It is with profound sadness, that we perform the Duty of announcing the recent passing of Volunteer John Albert Hewitt (Jackie), Headquarters Staff, Ulster Volunteer Force.
Jackie was well known right across the United Kingdom, and it is fair to say, loved by all.
He started his career in Loyalism, in the late 1960’s, at the onset of the conflict.
His role, along with other dearly departed and notable Volunteers such as Jim McDonald, was the welfare of Loyalist prisoners and their dependants. Jackie was tireless in his work for Loyalism, and in particular prisoners, the dependents of prisoners, and the widows and families of those who had lost their lives in the fight for freedom in Ulster.
Over the past decade however, Jackie’s health began to deteriorate, starting in early 2003, when he suffered a major heart attack which almost claimed his life. From this, Jackie fought back, but illness was never far away and on 26th November 2012 he lost the ongoing fight, his body too ravaged and weak to continue.
He was buried from Woodvale Methodist Church on Saturday 1st December and it is fair to say he would have been happy with those who attended to say farewell! Friends and Comrades travelled from all parts of the UK. Messages of condolence were sent from Australia, Canada, the USA, Germany and Spain. The grief was palpable, his loss, immense and shattering to all.
In typical Jackie Hewitt fashion, months in advance of him passing, he had his funeral planned, requesting that upon his death two Guards of Honour would remain by his side as the cortege made its way along the Shankill Road to Roselawn Cemetery; one Guard to be drawn from the Ulster Volunteer Force Regimental Band, the other from ‘A’ Company, No.1 Platoon, the Ulster Volunteer Force.
These wishes were gladly met, and proudly, this much loved Officer and gentleman was afforded the send off he so richly deserved.
What follows, is the graveside oration, offered on behalf of the Ulster Volunteer Force, by an old friend and Comrade.
Loved ones, friends and Volunteers.
On behalf of the Ulster Volunteer Force, I offer sincere and heartfelt condolences to the Skillen and Hewitt family circles, upon the passing of their loved one, Jackie. Jackie was known to all. He was a popular man, an upstanding man and a true Ulster Loyalist.
He was a hard working man, having served his time as a sheet metal worker in Harland & Wolff shipyard.
Other fields of employment he undertook, were taxi driving, the Territorial Army, and at one stage many years ago, he even relocated to Blackpool to find work. Upon his return to Belfast and following a number of career changes, he was fortunate enough to gain employment in several public houses and Clubs on the Shankill Road, before he embarked upon one of his greatest challenges, Windsor Park, where he managed the various on site social clubs and bars. Day to day work kept Jackie extremely busy, yet even in his personal time, he was not one to rest nor to be found resting.
He was always active, always hatching new and varied projects and plans. Always on the go!
He loved football, first and foremost, Linfield FC, and of course he had a passion for Glasgow Rangers and Arsenal, whom he also eagerly followed.
Outside of the work arena, his love for Crown and Country was unconditional, and he dedicated every second of his being to the furtherance of the Loyalist cause, both at home and across the Mainland.
By birth he was a native of East Belfast, but by heart, he was a Shankill Road man through and through; and a Volunteer with 1st Belfast Battalion, attached to ‘A’ Company, No.1 Platoon! With this attachment, his Volunteer work over the years, for Loyalist prisoners, their dependents, and the widows of Fallen comrades, was tireless, and with every fibre of his being, he toiled day and night for those who needed it most, prisoners and their families. Let us not forget, he himself was an ex-Loyalist prisoner, so he knew first hand the unspeakable plight of those behind bars, and the families who suffered on the outside.
The hardship of prison could not break him, and only served to spur him on to fresh challenges, to make him more determined and to mould him into a fine and respected Ulster Volunteer Force Officer!
From Liverpool to Glasgow, from London to Corby and from Belfast to Greystones Protestant Orphanage in Dublin, he worked for the betterment of his community. On many occasions his work traversed far and beyond the call of duty, yet to Jackie Hewitt, this was entirely incidental ~ his main focus at all times, was to ‘do the right thing by all’. He was as efficient an organiser as it was possible to be. He was entirely reliable; nothing was ever a chore for him. His qualities were not only glaringly visible in his everyday work for the Loyalist Prisoners And Widows Welfare Association, but also in the many other varied projects which he undertook, with the various cultural and community groups which he belonged to and indeed Chaired! He was instrumental in the organising of many major Loyalist events throughout the years, none more so than the huge endeavour undertaken in 2002, to mark the 90th Anniversary of the Ulster Covenant / formation of the Ulster Volunteer Force; and in more recent years in 2009, when all boundaries and expectations were resoundingly smashed, and we hosted a magnificent show in Belfast’s Waterfront Hall, entitled ‘The Dark Eleventh Hour’. For these events, working closely with Jackie and the organising committee, stood our good friends in the Ulster Volunteer Force Regimental Band; members of which now proudly stand guard at our friends grave. Jackie adored the Regimental Band, and the boys knew it, so much so, that only a matter of months ago, he was afforded the rare status of Honorary Member.
This was a calling, which sadly came as Jackie approached his final days.
And testament to the man is the fact that when he received the accolade, despite being gravely ill, he stood to attention throughout, as proud as old punch! And this is calibre of the man we pay tribute to today. A stalwart, a Loyalist, a Volunteer of the highest calibre!
For those of you who have graced the landings of Ulster Volunteer Force Headquarters, you will see a living tribute to our Fallen, The Battalion Of The Dead. This is the legacy of Volunteer Jackie Hewitt.
For those of you who have wandered around cemeteries near and far across the Kingdom, and perhaps during your travels have stumbled across an Ulster Volunteer Force grave, this is also the legacy of Volunteer Jackie Hewitt.
He lived and breathed to keep the memory of the Fallen alive. He lived to respectfully maintain their memory. This time honoured Duty, now falls upon those of us who remain. As previously stated, in the previous number of years, Jackie suffered terribly with varying degrees of serious and life inhibiting illness. On several occasions he fought his way back from the brink, yet during these hard times, he remained dignified, committed and despite all the odds, he managed to continue with his work, always and on each and every occasion, placing the welfare of others far before his own.
Today, as we lay Volunteer Jackie Hewitt to rest, we say thank you.
Thank you for gracing all of our lives, and for giving your precious life, to the age old Cause which was so dear to your heart.
The Ulster Volunteer Force and the Loyalist Prisoners And Widow’s Welfare Association, salutes Volunteer Jackie Hewitt, and to the Skillen and Hewitt family circles, we offer heartfelt, sincere and genuine sympathy, for the loss of an irreplaceable loved one.
We stand with you in your grief ~ His memory shall live in our hearts for all time.
I could conclude with an elaborate poem or intricate words of prose, but perhaps on this occasion, less means more, so as such, I say:
Cometh The Moment, Cometh The Man.
That man, was Volunteer Jackie Hewitt.
‘Sleep Well Old Friend ~ For God And Ulster’