REWIND: Kenilworth celebrates the centenary of the Royal British Legion

By James Smith

15th May 2021 | Local News

Kenilworth War Memorial
Kenilworth War Memorial

With the centenary of the Royal British Legion falling today, the chairman of the Kenilworth branch, Cllr George Illingworth, has taken a look back at the history of the legion, and of Kenilworth as one of the founding branches.

At the end of the First World War in 1918 large numbers of soldiers and sailors were demobilised and returned home from the continent.

They faced not only the problem of finding jobs when unemployment was rising, but also in many cases the effects of physical and mental injuries suffered and the loss of the structure and comradeship which had previously supported them.

Several organisations were formed nationally to meet the various needs. In Kenilworth records of the early days are scarce, but contemporary newspaper reports have provided some details.

Following visits to the Coventry setup, a Kenilworth branch of The British National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Sailors and Soldiers (NFDDSS) was formed in May 1919 under the leadership of Captain Edmonds.

Meetings were held at the Globe Inn.

Support for this organisation was strong and over 100 members of the NFDDSS attended the dedication of the St Nicholas Church War Memorial in February 1920.

Whilst having common aims there was initially rivalry and competition between the various national organisations established to help ex-servicemen.

However, in March 1921 the general secretary of the NFDDSS visited Kenilworth to inform the members that a new unitary committee would be formed from a number of other groups.

The National Association of Disabled Sailors and Soldiers, The Comrades of the Great War, The Officers Association and The British National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Sailors and Soldiers would all form one new organisation.

The combined organisation would campaign for fair treatment for all those who had given so much for their country as well as continuing the comradeship of the services.

Many meetings followed across the county and the country to determine details and agree a name. A final meeting in London on 14 May 1921 officially set up The British Legion. The first president was Earl Haig who had been a driving force for unity.

The next morning, 15 May 1921, at 9am the chairmen of the four organisations together laid a wreath at the Cenotaph on Whitehall to mark the formation day.

The legion would be granted 'Royal' status in 1971, becoming what we now know as the Royal British Legion.

It is not known whether there was a delegate from Kenilworth at that historic London meeting but Kenilworth registered its membership as a branch of the British Legion on the 4 June 1921.

Of the twelve surviving branches in Warwickshire which were also formed that year, only Alcester has more seniority than Kenilworth having been registered the day before.

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