A century of service - Suffolk joining Royal British Legion celebrations

A march past of Royal British Legion standards at the Suffolk Show in 2004

A march past of Royal British Legion standards at the Suffolk Show in 2004 - Credit: Archant

It's 100 years since the Royal British Legion was founded on May 15, 2021 - and Suffolk has been involved right from the start.

Although celebrations have inevitably been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, Suffolk RBL is planning a special centenary service on September 19 at St Edmundsbury Cathedral.

Suffolk county chairman Ken Rowbottom said: "We have been doing huge amounts of planning and are hoping to go ahead in September."

On the centenary day itself,  Saturday, May 15, the RBL is marking its centenary with a special event at the Cenotaph in London, which people around the country will be able to watch via livestream on Facebook.

The event, at 9am, will re-create the moment from 100 years ago when veterans from four organisations laid wreaths and formed the British Legion, as it was initially named, after being  brought together by Earl Haig and Sir Frederick Lister. It achieved "Royal" status in 1971. 

Representatives from the Navy, Army, RAF and Merchant Navy and a military widow will lay wreaths, and the RAF Battle of Britain Flight will conduct a flypast.

The Prince of Wales has released a video tribute to the RBL, and activity will continue throughout the day with tributes from military personnel and celebrity supporters.

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Locally, wreaths will be laid in the county at that same minute. Mr Rowbottom said: "It's been scaled down because of coronavirus restrictions and is up to the individual branches. It is all being kept simple and there will be no more than three people at each wreath-laying."

Mr Rowbottom said Suffolk's RBL had been there right from the beginning in May 2021, and has grown over the years.

Ipswich Royal British Legion D-Day Memorial Service in Christchurch Park 2019

Ipswich Royal British Legion's memorial service to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day, held in Christchurch Park in 2019 - Credit: Archant

"We are a very active county and have 45 branches in Suffolk, some large, some very small.

"We see ourselves very much as part of the community - and that has especially been demonstrated during the last year, with Covid-19."

He said RBL branches had been involved in all kinds of support during the pandemic, including phone support, collecting food and medicine and much more.

Annual Remembrance parades and services are of course among the RBL's main annual events, as is the annual parade at the Suffolk Show.

Hadleigh Royal British Legion parade on their way to a VE Day service at St Mary's Church, Hadleigh in 2005

Hadleigh Royal British Legion parade on the way to a VE Day 60th anniversary service at St Mary's Church, Hadleigh in 2005 - Credit: Archant

It also supports many other events around the area, which in 2019 included taking part in Suffolk Pride in Ipswich for the first time.

The RBL also organises many commemorations around the area for special anniversaries like VE Day,  VJ Day and D Day.

Last year's VE Day 75th anniversary celebrations couldn't go ahead as originally planned.

But the RBL was determined to ensure the day was still special, and residents in Suffolk still marked it on a smaller scale with picnics in their front garden.

The first Poppy Appeal was held in 1921, when red silk poppies, inspired by the famous First World War poem In Flanders Fields, sold out instantly.

Leiston's Royal British Legion band at the Leiston Airfield annual Service of Remembrance in 2004

Leiston's Royal British Legion band at the Leiston Airfield annual Service of Remembrance in 2004 - Credit: Archant

Today, annual poppy sales are just as important as ever, as fundraising is hit by Covid restrictions.

Mandi Cox-Osborne, RBL community fundraiser for Suffolk, said the county usually  raises around £800,000 to £900,000 over a year, most of it in the two weeks around Remembrance Day, but so far in the current fundraising year it is only around £340,000.

"It has been very difficult for our wonderful volunteers. We have over 130 poppy appeal collectors, and some of them fall into the category of being vulnerable, so we didn't want to put them into any situations where they don't feel comfortable."

The money from the poppies is needed to provide wide-ranging support for veterans covering a wide age range. and their families.

Although there are now only a small number of Second World War heroes surviving, the RBL also supports veterans who have served everywhere from Korea to the Falklands to Northern Ireland, Afghanistan and Iraq.  

John McCarthy, RBL area manager for East Anglia, said: "We help people with everything from adaptations of their homes,  if they have a disability from service, to medical equipment, help with finances, care, independent living and funeral costs.

"Equipment can include things like mobility scooters - we assisted one man in his 40s with a specialist trike.

"It meant he was able to do things with his kids, like riding to the park, and take a full part in family life."  

Mr McCarthy stressed that people's needs were often complex, and the RBL will look at what is needed to put the right support in place.

The Royal British Legion women's section Suffolk area meeting in Bury St Edmunds in November 1973

The Royal British Legion women's section Suffolk area meeting in Bury St Edmunds in November 1973 - Credit: Archant

He said someone might contact the RBL initially because they needed a repair to a washing machine, but then they would realise there was much more to it - perhaps they had lost their job and were in debt. The RBL's specialist financial advice and job support services can help.

Particularly during Covid, the RBL has also seen many people needing help with mental health issues, including depression and anxiety as well as PTSD.

"We have got 100 years of experience supporting the armed forces community, so we are in a good position to be here for the next 100 years," he said.

  • The Royal British Legion is always looking for new members and volunteers, and you don't need to have been in the Services. For more details, visit https://www.britishlegion.org.uk/

How Pam spent more than 60 years as a Poppy Appeal collector

Pam Turnbull has spent more than 60 years as a Poppy collector in her home village of Gosbeck.

Pam Turnbull has spent more than 60 years as a Poppy Appeal collector in Gosbeck

Pam Turnbull has spent more than 60 years as a Poppy Appeal collector in Gosbeck - Credit: Pam Turnbull

She said: "In the late 1950s, at the age of 19, I was approached by the headteacher of the local village school, asking if I would take over as Poppy Appeal organiser, the reason being that I was younger than her.

"After initial hesitation, I agreed, but little did I think that 60-plus years later I would still be doing my little bit to support the RBL."

Over the years, she has seen donations for the village increase from £16, 15 shillings and two old pence in the early 1960s to £ 518.90 in 2019.

She said: "After marrying and the birth of our two children, I found my spare time was in the evening.

"So off I would go with my torch. No fear of opening one's door after dark in those days. It was: 'Come in, sit down'. Very pleasant but not the best use of time.

"For many years I collected from every house in the village, but as the years have passed, I have a wonderful team of three to assist me and as they do more, I do less!"

Pam said: "I have found the experience rewarding and enjoyable and would recommend it to anyone who is able to give a few hours of their time to a very worthy cause."


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