AS THE Royal British Legion celebrates its 90th anniversary, county branches and clubs across Oxfordshire are fighting a new enemy – falling membership.
Without ‘new blood’ the very future of the county RBL – which has 63 branches, 11 clubs and 5,300 members – is threatened.
Kidlington Royal British Legion has already fought back from the brink once, when it closed in the 1960s due to a lack of members. It reformed in 1978.
Chairman Stan White, 79, who helped it reopen, said it then grew to a “healthy” 400 members but has now dropped back to 105. It is hoping to put on more events to attract members.
The former Royal Army Ordnance Corps storeman said: “We do worry about its survival.
“The younger soldiers don’t seem interested in joining the RBL.”
Falklands veteran Gordon Monks, 52, joined the branch 19 years ago and is one its youngest members.
He said: “Irrespective of age or regiment, there’s a sense of belonging and comradeship.
“When I look at young guys leaving the services today – who like me want to go off and forget it all – I genuinely feel they could find what I did in the RBL.”
Former Second World paratrooper Fred Harman, 85, said: “I think I would have found it more difficult when I left the services, had I not been a member.
“Boys are coming back injured, or worse, and they and their families are having to pick up the pieces.
“But the Legion can help you do that.”
“I am now 85, but I still meet with like-minded people once a week and I am still in contact with 43 of the chaps I served with – that’s got to be a good thing.”
Marston RBL faced closure last year over a £54,225 tax bill but was rescued by a five-year loan from an anonymous member.
Now it is fighting back by looking at what it can offer to younger generations.
Danny Maskell, 80, a member since he was 21, said: “Membership has risen, our function room is very popular, we have pool, snooker and darts to tempt in the youngsters and families use the club too.”
The Wheatley & District branch folded in the 1980s but reopened in 2006 and now boasts 38 members.
It has received the Legion’s Duncan Cup – awarded to the fastest growing branch in Oxfordshire – three times.
Although it meets twice a month, a bi-monthly newsletter keeps members in touch and helps attracts new ones. A cadet group has also now been set up Chairman Lt Col Alan Cowie, 71, said: “We are very hopeful that eventually we can form relationships with them and that some of these cadets could go on to become RBL members.”
For information visit britishlegion.org.counties/oxfordshire or call 01844 216961.
The Kidlington branch is looking for a social secretary to organise events. Contact Stan White on 01865 373235.
Are you an individual, family or community group who has benefited from the help of the Royal British Legion? If so, we would like to hear from you. Call our news desk on 01865 425444.