It is feared that the health pandemic could affect this year's Remembrance Sunday commemorations in Belgium. The coronavirus crisis is likely to have a financial impact on the local Poppy Appeal, given that it is feared the public may well be cautious about the risks of touching collection tins and the poppies themselves.
Even so, the Legion's Brussels branch plans to go ahead with holding a social distanced/masked ceremony at Heverlee Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery at Leuven on 8 November (11am).
This will be in the presence of British Ambassador Martin Shearman, UK Ambassador to NATO Dame Sarah Macintosh, as well as top brass from the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Poland, and Belgium.
Belgian rules currently allow for the event to proceed.
The Brussels branch, which celebrates its centenary in 2022, will be represented by Zoe White MBE (pictured), a former major in the British Army and the first female chair in its history.
White joined the international staff at NATO HQ in Brussels as an executive officer in 2017. She said she moved to NATO "to develop my political knowledge of defence and security matters and, most importantly, to continue to serve in an organization whose ethos and values I truly believe in."
She entered the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 2000, after a short stint in her home unit, the Royal Gibraltar Regiment. She was commissioned into the Royal Signals and served in the Army for 17 years.
White has considerable operational experience. She deployed to Kosovo on Op Agricola, Iraq on Op Telic (three times), Afghanistan on Op Herrick (three times) and Northern Ireland on Op Banner (for two years).
She specialized in providing lifesaving measures to counter radio controlled explosive devices and was awarded the MBE for her work in Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland.
During her last nine-month operational tour of Afghanistan she was embedded with the US Marine Corps and among other tasks, was responsible for mentoring and training the communications directors across the local uniformed services (Army, Police, Border Patrol) in Helmand - a role, she says, that taught her much about the value of authentic dialogue (and left her with a love of cardamom tea and dates).
Looking back at her military career, she says: "I was privileged to command soldiers who were technical experts and absolute forces of nature. It was a joy to serve with them."
A self-confessed "defence geek", Zoe studied Battlespace Technology at Cranfield University where she expanded her knowledge of heavy armour and "exquisite" weaponry. She is currently studying for an MBA in her spare time.
Zoe, whose husband David is also a retired Royal Signals officer ,was elected Chair of the Brussels branch of the Royal British Legion in September 2020, succeeding Commodore Darren Bone RN. She is the first female chair of the branch since its launch in 1922.
The Prince of Wales and future King Edward VIII met founding members of the branch in June 1922.
White adds, “I am delighted to take custody of the Branch chair role. It is both a way to meaningfully continue my service to veterans and those still serving, and to continue the tradition of Remembrance in a country where so many made the ultimate sacrifice for the lives we live today.”
Branch website & contact details.