Giving a public speech when you hate public speaking or My Remembrance Sunday Reading

People say to confront your fears and they will recede.  Well I can definitely say that this is not the case.  I’ve always hated flying and I’ve flown 37 times.  Flight 37 was every bit as terrifying as flight 27, 17 and 7. I think everyone would agree I have given flying more than a fair shot to know whether I like it or not.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it here before but I absolutely detest public speaking, I have long had a phobia about it.  So much so that it would make me physically ill, often in the bushes on the way to the bus stop or in the toilets at university or work.

You coudn’t find someone who hated public speaking more than I or indeed any sort of attention.  Yet somehow I’ve ended up on the television and radio multiple times and as some of you might remember, started this year working on a video for the CWGC (Commonwealth Wargraves Commission).  You can check it out on this post here, scroll down a little and there it is.

I’m a real introvert (see my post Speaking Up For Introverts) I never even use the phone, certainly not to call anyone and if anyone wants to contact me, I have email and that goes for business too.  Thankfully I am a prolific emailer and something of a writer.

As such it was with some alarm that I was contacted a week ago and asked if I would be willing to work out and read out a reading on Sunday for the annual Remembrance Sunday comemoration service for Leavesden village Memorial.  Apparently I’m something of a pillar of the community which is, I find, a little disconcerting!! I like to help people but am more of the seen and not heard variety.

Just a month ago, I gave a Jack The Ripper tour to 60 school children and I assumed after that this might be the hardest public speaking engagement I would have all year.

I’m all ready nervous about my reading on Sunday, and have been for about a week now.   It’s not easy being green, as Kermit the Frog once sang.  Nor is it easy having an unusual, nominal talent whilst being very happy to live as a hermit!  Would I get all these requests if I was a bus driver or toilet cleaner?   I’d have thought being a writer-tour guide would be equally inoccuous but it seems not.


On the plus side it gives me a chance to honour my ancestors on this special day and if I can help the wider community or maybe even inspire some of the children who will be there then that of course is a wonderful thing to do and an honour in itself.

I didn’t ask to do it but then the millions who fought and died likely weren’t too keen to go off and fight and die to give their more wimpy descendants like myself the opportunity to live the life we do.  Compared to their sacrifices, it is a trifle but when you have a phobia about things, it doesn’t help.  I’ve travelled before in places that are hotspots to say the least which others wouldn’t visit due to war or violence and that honestly didn’t bother me, yet sometimes shock others when I tell them.  They no doubt wouldn’t have a problem with giving a short reading as I happily take a taxi drive through Baghdad.

Nevertheless, unless I can get an urgent flight to eastern Ukraine, it seems I am rather up the creek!

As you can see from the photo below, we have a nice new memorial which was unveiled and replaced the old one in 2014.


I didn’t know what to give as a reading.  A week wasn’t very long to do any research, I could have used some text from Lest We Forget but I wanted to do something more personal to the men who are remembered here.  In the end due to work commitments, I only had a few hours spare but one of the benefits of being a historian is that you can do a lot of research quickly, if you know where to look.
I only have 2 or 3 minutes but as the first reading, it’s important to get things off to a good start as everyone will be paying attention and there wil be about 100-150 of everyone there.  So here it is for everyone who can’t get to Leavesden Green at 10.45am on Sunday morning!
“If you’re anything like me, you’ll walk past this memorial quite often.  It doesn’t matter if you go by every day on the way to school or work. Or if you pass by only on weekend walks or summer bike rides.  You’ll probably stop and take a glance at the names listed here and think about them for a moment or two.  
100 years on, they might be just names to us as the memorial only gives the briefest but most important information, that these brave heroes all died fighting for their country and their family and friends; and for us.
Back then Leavesden was a very different place than it is today and the clues are still there if you know where to look.  100 years ago, this whole area was peaceful, rural farmland.  Just a few dozen people lived here and they all worked on farms and lived in isolated little cottages.

