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Inverness Military Wives Choir prepare for first Remembrance concert since pandemic

By Val Sweeney

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The Inverness Military Wives Choir will perform in a Remembrance concert at Inverness Cathedral.
The Inverness Military Wives Choir will perform in a Remembrance concert at Inverness Cathedral.

As the Inverness Military Wives Choir stages its Remembrance concerts on Saturday, it will prompt a mix of emotions and reflections for those taking part and watching.

It is the highlight of the year for the 20-strong choir but for one member, the concert at Inverness Cathedral is taking place while her husband is on the other side of the world.

Shelagh Omondi's husband is a corporal based at Fort George and is currently in Australia while previously he has been deployed in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Cyprus.

For Shelagh and other members, the choir provides an important support network – and was there for her when she was diagnosed with cancer while her husband was away.

Shelagh (48) joined the choir about six years ago when she and her husband moved in together and she felt she did not have a clue about military family life.

"It was a route to getting to meet people who had been there and done that," recalled Shelagh who heard about the choir on BFBS radio.

"It is such a support no matter how bad it gets.

"Now, I am getting to be an old hand in passing on my support."

Shelagh Omondi of the Inverness Military Wives Choir.
Shelagh Omondi of the Inverness Military Wives Choir.

Shelagh, who is a study co-ordinator for research and development and innovation in the NHS, found choir members a particular source of support as they rallied round when she was diagnosed with cancer while her husband was in Iraq.

"We had to deal with all of that while he was in the middle of a deployment which was not fun," she said.

"The first person I told was someone from the choir. I didn't know what to do but I needed to tell the choir.

"They gave me wonderful support. I couldn't have done it without them.

"That is now five years past and I am absolutely clear."

Shelagh sings in the soprano two section along with choir chairman Jackie Smith who as an RAF intelligence analyst, was posted to places such as the Falkland Islands, Berlin and Gibraltar.

Jackie Smith of the Inverness Military Wives Choir.
Jackie Smith of the Inverness Military Wives Choir.

After leaving the service in 2000, Jackie (55) settled in Inverness just over five years ago and is now a development worker with AspireNorth which supports young people in higher education.

"I like singing but I didn't realise I could join the Military Wives Choir as I was not a wife," she said.

But having discovered it was open to her, she went along to a rehearsal at Wimberley Way Community Centre in Inverness.

"I was a wee bit anxious and not sure what I had signed up for but they welcomed in and I have been going ever since," she said.

"It gave me back that connection and sense of belonging."

Last year, she was one of 40 members drawn from military wives choirs worldwide who were set to perform at last year's Last Night of the Proms but due to the death of the Queen it did not go ahead.

Instead, the choir was filmed at the Royal Albert Hall and the recording of Running Up That Hill, arranged by Gareth Malone, was screened on TV as part of Children In Need.

Another highlight was singing as runners in Cancer Research's Inverness Race For Life ran around Ness Islands.

As she takes part in the Remembrance concerts, she will reflect on people she has lost – people who have served, family and friends.

"I will be thinking about them and everything which is going on in the world just now.

"It is very poignant."

Tracey Walsh of the Inverness Military Wives Choir.
Tracey Walsh of the Inverness Military Wives Choir.

Tracey Walsh – whose husband Steve previously served with the RAF at a senior level including roles in the Ministry of Defence and Permanent Joint Headquarters – is also looking forward to performing in Saturday's Remembrance concert which will be the first one since the coronavirus pandemic.

"It is one of our absolute favourites to do," she said.

"It is important to try to do it justice."

She said the choir, which was formed seven years ago, was diverse with members including wives, daughters, mothers, serving and ex-serving women and women from ex-service families.

Although the Remembrance concerts are a highlight of the year, the choir also performs at other times and visits care homes.

She outlined the importance of the choir to members.

"Many of members have settled here and have our husbands and family around us," she said.

"Some women are far away from family and that support network.

"The choir gives them somewhere to go to be with others who understand.

"Sing, share, support is our tagline."

* Saturday's Remembrance concerts at Inverness Cathedral will take place from 3pm to 4pm and 7pm to 8pm.

It will raise money for Military Wives Choirs and Poppy Scotland. People will also be invited to give donations to the Highland branch of the Seagull Trust and Inverness Cathedral.

Tickets cost £10, £8 concession and £5 for children and are available via Eventbrite, or at the door.

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