Celebrating 100 years of the Royal British Legion with a torch relay across Sussex
The Royal British Legion celebrates 100 years in 2021 and to mark the centenary branches in East and West Sussex have been taking part a ‘Torch of Remembrance’ relay across the county this week.
Founded in May 1921, The Royal British Legion is the nation’s leading Armed Forces charity providing lifelong support for the Armed Forces community - serving men and women, veterans, and their families.
The first torch for the relay was lit at 11am at St Mary’s Church, Rye, on Monday August 23.
The torch was carried to Robertsbridge and then Polegate on Tuesday 24.
On Wednesday 25 it visited the War Memorial, Hailsham and the War Graves Cemetery, in Seaford.
Following on from this it is expected to be at East Court Memorial, East Grinstead, at 11am on Thursday 26 and Carfax War memorial, Horsham at 5pm on the same date.
On Friday 27 it is due at St Mary’s Parish Church, Storrington, at 11am, and East Street War Memorial, Shoreham, at 3pm.
The torch relay comes to an end at 3pm on Saturday August 28 at St Anne’s Church, Witterings.
At each location a small ceremony will see the torch passed from a service veteran to a member of a youth organisation to symbolise the next generation carrying on the important act of remembrance.
Royal British Legion Sussex County Chairman Ray Collins said: “both Cadets Forces and Youth Organisations are taking part.
“It is important that the act of remembrance keeps going forward for the next 100 years. We will remember them.”
Civic dignitaries, including Mayors and Council leaders, are playing a role in welcoming the torch when it arrives in their area.
At Hailsham, Town Mayor Cllr Paul Holbrook, attended the service along with other Town Council members to acknowledge and appreciate the achievements of RBL volunteers, members and fundraisers over the last century and pay tribute and support them in marking their achievements.
Chichester diocese priest Reverend Rupert Toovey is conducting a service at St Mary’s Parish Church, Storrington, when the torch arrives there on Friday.
He said: “Every year the Royal British Legion leads the nation in commemorating and honouring service and sacrifice.
“They remember those who lost their lives on active service in all conflicts; from the beginning of the Great War right up to the present day, as well as all those who have served and their families.
“In Storrington in 1919 at the Market Rooms by the White Horse Hotel a meeting of World War I veterans under the chairmanship of Capt George Graham formed the Comrades of the Great War.
“In 1920 Lt Col Ravenscroft donated some land and with support from the residents of Storrington and the Peace Celebrations committee a hut was built for the comrades on the site of the present social club.
“It was opened on Armistice Day by Mrs King of Fryern House. The club grew rapidly and in October 1921 it became the Storrington Branch of the British Legion.
“Today the Storrington Branch has some 65 members who meet for lunch on St George’s Day and Armistice Day.”
Storrington is one of more than 70 Royal British Legion branches across East and West Sussex.
Throughout the year, branches have already been taking part in marking the centenary with many holding special services at war memorials and raising standards.
At Littlehampton they will be taking part by lighting the town’s beacon at 8pm on Saturday, August 28.
The event will begin on the Stage by the Sea at 7.30pm with welcoming speeches from Town Mayor, Councillor Michelle Molloy and a representative of the Royal British Legion.
Derek Moore MBE, the RBL Poppy Appeal organiser for Littlehampton, said: “Not only will it help to mark the RBL 100 years, but it also gives us the opportunity to thank our dedicated staff, members and volunteers who work tirelessly to ensure that those who have served are looked after no matter what hardships and challenges they face.”
Colonel Anthony Kimber, of Rye Royal British Legion, where the torch began its journey on Monday 23, said: “The Legion believes that it is important that communities continue to come together to remember the sacrifice of those who have died in the service of their country.
“As with all gatherings in the pandemic we will ensure that the commemoration takes place in a way that does not threaten public health.”
One of the key roles of the Royal British Legion is in co-ordinating Remembrance Day services and parades in November and organising Poppy Day - it’s principal fund raiser.
An RBL spokesperson said: “Remembrance events encourage communities to come together to remember the sacrifice of those who served.”
The Poppy Appeal was badly hit by the pandemic and lockdown in 2020, but this year the Legion is hoping that its volunteer collectors will be out in force again. As well as buying and wrearing a poppy, people can get involved in a variety of ways, including taking part in 5k Poppy Runs, which will be taking place at various locations in October and November.
Since its early days, women have always played a part in the Royal British Legion.
Earl Haig said in 1923: “You will not make a great organisation of this unless you bring your women in.”
It was the women’s branches who were the driving force behind the Poppy Appeal.
The Royal British Legion Women’s Section was still in existence in 2019, with a central committee of seven members and with its chairman having a seat on the RBL Board of Trustees. Now it has become fully integrated with the RBL.
The Royal British Legion continues to support former service personnel and their families, dealing with nearly 36,000 War Disablement Pension cases for war veterans and making around 300,000 welfare and friendship visits every year.
It is the country’s largest Armed Forces charity, with 180,000 members, 110,000 volunteers and a network of partners and charities; helping them to give support wherever and whenever it’s needed. They providing expert advice and guidance and play an important role in recovery and rehabilitation, helping people to transition to civilian life. For more information visit www.britishlegion.org.uk.