The British Legion was founded (nationally) in May 1921. It was granted a Royal Charter on 29th May 1971 to mark its 50th anniversary. This gives the Legion the privilege of the prefix 'Royal'.
Just ten years later, a meeting was called on Mon 12 Oct 1931 for the purpose of forming a branch of the British Legion in Hungerford (see Photo Gallery).
The Hungerford Royal British Legion Branch was founded in May 1932. Initially it met in people's homes and in hotels.
The catalyst for the Branch to become more active was ex-servicemen coming home to Hungerford after the Second World War. The plaques on the wall of the entrance hall gives some idea of the units and theatres of war where Hungerford servicemen and servicewomen fought, eg D-Day Association, Parachute Regiment, Royal Berkshire Regiment, Guards Brigade, various ships of the Royal Navy, Merchant Navy Bomber Command, Fighter Command, Women's Royal Army Corps, Burma Star, Far East Prisoners of War etc.
- Notice of the meeting 12 Oct 1931 of forming the British Legion branch in Hungerford. (Photo 22 Jul 2015)
- Hungerford Royal British Legion Headquarters, Aug 2010
- Royal British Legion War Memorial, Aug 2010
- Hungerford British Legion banner dedicated 1 May 1932.
Building the RBL Hungerford Clubhouse:
The Branch decided that they would establish a clubhouse at their AGM in May 1951 and a building fund was started. The Committee was:
- President: Major Harvey
- Chairman: Mr Holmes
- Secretary: Mr T Abbott
- Poppy Organiser: Mr Audsley
- Treasurer: Mr H Martin
- Standard Bearer: Mr Chapman
Funding for this Club House was raised in a variety of ways such as dances at the Corn Exchange and raffles. The main fund raising activity was to collect old newspapers to sell as there was a major shortage of newsprint. At least two evenings a week were given up collecting this paper. It was stored in old sheds in the Laundry yard next to the railway wall in what is now the Tesco car park.
Whilst this fund raising was taking place the Committee was searching for a site. They initially selected a site next to the Railway Tavern, but the brewery opposed this. Obviously the thirst demands of ex soldiers, matelots and airmen were perceived to be too much competition for their Tavern. Property off Prospect Road at the rear of Mr Spackman's shop was considered but dismissed as too small. Eventually they settled on the site adjacent to the Regent cinema.
The minutes state that "Mr Beardsley, the owner, had accepted the offer of the Branch i.e. £50 per year rent on a 21 year lease with an option of purchasing after 8 years."
Eventually the land was purchased freehold for £250. (Today this club has an insured value of over £500,000!)
Plans were drawn up and tenders issued. All good local builders e.g. Morley's, Gibbs and Woolridge quoted and eventually a bid of £1887 was accepted in November 1955 by Morley's the builder.
The Newbury Weekly News of 8th December 1955 included the following entry:
Legion approve new £2,200 H.Q. plan
The Hungerford British legion headquarters scheme received the "go ahead" signal at an extraordinary branch meeting in the Town Hall on Monday evening. It is hoped work will start at the beginning of next week and will be completed in about six weeks.
With nearly 100 present, the meeting produced probably the largest gathering of members ever to take place in Hungerford. Mr Cyril Bates (chairman) presided, with Dr M M Wallis (president).
On the proposition of Major H Fairfax-Harvey, seconded by Dr R D Kennedy, unanimous approval was given to an executive recommendation to carry out the scheme. Committee efforts and negotiations over the last four-and-a-half years have thus at last reached the stage of fruition.
The site is near the cinema and the lowest tender for the building of £1,887 12s submitted by J Morley, of Hungerford, has been accepted.
The present RBL headquarters in Church Way was built in 1956. The minutes show that so much of the work was done by volunteers from the Club. Lorries, tractors, diggers etc were loaned by builders. Legion members who were tradesmen gave their time freely on "volunteer days" - the end of which must have been interesting as the minutes refer to free beer for all those who have worked during the day!
Whilst the clubhouse was being built, the Branch continued its welfare work. For example, the Treasurers Receipt Book for 1956 records that 23 households received bags of coal at a cost of £10 6s 11d from A Beard and Son for Christmas 1956. It was noted that the coal merchant charged the coal at cost. Hospital visits were made to Legion members who were sick and gifts of packets of Woodbines and Senior Service cigarettes were given to them.
In June 1956 the new clubhouse was formally opened by General Sir Brian Horrocks of 8th Army fame who lived locally.
The RBL Branch is separate to the RBL Club, which is a limited company.
The Branches sole function is to raise funds for the RBL nationally and locally and to serve the ex-service community in this area from a welfare point of view where the criteria is need not want. Much welfare work is carried out.
A second major role of the Hungerford Branch is to raise money for the Poppy Appeal. Each year a team of about 40 volunteers raise about £18,500 over a 2 week period, a remarkable sum in a town of only 5,500 people.
(With thanks to John Parry)
The List of Office Holders (1950-56, 1972-2013) has been compiled by John Parry - but names are missing for 1932-1949 and 1957-1971. If you can help, please email the administrator.