Our staff, members and volunteers have been at the heart of everything we do for 100 years.
From branch Standard Bearers to local Poppy Appeal organisers discover some of the unsung heroes who work tirelessly for their communities.
RBL’s Director of Music, David Cole OBE
After 32 years service in The Royal Marines, David Cole took up the mantle of Director of Music at the Royal British Legion and Director of the Central Band.
His dedication to the RBL has seen his hard work rewarded with industry awards and an OBE. During his lifelong career, David has seen changes not only to the military but also to the music that he writes and performs. David’s reputation precedes him, being well regarded by the BBC for remembrance programmes such as the 100-year anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele where he worked with talents such as Alfie Boe, writing orchestral accompaniment for performances and winning one of his three BAFTA’s. His two other BAFTA awards have come from the outstanding productions of the Festival of Remembrance which have become an awe-inspiring spectacle, a long way from when he first worked on the event with hand-written hymn scores. However, David ensures that the message of Remembrance and Service are never lost,
"We don’t write shows for awards ... when we have bereaved families at the Festival to honour for their supreme sacrifice, that is our main focus", says David.
Today the use of computers allows David to write all his music digitally and easily adapt to the needs of television productions and to send to performers anywhere in the world to rehearse with the full orchestra in their ear. This has been especially useful during the Covid-19 pandemic when the Band was unable to rehearse or perform together for over a year. David took the break to spend time with his family, but he continued to compose, "because it’s in the blood, music can’t stop."
On 19 May 2021, 47 musicians finally gathered in London for their first rehearsal together and look forward to returning to the stage over the Summer with David continuing his music career as well as his life-long dedication to the Armed Forces.
*Images of David Cole directing the Central Band, awarded a BAFTA and OBE.
The youngest Poppy Appeal Collectors
In 2000, Khumi started helping with her local Poppy Appeal in Wilmslow, later going on to become a County Poppy Appeal Coordinator.
In 2003, she was also appointed as Deputy Lieutenant of Greater Manchester in recognition of her work within the community. She was so pleased to see the young people in her community volunteering at various events, that she began the Lord Lieutenant of Cheshire Young Peoples’ Poppy Appeal Award, to celebrate their achievements and dedication.
Encouraging young people to support the RBL
Khumi Burton has always been a champion of Remembrance and has actively encouraged the community, especially young people, to get involved and support RBL.
Rachel remembers the comfort that the staff gave her when her grandmother passed away, and the care and support they gave her grandfather in the following years. It was then that she realised, this was the kind of career she wanted to have.
Nine years later in January 2017, Rachel completed her training and graduated from university, registering with the Nursing and Midwifery Council. After qualifying, Rachel worked in a hospital setting for almost a year before she realised her dream and began working at Galanos.
How our care home staff inspired a young girl’s career
Rachel Hughes was so touched by the support and care her grandparents received at our Galanos House care home that she chose to pursue a career as a nurse with hopes of one day working back at the home that inspired her.
Bruce Bairnsfather, Old Bill and the British Legion
In 1915, while resting in billets behind the lines, Bruce Bairnsfather finished drawing a cartoon sketch and sent it off to The Bystander magazine in London. The cartoon, showing a group of soldiers peering out from their dugout, a shell having just exploded nearby, was captioned “Where did that one go to?” It was published in The Bystander in March 1915 and his career as a cartoonist began.
In 1933, Bruce and his popular character, Old Bill, were recruited by the British Legion to help boost membership. On the front cover of the January 1934 British Legion Journal, a drawing of Old Bill proudly wearing the British Legion badge was featured, saying “If yer knows of a better badge, get it!” and inside that issue, there was the announcement:
“Ole Bill, as you see, has joined the Legion. It’s the only thing for a decent ex-serviceman to do, of course. Every member the Legion gets makes it stronger and better able to fight for the things for which the Legion stands.”
On 27 January 1934, a reunion dinner was organised by the Leicestershire and Rutland Area Council of the British Legion. Each of the 2,000 ex-servicemen at the dinner was presented with a souvenir menu card, featuring a cartoon drawn specially for the occasion by Bairnsfather. It showed Old Bill, dressed in his dinner suit and raising a glass, saying “Comrades and fellow blokes! I ‘opes you ‘as a very (censored) good time to-night.”
Bairnsfather’s association with the British Legion was warmly welcomed and his cover drawing from the January Journal sparked great interest. The drawing proved so popular that the British Legion reproduced it as a recruitment poster, with the inscription “I’ve joined the British Legion. Have you?”
As well as contributing a monthly cartoon to the Journal, he also made a series of personal appearances at branches across the country and attended the National Conference in 1934 alongside other dignitaries including the Duke of Somerset and Lady Haig. He entertained members with lightning sketches which were subsequently auctioned; one being purchased by Lady Haig for 13½ guineas. He would often hold such auctions at other events to raise funds for the British Legion.