Before the war they had jobs that revolved around the farms.  Many looked after horses or cows.  Ernest Farley whose father was the vicar of Leavesden, was a chauffuer whilst Albert Martin made a living by hand painting coaches.  Captain John Neligan was a doctor from Dublin and he served on a hospital train, dying from Dysentry in Egypt

Most of them won’t even have been to London but a century ago, they left their houses and headed to war, never to return.  Like Private Sharpe who lived on the end cottage and who fought and died in the Machine Gun Corps.  or Alfred Moore who served around the world in Egypt, India and South Africa
Most of the men listed here are buried far away but it is possible to visit three of them quite easily. Sidney Stevens was a Lance Corporal in the army, he was injured in action and was brought back to England.  He died in Bristol hospital and is buried in the cemetery at All Saints Church in Horshoe Lane.   A few metres away lie Corporal Sapsed of the RAF and Bertie Coster.  
Like others on the memorial, Bertie wasn’t the only sibling to die in WW1, his brother Harry looked after cows on the farm but was sent to a different unit and he is buried in France. Another brother George also died but had moved away from Leavesden just before the war so is memorialised elsewhere.
It’s worth also thinking about those left behind such as Martha Bradley.  Her husband Albert had already died before the war and her sons Harry William Bradley and Walter Henry Bradley died separately on the Western Front.  Martha lived until she was 77 and died just before the start of WW2.
Over 16 million people died in WW1 around the world and not including countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa, 887,858 died from the U.K. and colonies.  It changed the world forever, not least in little, peaceful Leavesden where 27 men left to go to war and 27 heroes never returned to a “Land Fit For Heroes.”

My blog is full of WW1 and Armistice Day related posts from the last 4 or 5 years and I have written two books on the subject.

Lest We Forget is available in Kindle and Paperback formats in all good on-line outlets and literary stores too.  The Kindle version is published by Endeavour Press of London, one of the world’s leading digital publishers.  The paperback version is available too for those folk like me who prefer an excellent book and the paperback includes a number of maps and archive photos as well as some personal photos of my family members who like millions of others, fought for our freedom only never to return home.


You can order Lest We Forget: A Concise Companion to the First World War from in Kindle for $4.58and paperback for $9.99 and in Kindle for £2.99 and paperback for £6.99 and other Amazons around the world.

In The Footsteps of Heroes on Kindle and paperback.

In The Footsteps of Heroes comes about as a result of on-site research into Lest We Forget and provides a casual photo guide to the main British and Commonwealth locations of the Western Front.

In The Footsteps of Heroes can be purchased from and in Kindle and Paperback.

My books are also available direct from their respective publishers and also through Barnes and NobleKoboSmashwords and Createspace.  You can also purchase this book through Apple iBooks store by clicking on the logo below.

In The Footsteps of Heroes

About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including several #1 sellers. I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. I run my private tours company with one tour stated by the leading travel website as being with the #1 authentic London Experience. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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9 Responses to Giving a public speech when you hate public speaking or My Remembrance Sunday Reading

  1. Marilyn Liddell Hall (maiden name) Allan says:

    We must be related for sure!! I, too, hate flying which is why I didn’t go on the trip to Ireland and Scotland with my family!😂 I also refuse to ever speak in public!! However, I would never be in Baghdad for any reason!😳 You are indeed a brave man to have overcome all these obstacles!!👏🏻👏🏻

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nigel Homer says:

    This is a lovely piece Stephen. Your “reading” reads really well, very personal and relevant to the occasion of course. I am sure it will be very well received. By coincidence I was at the Battle of Britain Memorial service this morning and was interviewed by the BBC. I had 1 minute to prepare something to say. Sometimes having less time is better eh? Alas it was not used in the South East news item this evening but never mind. It was a privilege to be there. Hope it goes well tomorrow. I am sure it will.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank-you Nigel. That is a shame that the BBC didn’t use the item today but you never know when it might appear on the website in their archives. The Battle or Britain Memorial must have been a wonderful experience; the memorial flight and their practice run passes over my house each year. There is nothing quite like the sound of a Merlin engine.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Good speech. I am enjoying your book, which has just arrived.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Farewell 2017, hello 2018! | Stephen Liddell

  5. Pingback: My first Remembrance Service at Bushey Memorial | Stephen Liddell

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