Chesterfield Royal British Legion marks its centenary

The Chesterfield branch of the Royal British Legion (RBL) is celebrating its centenary.

Monday, 14th June 2021, 2:04 pm

The branch – which helps members of the Royal Navy, British Army, Royal Air Force, veterans and their families – was formed on June 21, 1921.

Peter Fairey, chair of Chesterfield RBL, said: “We are delighted to be celebrating 100 years’ service to the armed forces’ community.

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The Chesterfield branch of Royal British Legion is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Pictures by Brian Eyre.
The Chesterfield branch of Royal British Legion is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Pictures by Brian Eyre.

“Although our membership has depleted over the years, I feel the Chesterfield branch of the RBL is one of the strongest and most active in the county – if not the country.”

The Chesterfield branch of the RBL has always been busy since it was founded 100 years ago.

The branch was particularly active in the 1920s and 1930s, according to several articles published in the RBL’s magazine.

It organised gatherings for members and helped other RBL branches when needed, which led to it winning awards for its efficiency.

Peter Fairey, chair of the branch.

The branch also arranged many activities and outings for the children of ex-servicemen.

According to the October 1935 issue of the RBL magazine, it made every effort to ensure nearly 300 youngsters enjoyed a wonderful time on an outing to Cleethorpes.

The same year, the branch’s annual dinner was attended by more than 300 members.

In May 1937, it started inviting ex-servicemen to share their experiences of World War One.

Mr Fairey with Bill Miller, standard-bearer, and Brian Eldridge, blind veterans' standard-bearer.

The branch acquired its current premises on Glumangate in 1946 after World War Two.

Members of the Polish community who had served in World War Two and remained in the area started holding their gatherings at the HQ – something they still do to this day.

Mr Fairey said: “Although the property had a small bar, members were not allowed to sell alcohol back then.

“During the war, Hardwick Hall had been used to billet paratroopers, some of whom were Polish, and subsequently many of them remained in the area, some marrying local girls and others to find work.

“Looking for a recreational venue, the local Polish community took over the bar and to this day the premises at 42 Glumangate is known to most locals as the Polish Club.

“Over the years, the numbers of Poles have gradually depleted, and today the bar is leased to Chesterfield Ex-Servicemen’s Club but is still used, along with the adjacent meeting room, by members of the local Polish community and ex-service organisations, including the Sherwood Foresters, for social occasions and meetings.

“On Remembrance Day every year, the premises hosts large numbers of local ex-servicemen and their families to meet old comrades and remember absent friends.”

When asked how the branch supports the community today, Mr Fairey provided a long list of events and activities covering everything from fundraising to supporting those in need and engaging the younger generations.

He said: “We have a stall at the town’s medieval market promoting the Poppy Appeal and the RBL in general.

“We’ve also organised a ride out by members of the Brimington Outlaws Scooter Club to raise money for the Poppy Appeal while our branch secretary took part in a 5k run supporting our fundraising efforts.”

In the 1930s, the branch was awarded silver cups for its efficiency.

Remembrance is another very important aspect of the branch’s work.

“For the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One, a poppy cascade was erected inside the Crooked Spire church,” Mr Fairey said.

“All the poppies were made by members and the local community, and each poppy was dedicated to a life lost on the battlefields.”

The branch works with schools and youth organisations in the area to spread the message of remembrance.

“We had a stall promoting the RBL and demonstrating how poppies are made with local children,” Mr Fairey added.

Chesterfield RBL members also visit ex-service personnel in local care homes, including branch president Frank Wilson, a veteran of the Russian Convoys and D-Day.

To keep the community up-to-date, the branch is active on social media and regularly shares photos and information about its work and support.

It also often organises coffee mornings.

The branch has continued its community support work throughout the pandemic.

Mr Fairey said: “During the coronavirus lockdown, we’ve called those members who might have been unwell or shielding and we’ve also sent them parcels when needed.

“Sadly, two of our longest serving members, one being a D-Day veteran, passed away during this period, albeit not from the virus.”

Looking ahead, Mr Fairey said: “Despite the difficult circumstances which make planning for the next year challenging, the branch is looking at the possibility of organising a display of World War One and World War Two artefacts combined with the RBL’s 100-year history in the Crooked Spire church.”

He added: “The branch will always do its utmost to promote the objectives of the RBL – comradeship, welfare and benevolence.”

In a recent video message, Prince Charles hailed the RBL.

He said: “There are few organisations which hold a place at the heart of society in the way the RBL does.

“For 100 years, the RBL has been a constant, through the annual Poppy Appeal, leading the nation in remembrance, and providing a life-long commitment to every veteran and their families.

“I wanted, above all, to offer my sincere and heartfelt gratitude to all those who have helped build this wonderful organisation we know today, and to all those who will be part of its future,” he added.

Charles Byrne, the RBL’s director general, said: “Our proud heritage and 100 years of experience supporting the armed forces’ community have built the strong foundations of an organisation fit for the next 100.

“We remain committed to our mission to ensure that those who have given so much for their country get the fair treatment, support and recognition they deserve.”

Visit www.britishlegion.org.uk for more information about the RBL.

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Children on an outing organised by the branch in the 1920s.