The Haddiscoe branch (1936-2007)

— Tidings, November 2019 —

The Haddiscoe branch of the British Legion was set up in 1936 at a meeting hosted in the library of Haddiscoe Hall by Colonel Freeland, its first president. Thereafter members of the branch met in either the Three Tuns or the Dun Cow, Aldeby’s two pubs.

During World War Two members of the Legion were very active in supporting the war effort, fundraising and sending comfort boxes for those in the armed forces. A comfort box might contain knitted socks and balaclavas; it often included cigarettes and chocolate, obtained by members pooling their ration coupons. Wartime fundraising in cities like Birmingham raised enough to purchase a Spitfire or an armoured car. The targets set by villages like ours were more modest: they aimed to pay for a machine gun. Many of the Legion’s members, naturally, also served in the Home Guard.

After the war ended in 1945, men from Geldeston and Gillingham joined their fellow ex-servicemen from Haddiscoe, Aldeby, Burgh Peter and Wheatacre in the Legion’s Haddiscoe branch — war veterans from Kirby Cane and Ellingham came under the Bungay branch — and in 1950 the Legion reached its peak membership of three million. The Queen Mother became the organisation’s patron and in time she was succeeded by her daughter Queen Elizabeth II.

Haddiscoe, a sub-branch of Loddon RBL

The original standard of the Legion, carried between 1947 and 2007 by Gordon Howlett, today hangs in Aldeby church. The present standard-bearer is Jonathan Sayer from Geldeston who served as Haddiscoe branch secretary after 1987: two years earlier the branch received a pennant to mark its 50th anniversary and this was stitched to its standard.

One activity of the post-war years was to deliver Christmas boxes to elderly and disabled members who couldn’t attend the meetings. Dougie Sayer took over the task from Bob Cook; both were Geldeston men. The poppy appeal organiser in those days was William Hubbard from Aldeby, and Leonard Simpson from Gillingham was membership secretary. In 1987 the branch had 57 members. By 2007 only eight members survived and Haddiscoe became a sub-branch of Loddon.

I was never conscripted into the army, as was the case with my Uncle Peter and my father, nor did I become a professional soldier like my brother and grandson. For the past 34 years I have been a member of the Royal British Legion to help those who fought the wars of the 20th century and in remembrance of several generations of my family who served and continue to serve with the country’s armed forces.

Jonathan Sayer