenham Girl Pipers have performed before Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth at the Royal Variety Show and marched in the Lord Mayor’s Parade plus performed in the Royal Albert Hall. They have played at the football cup semi-final in Sheffield.

When travelling to America, to perform in The Latin Quarter New York at the tender age of 17, and on licence, Sheila was in the band that performed on the ‘Queen Elizabeth’ ocean Liner and danced with the Duke of Windsor.

Sheila has always remembered her own community and has made the band friends with the local British Legion motivating the girls to lead the Remembrance Day parade each year and take part in the Dagenham Town Show. She has always been willing to take part in the community and has helped giving talks in schools and community organisations in the area.

Sheila moved to Grays Thurrock in 1981 but still travels back to Dagenham to train and take part in the Pipers. She never misses the opportunity to take part in a performance.



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