Steve Morris

Join the Royal British Legion!

It’s a better hang out than Soho House

  • From Spectator Life
(Alamy)

One of the things I really regret is that I didn’t spend more time down the British Legion with my dad. I was a bit snooty about it, I suppose. All those ex-squaddies talking about the army and playing darts and having a pint or two.I was an indie-kid, heading to university to read English. I preferred Camden to Greenford.

But now I’d choose the Legion any day. And if more us don’t then you might see your local club closing as a result of the cheap pints at a local Wetherspoons. I realise now that the old British Legion clubs and the Legion itself is of such importance that we need a national drive to support it.

To get into one of the clubs you need a membership, but that’s not difficult. Everyone is welcome, even with no connection to the military at all. It is much better value than the local gym and much more convivial and full of character and characters than members’ clubs like Soho House. 

Why go? You can be yourself at the Legion and get a slice of life barely changed for decades. It is time travel back to an age when people mowed the lawn, worked hard and loved their country… and were prepared to die for all that was good in it.

When I’d go in with my dad, we’d have a pint and a pie and then chat to those people around us. Not just about the army, but also about life. We’d have a laugh, take the mickey. Complain about the local council. It was predominantly working class, but not overwhelmingly white.

The legion of course, supports ex-service personnel and their families. They raise money from the poppy appeal. Personally, I lament the wearing of white poppies, and of course not wearing a poppy at all. It seems to me to be an act of the worse kind of revisionism.

My dad’s father died on the last day of the war. He left a heartbroken family and a boy who never really recovered. Because the legion is not about war, it is about protecting all that is dear and not forgetting. And acknowledging the cost of freedom.

Which brings us back to a night down the Legion. Why would you choose it over a night at a restaurant or the theatre or at a film?

The local club seems a long way from the fog of war. But is it is deeply comforting. It strips back hospitality to its essence. What is the good life other than storytelling, a pint and a bit of food? It does so with that memory of all that has been, tucked away, but always present.

The reverend Dave Byrne was padre to a British Legion branch. His experience explains the charm of the place. ‘The club was just away from a large housing estate. We got loads of people from there coming in. It was a safe place, somewhere to meet and relax.’ On the estate there weren’t meeting spaces, and the older generation might have been trapped in their homes without their friendly Legion just far enough away to give them breathing space. And then there was the bar, which can’t be underestimated.

‘I sometimes found myself sitting with four pints of lager in front of me. They were so generous. They treated me as they did their padre, or in the RAF sky-pilot. They respected me and I respected them.’ And the experience of the Legion changed Dave. ‘They really took Remembrance day seriously. And I really do as well now. People had done their bit and had been proud to serve.’ I feel that if we all joined up, went along, and had a bit of fun, it might change us too.

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