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Over 100 years many Royals and celebrities have joined us in honouring and supporting those who protect our way of life.

From the Royal Family to stars of the stage and screen, learn more about those who have helped us raise awareness and vital funds to support the Armed Forces community

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Alison Hammond becomes a Poppy Collector for the day

Whilst gearing up for the 2019 Poppy Appeal, the Birmingham Area Office team was told that Alison Hammond from ITV’s This Morning would be coming to the Pop In centre to be a poppy collector for the day. Advice and Information Team Leader, David Fairclough, offered to show Alison the ropes and explain how the Royal British Legion spends the money raised from the appeal.

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On the day itself, the film crew arrived at 6 am, a very early start. Alison walked through the Pop In Centre doors, introducing herself to the staff and volunteers working that day. She took the time to chat with everyone and was interested in what the team does, why they do it, and most of all, how they help the Armed Forces community.

David and his team explained how passionate the fundraisers and organisers are and how it can get quite competitive about the totals raised. Alison saw this as a personal challenge, and with that, she told her producers “Today I’m going to be a Poppy Appeal collector…We’re going to film me raising the most money in Birmingham in one day!” The producers nodded and agreed.

David and his colleague, Annette, theatrically gave Alison her poppy tray and collection tin and then ventured out into Birmingham to fundraise. Thinking it was all for show, David was glad to be proven wrong when Alison stayed the entire day (9-4 pm) collecting for RBL. Hundreds of people donated and shared stories with Alison about their own or their families’ service. 

At the end of a long day, Alison went back to the Pop In centre and whispered very quickly in David’s ear, asking how much she’d raised. He began to count it, but she had raised so much in those seven hours it would have taken him another seven to count it.

Waving goodbye, she shouted, “I’ll come back again soon and break another collection record!”

 

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Alistair Stewart on The Christmas Celebration

Each year, Alistair Stewart leads our very special event, the Christmas Celebration. He gives a sense of those evenings and how special they are:

“From the first note of ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ to the ‘Figgy Pudding’ of the traditional finale; it is magical.

The historic splendour of the City of London’s Guildhall is always a unique mixture of the Holy, the hilarious and the festive. The Legion attracts some of the finest and most famous voices to entertain, enlighten and move us for the annual Christmas Celebration.

The music is a veritable pot pourri of perfection. The steady spine of the London Bach Choir is a constant alongside the singular genius of The Central Band of the Royal British Legion, under the baton of Captain David Cole. It all comes together to create sheer Christmas joy.

We have also had the honour of entertaining a range of Royals over the years, including HRH Princess Alexandra, HRH the Duchess of Cornwall and most recently HRH the Duke of Gloucester.

But, above all, it has been our supporters, who make The Christmas Celebration such a special occasion.

For almost two decades I have sat and gazed out at an array of folk in dinner jackets and ball gowns: singing, laughing, applauding, and even shedding an occasional tear. They are the happiest of memories, shared with the kindest of people, who come together to support the organisation and enjoy the best of festive music.”

*Images: Alistair Stewart with the Duchess of Cornwall at Christmas Celebration 2008 | Christmas Celebration 2019(left to right) Clarke Peters, David Haig, Helen Atkinson Wood and Alistair Stewart | Alistair presenting Christmas Celebration 2012 | Christmas Celebration 2014: Alistair sitting on the left and David Cole centre in red, with the Bach Choir.

 

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Kathleen Effie Pears (nee Thorne) Born 22 February 1901, died 30 April 1985

Effie Pears was a stalwart of the Lexden, Colchester branch from 1929 until she died in 1985. She was on the branch committee for most of that time and was Chairman of the Women's Section for several years.

Effie’s grandchildren would help her assemble thousands of poppies each year, a very meticulous process of attaching the individual petals to a black plastic centre and bare wire stem.

Local newspapers celebrated her 50 years of service at the age of 78 in 1979 and also her 80th birthday, which was marked at the Branch Annual Dinner in 1981. However, it was the two letters from Clarence House which were the highlight of her achievements.

Her 56 years of “devoted endeavours” were rewarded with the Merit Award bar and certificate and the Poppy Award brooch and certificate. In 1980, the branch awarded her the Meritorious Service Certificates brooch, which her granddaughter now wears at Remembrance time each year and Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, congratulated her in her letters.

*Image: Letter from Clarence House after the Queen Mother had been advised of Effie Pears’ 50 years’ service with the Royal British Legion | Newspaper article 9 October 1979 | My grandmother receiving a certificate of merit and a poppy brooch on 15 April 1980.

The “Old Contemptibles” Standard Project

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The standard was on unprotected, open display in St. Michaels Church, Bishop’s Stortford in a heavily worn and degraded condition. By definition, a processional standard is a visually striking object and needed to be restored so it could be displayed in the Bishop Stortford Museum. The museum had reached out to organisations, such as the local Royal British Legion branch, due to the First World War era being under-represented in the exhibitions.

The “Old Contemptibles” was a name given to the first British soldiers who went to war in 1914 in response to a disparaging remark made by the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II; it was a name they relished as it showed the trouble they were provoking him.

Restoring the “Old Contemptibles” standard

In 2016, the Bishop’s Stortford branch was awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund Grant to restore The Bishop's Stortford "Old Contemptibles" Standard.
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Cyril allowed them to find out more about his family history as he knew that his Uncle Ernest Banks (10th Battalion Essex Regiment) carried the Standard for the Bishop’s Stortford branch of the Old Contemptibles Association during the First World War. With the help of historians, the branch was able to find out more about Ernest Banks, including the fact that he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for gallantry in September 1918.

