For a number of years, the outside back cover of the Programme carried an explanation of our title: 'The Blue Bonnets Gathering', and a 'brief description of its history'. In 1986 it became necessary to make some alterations in format and content, due to the death of Tom T., our last surviving founder. Sentiment suggests that nothing could be more appropriate than that our beginnings should continue to be related in Tom's own words, as he described them in an article in the October 1978 edition of Roundabout, entitled "From Small Acorns Great Oaks Grow" It is reprinted with our acknowledgments to The General Service Board of Alcoholics Anonymous GB Ltd.
FROM SMALL ACORNS GREAT OAKS GROW
When asked to write a few lines about the Blue Bonnets, I found myself at a loss. Not stuck for something to say, rather suffering from an embarrassment of riches. What to omit? Each gathering in the sequence since 1954 has developed its own character, but all have much in common. Regimentation has been kept to a minimum and this has ensured a high level of spontaneity. The last Gathering I attended I thought "How careful one should be about starting anything new in A.A., you never know where it will end". The Blue Bonnets has grown and matured and has brought great joy and help to so many of us.
With hindsight, I realise how wonderfully we have been led. I started to help Sam R. get the Dumfries group off the ground. We were to find ourselves, years later still off our target. But no honest effort in A.A. is ever wasted! We found so much enjoyment in simply meeting and sharing with members from many different places, we decided to repeat "Operation Blue Bonnets" the following year.
In addition to our alcoholism Sam and I had a lot in common. Almost the same age to a day, we had both served in the King's Own Scottish Borderers during the First World War and had marched many a mile to the regiment's most famous pipe tune "Blue Bonnets Over the Border". When I wrote to Sam to tell him that members of the Birmingham and Manchester groups were coming to Dumfries, I asked him to write to all the Scottish groups and invite them to meet us. I wrote "Tell them the English are invading Scotland once more. Raise the old border war cry, 'Blue Bonnets to the Border'". Sam did his part manfully and an amazing weekend resulted. This started a chain of Gatherings held once a year. Everyone who has ever attended one of those Gatherings has come away with a store of memories and a host of new friends.
Personally, when I recall the first Open Meeting on the Saturday evening in the Wee Free's Church Hall, I have one picture in mind: a small room, crowded and nearly blacked out by tobacco smoke, and the Kirk minister, eyes smarting, stumbling around trying to open ventilation. We did not know that the Wee Frees do not approve of smoking on their church premises and we had failed to warn them that A.A.'s smoke between cigarettes.
Standing by the door was a Manchester member, who volunteered to act as doorkeeper and guided latecomers to seats quietly. I can see him now, he looked so ill. I found out later that he had to have a kidney removed. We became very close friends until his death in 1968. That was Tom G., one of our most stalwart supporters of the Blue Bonnets, a real friend indeed!
In my opinion the great success of these Gatherings has been due to a large extent to Anonymity. A succession of dedicated people have steered them, but no-one has ever tried to 'boss' them. To mention all these people by name would be boring, but of course whenever the Blue Bonnets Gatherings are mentioned, the name of Jack Mace, of Glasgow, will always spring to mind.
With growth, we lose a little of the intimacy of earlier Gatherings but I suggest that we who have derived so much from these Gatherings, should ensure that newcomers to our fellowship get the chance to savour the heady draught of fellowship which we recall with so much pleasure.
So the Blue Bonnets Gathering, forerunner of both the English and Scottish Conventions, has for the past 65 years taken place each year during the first weekend in October. Each in turn has been voted 'The Best Yet'. Our meetings have progressed from the Wee Free's Church Hall - Oughton's Restaurant - South and Townhead Church Hall - King's Arms - The County Building and then the much-loved Loreburn Hall where we stayed for over thirty years until we relocated to the DG One Centre. Urgent repairs to the DG One meant that we had a one-year move to the very cold Ice Bowl in 2015. Now we are in the Easterbrook Hall again and we have brought our special feelings to this very nice venue. We are grateful to the many Dumfries people who have given us so much support.
So once again we A.A. friends say "Au Revoir". If this is your first Blue Bonnets you'll never forget it; you'll want to return. We wish you all a 'Last Goodbye'.
Tom's words to Sam R., "Tell him the English are invading Scotland once more. Raise the old border cry - 'Blue Bonnets to the Border'", have been echoed and responded to once more, not only by the Scots, but by ever-increasing number of our friends from across the Irish Sea and even the remote parts of the Globe.