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2018 marks the centenary of the end of the First World War, and also of the visit of a certain Bill Wilson to Winchester Cathedral.  A young officer sent from American to fight in the trenches, Bill survived the war and went on to write one of the world’s best-selling books – the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous.  And on the first page he recounted the story of his wartime visit to the cathedral.  Today people from all over the world make the trip to see the grave of Thomas Thetcher which so inspired him.

This August there will be a ‘Celebration of Recovery’ in the Cathedral Close attended by many local organisations concerned with various aspects of recovery.   Throughout August there will be a display in the Winchester Discovery Centre illustrating the world of AA – with thousands of meetings held internationally every day, and over 200 self- help groups using the 12 Step Programme developed by Bill Wilson and his friends.

A play about Bill’s visit is currently being written.

For further information please contact Chrissie B, AA’s Public information Liaison Officer for the Winchester Area on 01794324461 or email pi.northdown@aamail.org

The present gravestone may be seen at any time in the cathedral churchyard – filming permission by arrangement with the Dean and Chapter.  The ‘Bill Wilson’ stone may be viewed by arrangement with the curator of the Hampshire Regimental Museum in Winchester.


Download the press release


2018 marks the centenary of the end of the First World War, and also of the visit of a certain Bill Wilson to Winchester Cathedral.  A young officer sent from American to fight in the trenches, Bill survived the war and went on to write one of the world’s best-selling books – the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous.  And on the first page he recounted the story of his wartime visit to the cathedral.  Today people from all over the world make the trip to see the grave of Thomas Thetcher which so inspired him.

August 1918 – Bill Wilson’s Visit to Winchester Cathedral

During the final months of World War One a young American soldier named Bill Wilson visited the cathedral at Winchester.  He was in England with a US army unit en route for France and was temporarily quartered in an enormous army camp at Morn Hill just outside the city.  Perhaps his visit was in part prompted by understandable apprehension as to what would happen to him once he reached the front.

Strolling through the churchyard afterwards his eye was caught by the wording on a gravestone.  It had been erected in 1764 in memory of a young grenadier of the Hampshire Militia.  He had died ‘of a violent fever contracted from drinking small beer when hot… in grateful remembrance of whose universal goodwill towards his Comrades, this stone is placed here at their expence’ explained the inscription.

Bill Wilson may have had a wry smile on his face as he perused it.  The soldier’s name, Thetcher, wasn’t too different from that of his great friend back home Ebby Thacher.  And Bill would have remembered that he and Ebby had certainly put away more than a few small beers in their time…

Bill’s unit went to France to join in the fighting, but a few months later the war was over.  Despite his fears Bill had survived, and he was anxious to take up life in America again – he’d married just before leaving for England.  Sadly his initially successful career as a businessman gradually began to disintegrate as a result of his heavy drinking, until he was told that he would either have to be permanently locked up or would die as a result of his alcoholism.  But unlikely as it might seem, Bill and a handful of fellow alcoholics finally found a way in which sobriety could be achieved and maintained.

Bill Wilson became one of the founding members of Alcoholics Anonymous and, writing of his many experiences in the hope of inspiring others, chose the story of his visit to the cathedral at Winchester as a young soldier in search of reassurance to begin what would become AA’s famous ‘Big Book’: 

We landed in England.  I visited Winchester cathedral.  Much moved, I wandered outside.  My attention was caught by a doggerel on an old tombstone: ‘Here lies a Hampshire Grenadier / Who caught his death / Drinking cold small beer /  A good soldier is ne’er forgot / Whether he dieth by musket / Or by pot’.

Alcoholics Anonymous’ ‘Big Book’ became one of the all-time best-sellers. The 25 millionth copy rolled off the presses as far back as 2005.  And around a million are still sold each year, despite it being available free online in English, Spanish and French.  In 2011 Time Magazine placed it on its list of 100 best and most influential books written since 1923 (the start of the magazine).  And a year later the Library of Congress designated it as one of the 88 ‘Books That Shaped America’.