Cyril Banks became a television sensation when he appeared on Good Morning Britain with Piers Morgan and Susannah Reid to launch a campaign to end loneliness in 2020 after losing his wife, Vera. Cyril helps the local branch to raise money for the Poppy Appeal.

Veteran Cyril Banks

The Bishop’s Stortford branch got local veteran, Cyril Banks, on board with the project.

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Ross Kemp and the Riders branch at Halsey House

The Rider’s branch regularly visits Halsey House in Cromer, Norfolk, with their bikes. In 2015 Ross Kemp, whose grandmother was a resident at the time, had brought his family along to the opening of the Summer Fete. His son sat on one of the motorbikes, and Ross took time out from signing autographs to speak to the members of the RBL Riders branch, thanking them for the work of RBL. Ross has supported many RBL events over the years, most recently attending our Christmas Celebration in 2019.

The Queen visits to the Berlin Branch

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Royal British Legion standard-bearers, consisting of Second World War veterans, helped to welcome Her Majesty. The Heerstrasse cemetery contains 3,595 Commonwealth burials from the Second World War, a large number of airmen who were lost in air raids over Berlin. 

The new branch receives a Royal visit

Within two years of founding the Berlin branch, members welcomed the arrival of HM Queen Elizabeth II at the Heerstrasse Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery, Charlottenburg, in May 1965. 

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Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, talked to RBL branch members whilst visiting the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Berlin. The cemetery is central to the Remembrance activities of the Berlin branch.

HM The Queen returns to Berlin

The Berlin branch was honoured to have Her Majesty The Queen return to Heerstrasse for the second time in 1992.


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Teresa de Roberto gets surprised by John Barrowman

“I started singing with the Royal British Legion in 2008 at events across the UK, performing with military bands and in branches for fundraising events.

"At the Bath and West Showground during an RBL lunch, I was performing a couple of sets for RBL members when the giant poppy mascot joined me on stage. He took off the costume to reveal that it was John Barrowman, and I was on ‘Tonight’s the Night’. He told me that I was going to be performing that night on primetime television with the renowned opera singer Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. 

"It was the greatest gift the RBL could give an aspiring classical singer and it changed my life, giving me the career I had always dreamed of".

*Images: Singing at an RBL Remembrance event | Teresa gets surprised by John Barrowman at Bath and West Showground | Performing on the BBC with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.

Coleraine - First World War commemoration

In 2014, Coleraine branch, in conjunction with Coleraine Borough Council, commenced a programme of events to commemorate 100 years since the beginning of the First World War. 

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A Royal Visit

The launch of the 'Recognition of the First World War' was held on Wednesday 25 June 2014 and it transpired that there was likely to be a high-profile guest in attendance.  It was none other than Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. They laid a wreath at the memorial and representatives from RBL branches in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland attended, and many got the opportunity to meet the Royals.

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Quantum of Solace premiere

In 2009, RBL raised £250k partnering with the James Bond film premiere Quantum of Solace. It was also attended by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry.

The atmosphere was marvellous, with Prince Harry and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in attendance amongst the other VIPs. We took a number of ex-Service personnel with us who had been supported by RBL.

They rubbed shoulders with celebrities as they walked down the red carpet getting their pictures taken with their favourite movie stars.

The Royal party spent far more time with our guests than anyone else (especially an assistance dog who got more attention than Daniel Craig). Trafalgar Square itself had been converted into a Bond scene, with flashy cars, and the most beautiful eveningwear.

*Images: HRH Prince Harry and HRH Prince William meeting veterans at the Quantum of Solace London Premiere on 29 October 2008 Empire Cinema, Leicester Square | Daniel Craig with an ex-Service personnel | Dame Judy Dench with a veteran | Olga Kurylenko meeting an ex-Service personnel.
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Shropshire 2020 Poppy Appeal Launch with Ollie Ollerton

We were planning a small Poppy Appeal launch in Shropshire in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but I had connected with Ollie Ollerton of SAS: Who Dares Wins on LinkedIn so I thought I’d contact him.

Ollie had recently moved to Shropshire to set up his new fitness business, Break-Point, and jumped at the chance to support the Royal British Legion, being incredibly passionate about our veteran and serving community.

Ollie chatted with everyone in attendance from our County Chair and President to the cadet representatives. He stayed whilst the local press took photos in the pouring rain, gaining huge amounts of exposure. We are indebted for his support. 

Prince of Wales and HM Queen Elizbeth II visiting Brussels

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In June 1923, The Prince of Wales, the future Edward VIII, visited the Brussels branch accompanied by Field Marshal Earl Haig.

The Prince greeted members with a vigorous handshake. After a “Hip Hip Hurrah” and on spotting a photographer, His Royal Highness gathered branch members around to capture the memorable moment.

Prince of Wales and Earl Haig in Brussels, 1923

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43 Years later, in 1966, Queen Elizabeth II and King Baudouin of Belgium met British and Belgian veterans in the Grand Place.

This included branch Vice-President Albert Harris and Standard Bearer Eric Johnson. The Queen paid tribute to the Belgians who had fought during the Second World War, “distinguishing themselves on land, sea and air”.

Queen Elizabeth II and King Baudouin of Belgium, 1966

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HM Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother

HM Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother served as the President of the Royal British Legion Women’s Section from 1924 until her death in 2002.

In 1945 she attended the Annual Conference at Central Hall, Westminster, to present awards to delegates including the Queen’s Cup.

With the Second World War still ongoing, in one image she can be seen pausing to view aircraft returning from a raid on Germany.

*Images from the Women’s Section Annual Conferences 1945 and 1946 when HM Queen Elizabeth was attending as President of the Women's Section.

Help us celebrate our centenary

This year, we're celebrating our 100th anniversary and find out how you can get involved in our centenary.

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