Back from the dead – veteran Ron reads his own obituary after Army newsletter error

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Ron Back is chair of the Royal British Legion New Milton & District Branch

“THE news of my death is greatly exaggerated” – so said a New Milton veteran who had the dubious pleasure of reading his own obituary.

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It was a Mark Twain moment for Col. Ron Back, chair of the Royal British Legion New Milton & District Branch, when his death was erroneously announced in a forces newsletter.

Col. Ron Back was astounded to receive a phone call from branch secretary Phyllis Inglis who shared her great relief that he was still alive and well, contrary to a report printed in the Airborne Network (ABN) newsletter last November.

“The details printed about me were correct – apart from the obvious,” Mr Back told the A&T afterwards. He saw the funny side of the situation amid the novelty of getting to read about his own death.

He said: “It will certainly make a nice after-dinner story, whenever I might get a chance to tell any after-dinner stories!

“It’s not something everybody gets to do – read their own obituary!”

News of the article reached Mrs Inglis when she was contacted by one of the RBL branch members. She explained: “Someone emailed me and said, ‘You’re the secretary and you haven’t let anyone know that our chairman has died’.”

Ron in Cyprus 1956

Although initially shocked, she stressed it took only two or three days to establish the news was false.

Mrs Inglis said: “I think I talked to one of the other committee members and they said, ‘But I talked to him yesterday, so that can’t be right’.

“As soon as I knew it was false I phoned Ron and said, ‘Did you know people think you’re dead?’

“I’m just glad he’s okay and we’ve still got him as our chairman.”

And she joked: “I’m afraid I’m one of those who when they look at the death notices in the paper each week looks to make sure I’m not one of them!”

Having been sent a copy of the report, Mr Back noted all the correct details, including his birth in 1936 and commission in 1955 to the Royal Artillery.

After looking into the matter, he discovered the newsletter’s editor had been a fellow member of the 44th Parachute Brigade in the early 1970s.

He had obtained the information from one of Mr Back’s contemporaries in 33rd Airborne Light Regiment, who in turn had heard it from a friend.

“I’ve spoken to the editor who apologised and said he would make sure he checks his facts more carefully in future,” Mr Back said.

“It was a bit of a Mark Twain moment – the news of my death is greatly exaggerated!”

American writer and humourist Mark Twain went down in history for his often-misquoted response when contacted in 1897 by a New York Journal reporter who had heard rumours he was gravely ill or already dead.

Mr Twain confirmed he was in fact in good health in a statement that included the phrase: “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”

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