The ‘Big Book’ is still very much in active use.  It is read and discussed at most AA meetings, and is available in more than sixty languages since nowadays AA holds thousands of meetings all over the world.  There are probably very few members of the fellowship who don’t have their own much cherished copy. The story of Thomas Thetcher’s gravestone is still on the first page.

Thomas Thetcher’s gravestone still stands in the churchyard at Winchester cathedral, although it’s a careful copy of the one that Bill Wilson saw on that warm August day back in 1918.  That stone was becoming badly weathered, and in 1966 was taken to the Regimental Museum in Winchester for safe keeping.

AA’s and their families from across the world often make a point of visiting Winchester.  They search the graveyard for the stone, for they like to read the familiar inscription for themselves and perhaps take a photograph or two.  And many like to sit in the quiet of the churchyard and take a little time to reflect on the gift of sobriety, on universal goodwill towards comrades, and on the strange twist of fate which joined the stories of two young soldiers – Bill Wilson of Alcoholics Anonymous, and Thomas Thetcher, the Hampshire Grenadier.

Conference questions 2018 have been released

What is the Purpose of Conference?

The General Service Conference (Great Britain) of Alcoholics Anonymous is the guardian of the services and of the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of AA in Great Britain. Tradition Two states that the only authority in AA is that which expresses itself through the Group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants who do not govern. This Tradition is the basic authority for all AA services, whether for Groups, Intergroups, Regions or for the Fellowship as a whole. The General Service Conference therefore begins with the Group conscience. It also leads back to the Group, since the Group has final responsibility not just for initiating, but for implementing the decisions agreed upon by Conference. The General Service Conference is the practical means by which the Group conscience in Britain can express itself in matters that concern the Fellowship as a whole. The existence of Conference is moreover a guarantee that the Fellowship will be able to function under all conditions. It is, in effect, the successor to the founders of AA, ensuring the continuity of the work within the framework of the Twelve Traditions.

Conference Questions 2018

Download the conference questions 2018

Supporting documents for conference questions 2018

2. Conference 2009, Committee 4, Question 1

3. Chat Now Service

4. Literature Proposals covering Letter

5. Your AA Group draft

6. AA in Treatment Settings

7. Covering letter from Literature Committee





PI report on recent AA Awareness campaign

Following negotiations with NHS Engage we were invited to put up a stall at their Health and Well being seminar held on Tuesday 5th December. To be fair, we didn’t get many users but we achieved a good result in terms of visibility and reducing stigma. Thanks to the efforts of two well spoken, well dressed, professional, middle aged female alcoholics! This disease does not discriminate!

Armed Services Liaison Newsletter October 2017

Thames Valley Intergroup (TVI)
I have been in the role of Armed Services Liaison Officer (ASLO) for TVI since June 2016, having put myself forward for the position due to my long and rewarding career in the army.

I served in HM Forces from 30 June 1987 until 31 March 2012 and achieved the rank of Warrant Officer Class 2 (WO2). Although as time progresses my serving contacts in the army are dwindling I still think and act like a soldier, so I am able to communicate, when required, with officers, WOs, senior and junior ranks in an effective manner to share my experience, strength, and hope.

As the ASLO post had been vacant for some time when I started I decided that the best strategy would be to approach Unit Welfare Officers (UWOs) and Garrison HQs directly.

I live near Aldershot Garrison, which is actually in Mid Surrey Intergroup’s area, but as their ASLO position was and still is I think vacant I approached the Intergroup secretary and asked if they had any objections to me covering that particular area. They were happy to let me do so.

I initially approached SSAFA in Aldershot and was invited to attend the September quarterly UWO meeting where all UWOs in that region attend. Unfortunately, a week before the meeting I was uninvited. The reason given was ‘soldiers are sick of hearing about alcohol’. Shortly after that, a soldier knocked down and killed two aspiring athletes, in Aldershot, whilst over the drink drive limit.

