The main purpose of the Legion was straightforward: to care for those who had suffered as a result of service in the Armed Forces during the Great War, whether through their own service or through that of a husband, father, or son. The suffering took many forms; from the effect of a war wound on a man's ability to earn a living and support his family, to a war widow's struggle to give her children an education.
As a result of the war, Britain's economy plummeted and in 1921 there were 2 million people unemployed. Over six million men had served in the war - 725,000 never returned. Of those who came back, 1.75 million had suffered some kind of disability and half of these were permanently disabled. Then there were those who depended on those who had gone to war - the wives and children, widows, and orphans, as well as the parents who had lost sons in the war, on whom they were often financially dependent.
This situation moved Lance Bombardier Tom Lister, a Lancastrian, so he decided that if the Government was either unable or unwilling to do anything to improve the lives of ex-Service men, he would do something about it himself. This led to the formation of The Royal British Legion.
At the Unity Conference held at the Queen's Hall, Langham Place, London on Sat 14 May and Sun 15 May 1921, the Conference adopted the Draft Constitution, together with amendments, alterations, and additions agreed by the Conference as the Constitution of the British Legion. This Constitution was to become operative from the 15 May 1921.
On the 15 May 1921 at 9am at the Cenotaph, the shrine to their dead comrades, the ex-Service men sealed their agreement. The Legion had been born.
The Legion was formed with the amalgamation of four other associations:
- The National Association of Discharged Sailors and Soldiers (1916).
- The British National Federation of Discharged and Demobilized Sailors and Soldiers (1917).
- The Comrades of The Great War (1917).
- The Officers' Association (1920).
The 1925 conference saw the introduction of the Legion's Royal Charter. Nearly four years in the making, it was given its formal status and empowered with the authority that covered every aspect of the Legion’s work for the ex-service community. Although it changed many times over the years, it is still the focus of the Legion today.
The amalgamation of these four diverse bodies can be attributed largely to two men: Field Marshall Earl Haig and Mr Tom F Lister of The Federation of Discharged and Demobilized Sailors and Soldiers.
By the time of the Legion's formation in 1921, the tradition of an annual Two Minute Silence in memory of the dead had been established. The first ever Poppy Appeal was held that year, with the first Poppy Day on 11 November 1921.
THE BRITISH LEGION BECOMES 'ROYAL'
The Legion is honoured to have Her Majesty the Queen as its patron. While having royal patronage from its founding in 1921, the Legion received its "Royal" appellation on 29 May 1971, on its golden anniversary. Membership was extended to serving members of Her Majesty's Forces, as well as ex-Service personnel, in 1981. Now, anyone can become a member of the Legion.
With the coming together of the four service association the British Legion was formed at 9:00am on the 15th May 1921.
The then fledgling Witham Branch was amongst the first dozen Branches in Essex to be formed in the June and July of 1921.
Witham Branch history began with it's formation on Wednesday 27th July 1921.
Sadly of those twelve founding Essex Branches formed in the early summer of 1921, only four of the original twelve Branches still remain in existence.
Witham Branch is looking forward to the Spring and Summer of 2021, we have the fifty years of being the Royal British Legion to celebrate on Saturday 29th May 2021. One hundred years since the foundation of the British Legion on Saturday 15th May 2021.
Finally and proudly on Tuesday 27th July 2021, we celebrate one hundred years of service to the communities around Witham Essex. With the Centenary of the formation of Witham Branch Royal British Legion.