Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Henley & Peppard Branch, Royal British Legion

SUPPOSING I’d been given the task of composing an article about the Henley branch of the Royal British Legion (and I was), it might begin something like this:

“Have you heard about a remarkable group of people in Henley?

“They meet in town once a month for an informal talk on a wide range of topics, followed by a good lunch with wine and coffee. £10 all in!

“They would like to invite you along. Would you like to know more?”

So, what’s not to like? The reality could be that you glance away immediately, thinking, ‘The British Legion? That’s not for me. I haven’t been in the forces, haven’t got time, don’t want to get involved’.”

My reaction could well have been the same but wasn’t because, like me, you’re bound to know people who’ve served our country.

My father was in the RAF during the Second World War and I was brought up learning about the defining time in his life when he trained in Canada as a navigator of flying boats.

Two of my early boyfriends were in the forces. One, a navy pilot, was killed in the Falklands War.

I’ve shared the anxiety of a dear friend as she lived out the days when her beloved son was on duty in Helmand and joined the celebrations on his safe return.

I support Help for Heroes and for the last few years I’ve helped with the street collection for the Poppy Appeal on drizzly November afternoons as well as bright, crisp sunshiny mornings just because I can, because it’s rather fun to be involved, and because it’s for such a good cause.

With these personal associations, it didn’t take much to persuade me at least to give it a try, no pressure, no commitment.

Straight away at that first meeting I was introduced to such interesting, friendly people before it was time to sit down and listen to a fascinating talk.

Questions followed but so did the distant rattling of the lunch trolley bringing the session to a close and a tasty hot meal to the table. Two courses, drinks served from the bar, conversation buzzing — honestly, people have such remarkable stories to tell.

Some, like me, simply enjoy the atmosphere, company and sense of belonging to a worthwhile local group.

Of course, what underpins the organisation nationally is the financial, moral and emotional support it offers to anyone who has been in the forces and their families who might be glad of a point of contact or are in need of practical help in a number of ways.

Perhaps you’ve attended the Remembrance Sunday service organised by the Legion in Market Place, Henley, each year and seen all the young cadets proudly participating in that particular ceremony.

Next year, 100 years on from 1918, there will be major events nationwide to commemorate the end of the First World War. Plans are taking shape for functions we can all attend in Henley. One date which is firmly fixed in our diaries is the Aliquando Chamber Choir concert on November 10, 2018 at St Mary’s Church in aid of the Poppy Appeal.

This will be a special occasion linked to such a significant Remembrance Sunday the next day, so please make a note in your diary.

Why not put your toe in the water now? Come along to one of our British Legion meetings and enjoy a couple of hours of relaxing diversion and a delicious lunch — but do contact me first to book yourself in so that I can let our chef know how many to cater for.

Our next meeting will be at the Christ Church Centre in Reading Road, Henley at 11.30am on Monday July, 17.

I can promise you there won’t be spam or bully beef on the menu!

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