As most of Aldershot Garrison’s UWOs are based in one location within the HIVE (an information exchange service run by the Army Welfare Service (AWS)) I decided to approach the AWS directly and have received a much warmer response.

I have visited the HIVE and explained the primary purpose of AA, distributed AA information literature and spoken to various UWOs, who have all been very receptive and now have my number should they require it. The Aldershot HIVE now has AA literature and posters displayed in the foyer of the Connaught Centre. I have also offered, if desired, to run informal ‘surgeries’.

On the back of this I have also been received expressions of interest in AA from the HIVE in Abingdon and Bicester. As they are both out of the TVI area I have passed this on to the relevant PI officers.

I am now also in regular communication with the UWO of the Grenadier Guards, based in Windsor, who are interested in being proactive with AA. The new ASLO at Thames and Chiltern Intergroup is also involved in this.

In June I received, via York, an invitation for AA to set up a stand at a health fair at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS). The event was taking place in July; however, it clashed with a pre-booked holiday, and due to the officer running the event being on exercise for a long period prior to the fair it proved impossible to arrange anything, so reluctantly I had to pull out, but the officer will be running the same event next year. I hope that we can get something in place in order for AA to attend. I also took the time to explain AA to him and will be using him as conduit to approach RMAS in the future.
In the past week I have received the first ‘off the street’ referral for a veteran in Bracknell who is need. He suffers PTSD after being shot in Afghanistan. As well as the support that I and his sponsor can give him I will be engaging with Combat Stress to attempt to facilitate some urgently required specialist mental health support.

I will continue with my endeavours. I am lucky enough to be in full-time employment, so ASLO duties do sometimes slip due to work pressures; however, I have found the past 12 months very rewarding.

Matt, ASLO, Thames Valley Intergroup, armedforcesliaison@aathamesvalley.org.uk

Birmingham Intergroup
Elaine, ASLO for Birmingham Intergroup, has organised AA participation at a training event at SSAFA in Birmingham.

Wiltshire Intergroup
Wiltshire contains a high number of military (mainly Army) units around Salisbury Plain, including the major garrisons of Tidworth, Bulford, Larkhill, and Warminster. I receive requests from military units to participate in their health fairs, where information is made available to the military, their families, and MOD civil servants to help them to make appropriate lifestyle choices. These health fairs are coordinated for the Army by the Royal Army Physical Training Corps (RAPTC), and usually involve some combination of primary health care, dental care, mental health, substance abuse, hearing protection, and healthy eating. Also often present are the British Legion, HIVE, insurance and financial advisors, complementary medicine purveyors, and other agencies involved with drug and alcohol abuse. Thus AA is included as part of a larger picture concerning the maintenance of a healthy lifestyle. I follow the ‘attraction rather than promotion’ directive, rather than trying to ram sobriety and recovery down the throats of those who may as yet be unconvinced that they—or their friends, relatives, or workmates—need this intervention. My approach is to raise awareness with the military that the Fellowship is available to them, is confidential, and is free. In discussion with certain individuals (such as commanding officers, regimental sergeant majors, medical officers or padres), I use my own story to illustrate how AA works, how an alcoholic may present in the military, and how, as employers, they can use this resource to the mutual benefit of their organisation and their affected personnel. A picture of my stand is attached—this photograph was taken at a health fair in Keogh Barracks near Aldershot, arranged by mutual agreement with Northdown Intergroup—for my son’s current unit, 22 Field Hospital. I often receive requests from outside Wiltshire—probably because my contact details have been passed around by the RAPTC organisers—and I pass these on to the Intergroup or Region concerned. As a result of these requests, I sometimes deliver a stand outside Wiltshire by mutual agreement with the Region concerned if there is no-one available locally to cover on the day in question.

I was recently asked to identify a senior retired military officer as a potential non-alcoholic trustee; I submitted two names to GSO (with the permission of both gentlemen concerned); it is now a matter for the General Service Board, and the two individuals, to move this on to an agreed conclusion!
Ken M, ASLO, Wiltshire Intergroup, aservices.wiltshire@aamail.org