An army that keeps marching

PUBLISHED: 22:31 21 July 2014 | UPDATED: 22:31 21 July 2014




Colonel (Retd) Roger Burgess OBE, vice chairman of the Essex County Royal British Legion (RBL), looks back at the role of the RBL since is foundation following World War I

The Royal British Legion (RBL) was formed in 1921 with the specific role of helping those wounded in World War I. Essex County RBL formed in the same year with the first recorded branch in the county opening at Shoeburyness on June 8, 1921. This was closely followed in the same month by branches forming at Kelvedon, Brightlingsea, Dunmow, Southend on Sea, Margaretting, Rickling/Quendon, South Benfleet and West Thurrock.

Since World War II, there has hardly been one year during which British troops have not been actively involved in military operations around the world and after each conflict the RBL has been there, picking up the pieces. Unlike other service fundraising organisations, the RBL has an ongoing and long-term obligation to support not only any service men and women injured on duty, but also their families. For instance, the annual operating costs of the new Personnel Recovery Centre (PRC) at Chevasse VC House in Colchester (which are just under £1 million), are shared by the MOD and the RBL. The centre is designed to help service men and women readjust to civilian life after injury.

British troops are currently involved in full-scale military operations in Afghanistan in some of the most dangerous and tragic circumstances. As well as units from Colchester Garrison, there is also the garrison at Carver Barracks in northwest Essex. The IED Search and Disposal Teams in 33 and 101 Engineer EOD Regiments serving in Carver Barracks have suffered numerous fatalities and serious casualties in Afghanistan and their squadrons are permanently rotating on operational tours there. Whatever one’s personal, moral and political views on their involvement, British troops are still deployed there in Afghanistan, carrying out their duties in the most hazardous and harrowing conditions. Never more than now do they need our support. It was appropriate therefore that the official launch of the Essex County RBL Poppy Appeal 2013 took place at Carver Barracks in late October of that year and the Poppy Appeal in Essex alone raised a staggering £1,059,142.27.

Best known for the annual Cenotaph Parade, Festival of Remembrance, the National Poppy Appeal and Remembrance Services, the RBL is also a proactive campaigning organisation that promotes the welfare of current and former serving members of the Armed Forces. Essex County RBL is one of the largest RBL counties in the UK with a current membership of nearly 14,000 belonging to 75 branches and 21 clubs scattered across Essex. Because of its geographical and numerical size, the branches in Essex RBL are split into groups for administrative purposes. In addition, there is an active membership of the RBL Riders Branch based in Essex. Formed in 2004 and dominated by former and current Forces personnel, it has some high profile celebrity support from Hayley Westenra, Simon Weston and The Hairy Bikers who are all members and wear their distinctive badge on their leather jackets. Riders regularly organise fundraising runs and annual rallies, such as the RBLR 1,000 Iron Butt Rally, where competitors are expected to complete 1,000 miles in 24 hours to raise money for the Poppy Appeal. Since 2004, the RBLR Branch has alone raised £540,000.

The RBL also plays an active role within the local community in Essex and great reliance is placed on members carrying out work for the serving and ex-service community in their local areas. To raise local public awareness and to encourage more people to join, RBL Branches participate in such activities as county shows, local fetes and fairs, open evenings, concerts and carol services.

This month marks the centenary of the start of World War I with numerous events being organised across the UK. The losses from World War I were felt in every town and village as demonstrated by the number of monuments on nearly every village green or churchyard. It is therefore appropriate that this centenary has a strong local flavour. Accordingly, local RBL branches will be arranging events to ensure that the events and sacrifices of a century ago are not forgotten and that the nation is reminded of its collective debt to those who were killed in that conflict and to those who are still serving their country today. n

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