An editorial in the September 1934 Journal showed the high regard and esteem in which Bruce was held by the British Legion: “England owes Bruce Bairnsfather a great deal more than its leaders have yet recognised for the smiles and laughter he raised in the trenches during the Great War.”
In June 1939, three years after publishing his last drawing, Bruce Bairnsfather’s cartoons began appearing in the Journal again, enjoying great entertainment from his sketches. But, by 1942, he was appointed as Official Correspondent-Cartoonist to the US Forces in Northern Ireland and they weren’t to feature again.
In his later years, Bairnsfather maintained his links with the British Legion. He was for many years a regular visitor to Shropshire, where he indulged his passion for landscape painting. In 1947, during a visit, he painted a large, full colour mural of Old Bill on the staircase wall at the British Legion Victory Club in Ludlow.
*Images of the British Legion Journal cover from April and January 1934 | British Legion menu drawing: January 1934 | Colwall Legion 1952 | Bruce Bairnsfather working on Ludlow Legion mural in 1947.
*Images and research provided by Mark Warby
Lifelong service of Louis Leon Parrini
About Lou Parrini
As Lou explained his role in organising Parade of Standards at the Festival of Remembrance, he suggested to Her Majesty that the format of the event should be changed so that she could witness the spectacle of the standards entering the room for the “Assembly”. When the format was changed the following year, Lou was adamant that The Queen had taken on his suggestion.
Meeting Her Majesty The Queen
Lou Parrini continued to work for the British Legion right up to his death in 1974, raising funds for the Poppy Appeal and undertaking case work for the RBL and the War Pensions Scheme. His son Anthony Parrini remains a member of the Carlisle and Stanwix Branch, where he has held the position of branch secretary, and thus the Parrini name has been associated with the RBL for over 70 years.
Awarded RBL lifetime membership
Lt Col Charles Hulbert Madden OBE
After the First World War, Charles Hulbert Madden joined the British Legion and devoted the rest of his life to helping ex-servicemen. During a five-day visit to Brighton, he was particularly overwhelmed by the desperation and destitution of wounded ex-servicemen.
In 1931, Charles was elected as Chairman of the British Legion Sussex County branch. He fought for ex-servicemen to get access to expert advice and legal representation to obtain their war pensions. Charles himself had to fight for his war pension, which was his only source of income after the Great War.
Charles also spent a lot of time supporting Preston Hall Tuberculosis Sanatorium. He was forward-thinking when it came to mental health issues, recognising that this was an illness of the brain just like any physical injury to the body. He wrote, ‘the treatment and the training of the disabled aims to raise the whole physiological outlook of the sufferer, so that he may earn his bread without the brand of the industrial outcast.’
In 1937, Charles was again elected Chairman of the Sussex County and held that post until 1946. During this time, he fought many pensions cases against the Minister for Pensions and other provisions against the Minister for Labour. He simultaneously worked on Government and British Legion advisory committees despite being severely visually impaired, which made reading the countless documents extremely difficult. He used a monocle and 10x magnifying glass to read, but, having an incredibly sharp memory to the point of quoting page and paragraph numbers, his knowledge of war pensions and disabilities meant he was a sought-after representative by the British Legion in any meetings around these topics.
On 16 February 1952, Charles was killed in an air crash on his way to visit his daughter in Kenya. His memorial was held in All Saints Church in Hove with thousands of people attending the service, including 98 RBL standards. A memorial at All Saints Church, Hove, by the RBL pays tribute to his unwearied devotion to ex-servicemen and women.
*Images: Captain Madden in WW1 and WW2| Charles medals | Charles plaque.
John Marsh’s lifelong commitment to RBL
John Marsh’s father joined the Canterbury branch soon after its formation, having been a member of the Comrades of The Great War, one of the four founding organisations that became the British Legion.
John himself joined the branch in 1959 following five years in the Royal Air Force and was elected Vice-Chairman the following year. By 1961, he became Chairman and, at the age of 25, was the youngest person to have held the post. His father was by his side as his Vice-Chairman.
John has been elected as Chairman twice since then, as well as holding several other posts. He has also been Poppy Appeal Treasurer since 1999.
As well as all these branch commitments, John carried the branch standard for 30 years, sometimes alongside his sister, who carried the Women’s Section standard for 40 years. His highlight as a standard-bearer was attending the 1991 Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall, following in the footsteps of his uncle who carried it there some years earlier.
It is no surprise, therefore, that John was presented with the RBL Gold Badge in 2004 amongst many other awards and certificates. In 2017, he was awarded the Lord Mayor of Canterbury's certificate for services to the local community.
