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by Julie Summers

We are the Legion, by Julie Summers, is a comprehensive eulogy in rightful praise of the Royal British Legion at 100 and is no mean feat of literary achievement. It is beautifully produced, and lavishly illustrated, and a fitting tribute to a century of enduring work by a charity, born of war, whose sole remit, in the words of Her Majesty the Queen, ‘has remained unchanged to this  day, as it continues to provide help and assistance to the Armed Forces community under a lifelong duty of care, whilst keeping its promise never to forget the service and sacrifice of those who have been prepared to step into harm’s way, in defence of democracy and freedom’.  No wonder that, a century on, The Royal British Legion is now a national institution, its presence embedded into the fabric of our society through its ongoing work as Britain’s largest military charity, with a membership of over 220,000, 2,500 branches in the United Kingdom, and a further 78 worldwide. At its core is the well-being of the Armed Forces Community. Lest we forget

Summers takes us effortlessly through the Legion’s birth a hundred years ago, from the unrest of those early post Great War years when thousands upon thousands of servicemen were demobbed, cast aside, duty done. With riots and disquiet among the ranks at the government’s poor handling of demobilisation, four distinct yet rival organisations formed to lobby the plight of the hard done by former sailors, soldiers, and now airmen too. We learn of the great unifying presence of the highly popular Field Marshal Earl Haig in bringing together the four organisations into one British Legion, with its sister affiliate then known as The Legion in Scotland, and how his henchman in this great act was a humble lance-bombardier, the great Sir Thomas ‘Fred’ Lister whose energy, zeal, and persistent ability to speak truth unto power singled him out as the Legion’s first chairman and champion of the ex-servicemen and women’s welfare. Lest we forget

In Lieutenant Colonel John Macrae’s haunting poem, In Flanders Fields, the poppies blow between the crosses, row on row. It was a French lady, Madame Anna Guerin, who campaigned for the adoption of the poppy as a symbol of remembrance for those who made the ultimate sacrifice and gave their lives for the liberty we enjoy to this day, and so was born the world’s largest street cash collection which raises more than £50 million annually, representing a third of the Legion’s income, culminating with the moving tributes to our Armed Forces at the Festival of Remembrance in the Royal Albert Hall and at Remembrance Day Parades the following morning up and down the land. Lest we forget

But, it is not all pomp and splendour, no matter gender, colour, race, rank, religion or status. Summers reminds that the Royal British Legion unites the service community with its care for the needy, its homes for the aged, its support for the disabled and its campaigns to ensure those in the services are treated fairly and with the respect they deserve, most notably with the pioneering work in upholding the Armed Forces Covenant and most recently with successes over the right to British citizenship for Commonwealth personnel serving in our Armed Forces. Lest we forget

We should be indebted to Julie Summers for her great book, We are the Legion, as we should be to the Royal British Legion for its tireless work on our behalf; it is a timely reminder that without this great national institution, the lot of the servicemen and women who have, who do, and who will so selflessly serve the Nation, would be all the less without the charity’s ability to help and provide and to cajole politicians to meet their responsibilities.
And, should anyone be of the misguided belief that the Legion’s work is over, remember now

‘in Afghan fields, the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row …’
Lest we ever forget

Harry Bucknall

Published by Profile Books

Harry Bucknall’s new book, A Road for All Seasons, the tale of his 6,500-mile journey through Britain, will be published by Little Brown in Summer 2022.




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