'Community' important at Royal British Legion branch as charity marks centenary year

"It's the community spirit – you can't buy it."

Members of a Royal British Legion branch pay tribute at St Peter's Square in Wolverhampton on Victory over Japan (VJ Day) last year
Members of a Royal British Legion branch pay tribute at St Peter's Square in Wolverhampton on Victory over Japan (VJ Day) last year

Those are the words which signify the importance of each Royal British Legion branch across the country as it marks its centenary year amid Covid-19.

The legion, famous for its poppy appeal, was founded on May 15, 1921 and was set up to care for military personnel and their families after the First World War.

But it has seen grown and expanded – with each branch now serving as a "community hub" where ex-servicemen can meet up and discuss their service with others.

Ray Giles, secretary of Wednesfield Royal British Legion (RBL), said: "It's always been important to the community. I know other institutions and organisations pulled together [during Covid-19] and we did food banks, food parcels to pensioners, and we lost a lot of members because of place we are, the age groups we cater to.

"It gives them somewhere to come and focus – it gives them a bit of an outlet, some have lost their wives [and family members] and it gives them someone else to speak to besides their children.

"When certain men – and especially men – get to be an age, their children tend to talk to them like children – but these are old soldiers and they like to chat about the places they've been and what they've been through."

Mr Giles said the branch had eight children's football teams filled with diversity and the youngsters enjoyed mixing with the old soldiers – and vice-versa – who were brought up in a predominantly white environment.

The branch secretary said the RBL was "born in another era" but had made it through due to its ability to change and adapt, with the Vicarage Road site among those which has been a real "community" which has a good membership base.

A memorial garden was constructed for members of the branch lost during the pandemic to provide their family members a place where they can go and reflect on it.

"It's always been more of a community to me which is our be-all and end-all," Mr Giles added.

Nationally, the charity has helped members of the armed forces from every major conflict.

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