Waving goodbye, she shouted, “I’ll come back again soon and break another collection record!”
Lord David Effingham
“I was called up for National Service in the Royal Navy in the ‘60s, from which I was selected for Officer training then appointed to HMS Vigilant,. When I was promoted to Lieutenant, I was appointed to a patrol boat at Singapore dockyard, working with the police to stop gunrunning and drug trafficking. Whilst in the Far East I was promoted to commander of HMS Hermi, then spent three years in America as a Senior Royal Navy Intelligence Officer based at Washington DC.
"Retiring at the age of 55, I joined the Royal British Legion’s head office, working in the welfare division. I was made Field Manager, Eastern Region, and also involved in a study taking the RBL forward and improving welfare provision. Before long I was appointed National President of RBL, a prestigious honour. One of my duties was to receive Her Majesty the Queen when she attended concerts in Westminster Hall. She sat next to me in the front row, chatting very easily and informally. I also received the Royal Family at the Festival of Remembrance and took them all up to the Royal Box before reciting The Exhortation and the Epitaph.
"After my presidency of RBL I was also on the board of directors for SSAFA and Help for Heroes. I then suffered a major stroke, which my wife believes was caused by being involved in too many service charities! I moved to Lister House, an RBL care home, for rehab but the distance for my wife to visit me was too far, so I moved to Halsey House in Cromer, Norfolk, where I live today. Halsey House provides excellent nursing care and thoughtful daily activities for the residents.”
George Arthur Roberts
George Arthur Roberts was a Rifleman from Trinidad who served with the Middlesex Regiment and earned a reputation as 'The Battalion Bomber' during the First World War for throwing bombs back over enemy lines.
After the war he was deeply involved in the National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Sailors and Soldiers, one of the four organisations that would form the British Legion, where he campaigned for veteran support from the Government. He also became the first black Auxiliary Fireman in the Second World War and founded the RBL Camberwell Branch in 1940. After more than 20 years' service there, George was awarded life membership.
He was also awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) by King George VI in 1944 for his services to the community, including educational work on fire safety and anti-racism. His account of the 'Battle of Westminster Bridge', which he had taken part in, details how this event was a catalyst for the creation of the British Legion.
*Images: George in his army uniform | The speech George Roberts gave to RBL at a conference in 1960
Mr Hemmett served as Club and Branch Secretary, Chairman and Treasurer for many years, and was also a Poppy Appeal Organiser, helping to raise vital funds with the help of his local community.
In 1981 his commitment to RBL was recognised when he was awarded an MBE.
Mr Hemmett’s passion was passed on to his relatives and today his granddaughter Anne-Marie Cobley is the Standard Bearer for the Newport Branch.
“I have early memories as a child of sitting in their living room putting the poppies together. Then in later years having to add the leaf,” said Anne-Marie.
“I am hugely proud of my family's involvement and honoured to have had Grandparents and Parents who were so passionate!”
Mr E L Hemmett MBE
Mr E L Hemmett MBE was a founding member of the Royal British Legion Newport branch and in 1937 sold a silk poppy for £1,000, believed to be the most ever paid for a single poppy.
*Image: Haig Fund silk poppy from 1937
Since retiring Eddie has served his RBL branch with incredible dedication and enthusiasm, earning him the name of ‘The Poppy Man’ in his hometown of St Ives.
Acting as a Case Worker, Poppy Appeal Organiser, Branch Secretary, Chairman and President, Eddie represents the RBL in numerous ways. In 2018 he worked tirelessly with the local council to ensure every fallen hero from the First World War was remembered individually as part of RBL’s ‘Every One Remembered’ campaign.
Many years ago, Eddie personally bought a red carpet which he lays at funerals in St Ives Parish church as a mark of respect for all who have served their country.
Now 97-years-old, his energy, commitment and passion show no signs of dwindling, and in May 2020 St Ives Town Council awarded him a Lifetime Achievement Award as he continued to help others through the Covid-19 pandemic which he continues to do today.
Poppy Man - Eddie Kelly
Eddie Kelly served as a navigator with RAF Bomber Command for 41 years - as he puts it ‘from Pearl Harbour to the Falklands.’
Having found connection and comradeship through the RBL Riders' Branch for the first time since leaving the Army, Adam Brown began to ‘give back’ to the charity in return for the support we’d provided for him. Through his passion for motorcycles he became a champion fundraiser, and came full circle by taking up a role with us as a Poppy Appeal Organiser.
After leaving the Armed Forces, Adam Brown joined the Royal British Legion Riders’ Branch and has gone on to raise over £100,000 for RBL.
*Image of Adam and fellow members of the Riders' branch
Help us celebrate our centenary
This year, we're celebrating our 100th anniversary and find out how you can get involved in our centenary.