From the Thorley Archives

Remembrance Month

The Royal British Legion is a national organisation of ex-members of the British armed forces which offers continuing support to members and their families. Memories of the Thorley branch, founded in 1947, have recently been recalled by David Philpott, a past president, and John Challis, a past secretary. Anecdotal incidents include church parades, the presentation of a new banner and social occasions such as the Poppy Ball, 'Barrack Room Suppers' and branch dinners. Dennis Castle remembers making Norman Wisdom an honorary member of the Thorley branch at the London Palladium.

From the British Legion Journal March 1961

Norman Wisdom Gets His Badge

Thorley British Legion recently signed on their hundredth member - Norman Wisdom, the comedian. At an informal ceremony in his dressing room at the London Palladium where he is appearing as Dick Whittington in the pantomime "Turn Again, Whittington", he was presented with his badge and membership card by Mr. A.F.Knight, Chairman. Other branch members present were: The Rev. S.E.F. Robinson (assistant secretary), D.V.Castle (treasurer), G.H.W.Barker, F.C. Lee, F.W.Jordan (committee members) and F.A.C.Harris, who took the photograph. In our picture Norman Wisdom is examining his membership card.

The branch was formed in 1948 and at first 'ticked over' quietly with about 28 members. Since four years ago, increased activities have made Thorley one of the most active branches in the district. Membership has grown steadily and it was decided to mark the century with a special ceremony. Secretary Mr. Cook, a former XIth Hussar, felt that as there was only one other ex-Hussar in the branch the hundredth member should also be an ex-Hussar. He wrote to Mr. Wisdom, who served with the Xth Hussars, and he immediately accepted the invitation to become the branch's hundredth member.

Afterwards the party from Thorley went to the evening performance to see their hundredth member in action.

David Philpott recounts, 'In 1971, by Royal Warrant, the British Legion was granted the prefix 'Royal'. We therefore had to purchase a new banner and the cost of this was kindly borne by one of the members of the branch. Rev'd Sidney Robinson dedicated the new banner and it was presented to our standard bearer Frank Crabb who was escorted by Gordon Barker and Ron Oxborrow.'

Frank Crabb being presented with the Royal British Legion Standard

The Thorley Branch paraded with the standard from the Old Thorley School to St James Church every year and a poppy wreath was laid at the war memorial in the church.

In 1955 the branch was invited to parade its standard at the annual service in the Royal Albert Hall. This was held on the Saturday preceding Remembrance Day, November 11th, and was attended by members of the Royal Family. Standard bearer, Frank Crabb, duly attended.

Frank Crabb's Royal Albert Hall Programme

David continues, 'During the early years of the formation of the Thorley Branch we used to hold, at infrequent intervals, what we called 'Barrack Room Suppers'. These were held on Saturday evenings in the Scout Hut and our ladies kindly supplied bowls of salad, rolls and cheese and we made our own entertainment. The Rev'd Sidney Robinson always attended in his capacity as a member (he served as a RAF Padre during WW2) and as our branch Padre. On one occasion, rather late in the evening he announced to us all, " Well chaps I must be off. Tomorrow is a working day for me! "

Again in our early days, we booked a meal at the Chequers Hotel which was in North Street but is no longer there. The splendid meal consisted of three courses plus coffee with white linen on the tables and waitress service. This was well before decimalisation and cost us the princely sum of four shillings and sixpence each (22p). At our next committee meeting Arthur Bird ( a Great War veteran ) asked "Why didn't we get cheese and biscuits?" This was duly minuted!'

Thorley Branch parading with other Branches to St James Church

For John Challis a fond memory was the organisation of the Poppy Ball held at the Rhodes Centre. This annual event in the 1980s was attended by over 200 people. The highlight was the appearance of a band from the Central Band of the Royal Air Force. The band always looked forward to coming and they presented the branch with a plaque in recognition of the work of the Thorley organisation. Their next appearance, usually the following day, was in the Lord Mayor's Procession in London.

On Monday 15th August this year a crab apple tree was planted on the green at Rectory Close in memory of all those who fought in the Second World War and to mark the 60th anniversary of VE and VJ days. The planting was carried out by Frank Monk, a veteran of the Second World War. There were several members of the former Thorley Branch in attendance.

Rev'd Charlie Kosla and Frank Monk at Rectory Close

Dwindling numbers meant that the Thorley Branch of the Royal British Legion was disbanded in 1993. Their standards were laid up beside the war memorials in the church.

Bill Hardy
November 2005

From the Archives