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History Research

Welcome to the Market Harborough Branch of The Royal British Legion

Branch History - Research

 

A paper published in the Journal of the Market Harborough Historical Society, and reproduced with their permission.

 

THE MARKET HARBOROUGH BRITISH LEGION CLUB

Paul Robinson

In May 1921 the amalgamation of several ex-servicemen's organisations brought about the formation of the Royal British Legion. One of the first local branches to become organised was at Market Harborough in 1922. Since then the popular image of the Legion has been one of old soldiers honouring their fallen comrades of two world wars by military parades and Remembrance Services. But from its inception the national and local branches have actively involved themselves with the social issues of employment and pensions for both able and disabled ex-servicemen or their dependants.

The economic slump of 1921 had rendered an estimated 250,000 ex- servicemen unemployed. To deal with the cases of distress this produced, the British Legion established the United Relief fund and the Unity Relief Fund. In Market Harborough the Legion branch formed a Relief Committee, under the early chairmanship of Mr Archer and Mr Smith, to assist Legion members and local ex-servicemen who found themselves in financial difficulties. The Relief Committee of 11 members, plus two nominations from the Women's Section, the Old Contemptibles and the Foxton sub-branch, would meet on the first Monday of each month to discuss eligible cases for help. Like the General Committee, they met at the various locations of the Adult School, the Ambulance Hall, the Old Grammar School, 67 High Street, the Coventry Road Infants School and Anholme House (Abbey Street) between 1931 to 1948. After this date meetings probably took place in the permanent Legion HQ at Hind Yard. Over the years the Relief Committee evolved into the Benevolent Committee in 1943 and the Service Committee by 1944. Today this Service Committee still assists local ex-servicemen through the work of the Welfare Officer.

The criterion for gaining benefits was being a local ex-servicemen or his widow or child. There was no necessity to be an actual Legion member to receive help. So, by 1932, at least 90 per cent of those receiving assistance from the Market Harborough branch were not members of the Legion. Direct assistance from the town's club was given through several different schemes. These included varying amounts of cash relief given over a set number of weeks, as goods vouchers and food tickets redeemable at local stores, fuel supplies (such as coal) and Christmas gift parcels. Fuel and gift parcels were given especially to widows and children of ex-servicemen. By 1933 the Relief Secretary was empowered to use benevolent funds to help any-ex servicemen passing through the town. In addition the Relief Secretary acted as an intermediary between local ex-servicemen and the Council's Public Assistance Board over problems of state assistance. Funds were also used by the Women's Section to organise outings and parties for the children of local ex-servicemen.

This local benevolent work was partly financed by the national Poppy Day appeals, the 1914-18 Fund for men who had served in this war and the United Service Fund for other ex-servicemen. But the majority of the Market Harborough relief finances came from a general fund that placed moneys into the branch's benevolent fund. Contributions to this were produced by the club's social fund-raising events such as annual dinners, dances, shooting or darts competitions like the Lady Zia Werhner Cup and cricket matches. Other fund raisers used were concerts, raffles and whist drives. Added to these finances was the charity work done on behalf of the town's ex-serviceman and their families by the likes of Legion Chairman Captain Charles R Knighton before his death in 1937. The Market Harborough branch also helped by supporting other town fund-raising activities such as Hospital Saturday and helped in the organisation of the Harborough Garden Show.

In its early years the major social issue of proper pensions for ex-servicemen occupied the political efforts of the Legion. At the end of World War One the full pension for a man totally disabled came to only 30 shillings a week, flat rate. Additionally, the law stated that a man must prove that any subsequent illness was due to his war service and that no claim could be made seven years after being discharged. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s the Legion's pension department kept up a sustained political pressure on successive governments to have these policies amended. During this time, from 1931, the Market Harborough branch demanded an increase in all war pensions. They supported many local ex-servicemen's applications for a war pension and helped others to obtain the Prince of Wales's Pension for aged ex-servicemen. Ultimately this nation-wide Legion influence, assisted by social changes brought about though the Second World War, achieved better pension rights and the creation of an Independent Appeals Tribunal which led to an equality of pension rates between men from both world wars.

By early 1944 the Legion had obtained the passing of the Disabled Person's Employment Bill, which obliged employers to hire a quota of disabled men. To aid local disabled ex-servicemen and their families, the Market Harborough Legion supplied invalid chairs and holidays. For local ex-servicemen wanting to continue in education, the town's branch provided educational grants.

As with the national British Legion, the Market Harborough club has experienced a fluctuating membership over the years. They no longer have their own local headquarters building because the upkeep and repairs became too expensive. However, they are still an active branch organisation that meets every third Thursday of the month at the Conservative Club. Even today the town's British Legion branch continues Remembrance and ceremonial duties as well as welfare work for local ex-servicemen.

 

Bibliography

Primary source:

Market Harborough British Legion Minute Books, 1931-1959

Secondary sources:

Brown, Antony. Red for Remembrance: British Legion, 1921-1971 (London: Heinemann, 1971)

Wootton, Graham. The Official History of the British Legion (London: Macdonald & Evans, 1956)

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