Celebrating 100 years of the Royal British Legion in Peterborough
“There was a time when I was down on my luck. I did some prison time. I was really lost, and it was the British Legion which got me back on my feet and I’ve never looked back. I don’t know where I’d be without their support. They got me on the right path and I’ll always be thankful.”
Sunday marks 100 years since the Royal British Legion’s Peterborough branch formally opened - a month after the charity was first established.
And while much has changed over the years, the RBL continues to make a huge difference to current and former veterans and their families.
Branch secretary Tony Francis knows that better than most, having felt the benefits of the RBL’s support services when he was at his lowest ebb.
“There have been great times and sad times,” Tony told the Peterborough Telegraph.
“Seeing the smiles on people’s faces - when you get people donating and telling stories, they’re nice to hear. I do look forward to the Poppy Appeal because you hear all their stories, from all ages and creeds.
“And we get great questions as well which we try to answer.”
Understandably, the past year has been tough, with social interaction and fundraising limited, but the RBL continues to make a difference in Peterborough.
“We’re supporting veterans and their families in any way we can, whether it be welfare work, setting up meetings or social get-togethers,” Tony explained.
“The welfare side is still ongoing, but a lot of the other things are now via phone calls due to Covid.
“We are still here. It’s surprising so many people don’t realise Peterborough has a branch of the British Legion.” The branch’s inaugural clubhouse at Thorpe Lawn was formally opened in 1921 by General Lord Horne, with the moment highlighted in a recent membership newsletter which features documents and photos commemorating the centenary.
Writing in the newsletter, branch treasurer Jerry Wilson and standard bearer Margaret Wilson said: “It is very important for us to help members of the Armed Forces who have served and have been injured both mentally and physically.
“Also, to a serving member knowing that help is available can be a great comfort and relief. This is something that the branch should be proud of and celebrate.”
One of the highlights from the past 100 years comes from 1937, when the branch received a number of awards at the County Annual Meeting, including a Certificate of Merit in recognition of how it had increased its membership by 127.
In the same year, members received a telegram from the national chairman informing them that they had won a silk Union Jack in the national membership competition.
Other stand-out moments include members showing off their new Queen’s Colour on parade in 1990, representing the Festival of Remembrance in 1996 and 2007, and contributing to all four war memorials in the city.
Those efforts come on top of the annual Poppy Appeal - which in 2018/19 raised £141,000 - and organising regular commemorations, whether it be for VE and VJ Days or to remember the ‘lonely Anzac’ or Jimmy the Donkey.
Unfortunately, recruiting members has not been as easy as it was in 1937, and plans for an anniversary dinner have been scuppered due to Covid.
But a service is still being held outside the war memorial in Bridge Street on Sunday from 11am, and the RBL flag was raised outside the Town Hall on Monday to mark the start of Armed Forces Week.
There are also plans to hold a concert on November 18 at the Key Theatre with The Syd Lawrence Orchestra, and on July 10 there will be music by the Peterborough Concert Band at St Mary’s Church in New Road.
Looking ahead to the future, Jerry and Margaret wrote: “We would like to see our branch get involved within the community, perhaps encouraging local hospitals, the prison and businesses to inform us if they have or know of a veteran that needs our help, and also support local projects.”
Tony echoed those views, with an ambition to build on the existing support mechanisms which include welfare calls and help when there are bereavements.
“We’re looking at getting involved in more community projects,” he added.
“The limit is endless. We can attach ourselves to any community project and help.”
Anyone wishing to join the Peterborough branch of the Royal British Legion, or volunteer with the Poppy Appeal, can contact Tony by calling 07742 148650 or emailing [email protected]