Military Wiki
The Royal British Legion
File:Royal British Legion logo.png
Abbreviation The Legion
Formation 1921
Legal status Non-profit organisation
Purpose Support for ex-servicemen and their families
  • 199 Borough High Street, The Borough, London, SE1 1AA
Region served
UK and the Commonwealth
Open to everyone
Director General
Chris Simpkins
Main organ
Board of Trustees

The Royal British Legion (RBL), sometimes referred to as simply The Legion, is the United Kingdom's leading charity providing financial, social and emotional support to millions who have served or who are currently serving in the British Armed Forces, and their dependents.


The British Legion was founded in 1921 as a voice for the ex-Service community as a merger of four organisations: the Comrades of the Great War, the National Association of Discharged Sailors and Soldiers, the National Federation of Discharged and Demobilized Sailors and Soldiers and the Officers' Association. It was granted a Royal Charter on 29 May 1971 to mark its fiftieth anniversary which gives the Legion the privilege of the prefix 'Royal'.[1]

Earl Haig, commander of the Battle of the Somme and Passchendaele was one of the founders of the Legion, and was president until his death.


Perhaps known best for the annual Poppy Appeal and Remembrance services, including the Festival of Remembrance, the Legion was born as a campaigning organisation and has been active behind the scenes in promoting the welfare and interests of the Services and ex-Service community for 86 years.

The Legion fight nearly 36,000 ongoing War Disablement Pension cases for war veterans and make around 300,000 welfare and friendship visits every year.

Ongoing Legion campaigns include calls for more research into: Gulf Illness and compensation for its victims; upgrading of War Pensions; the extension of endowment mortgage compensation for personnel serving overseas; and better support for Service personnel resettling into civilian life. In 2007, the Legion launched the Honour the Covenant campaign urging the Government to honour the Military Covenant.

The head office is based next to Guy's Hospital and Borough tube station.

Poppy Appeal

A paper poppy, worn in the United Kingdom from late October to mid-November in support of the British Legion's and Earl Haig Fund Scotland's Poppy Appeal.

The Legion organises a fund-raising drive each year in the weeks before Remembrance Sunday, during which artificial poppies, meant to be worn on clothing, are offered to the public in return for a charitable donation. Over the course of the preceding year a team of around 50 people, the majority of them disabled and ex-Service connected – work all year round producing millions of poppies at the factory in Richmond.[2] However, pin badge poppies are increasingly being worn, and prove to be extremely popular, with locations often selling out of the pin badges very quickly.[citation needed] The idea of poppies dates back to the poem In Flanders Fields about the First World War, after which the Legion was founded. Poppies are worn until Remembrance Day to remember the fallen of the First World War, and implicitly of all wars.


The Poppy Appeal has a higher profile than any other charity appeal in the UK, with the poppies ubiquitous from late October until mid-November every year and worn by the general public, politicians, the Royal Family, and others in public life. It has also become increasingly common to see poppies on cars, lorries and other forms of public transport, such as aeroplanes, buses and trams. Many Magazines and newspapers also display the poppy on their publications (usually on the cover page), and some Twitter users are adding poppies to their avatars as a Twibbon.[3] However, some have criticised the level of compulsion associated with the custom.[4][5]

Since 1933, there has been a White Poppy run by the Peace Pledge Union, which is seen as an alternative by anti-war activists.


In Scotland, a separate charity, the Earl Haig Fund Scotland (using the name Poppyscotland), has run the poppy appeal since 1921 in association with the Royal British Legion Scotland. Until a few years ago[citation needed] the wording on the black button in the centre of the poppy, even outside of Scotland, was "HAIG FUND". Poppies in England and Scotland now bear the words "POPPY APPEAL" on their central buttons.

Festival of Remembrance

A wreath of artificial poppies used on Remembrance Day

The Legion organises the Festival of Remembrance on the Saturday preceding Remembrance Sunday. The Festival, held in the Royal Albert Hall, London, has acquired a status approaching that of a state event such as Trooping the Colour. Originally featuring composer John Foulds's World Requiem it includes military displays by current members of the armed forces, choral performances, and prayers. It culminates with the parading of Legion branch banners down the aisles and onto the floor of the hall, and the release of poppy petals from the roof.

The event is run twice; the first, afternoon event is open to any member of the public. The evening event is the more prestigious; tickets are only available to members of the Legion and their families, and senior members of the Royal Family (the Queen, Prince Philip, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York and the Earl of Wessex as well as other, less well-known, members of the royal family such as the Duke of Kent) are in attendance. In 2007, the second half of the evening event was aired live on BBC Radio 2.[6] BBC One showed the event an hour later.

Most parts of the Festival are of a formal, thought-provoking, and solemn nature. In recent years, lighter sketches have been included, for example depicting civilian life during wartime, in an attempt to attract viewers from generations born after the Second World War.

Honour the Covenant Campaign

Honour the Covenant is a campaign launched by The Royal British Legion in September 2007, which calls on the UK Government to honour the Military Covenant. The campaign aims to seek public support for the issues identified by the Legion and to encourage their Members of Parliament to act to ensure that Government policy is changed.

The campaign accuses the Government of failing to meet its commitments under the Covenant. The Legion highlighted the case of a 23-year-old paratrooper, injured in battle, who was awarded £152,150 despite injuries requiring care for the rest of his life. It also criticised the practice of treating soldiers in wards alongside civilian patients.[7] In his conference speech that October, Conservative Party leader David Cameron referred to the Covenant and said "Mr. Brown, I believe your government has broken it."[8]

Medical care

Responding to the Royal British Legion's campaign, the Secretary of State for Health Alan Johnson announced in November 2007 that armed forces veterans would get priority treatment on the National Health Service, and those injured would be treated immediately in hospital rather than go through waiting lists. Prescription charges would also be waived.[9] A tight budget settlement for the Ministry of Defence in 2007 saw five former Chiefs of the Defence Staff launch personal criticism of Prime Minister Gordon Brown in a simultaneous House of Lords debate.[10]


In upholding the claim of six Gurkha soldiers for the right to settle in Britain at the end of their service, Mr Justice Blake's judgement in September 2008 recited the Military Covenant before observing that granting them residence in Britain "would, in my judgement, be a vindication and an enhancement of this covenant".[11]


The Legion sponsors a website - civvystreet - which assists Service leavers and members of the ex-Service community and their dependents with information, advice and guidance (IAG) on resettlement, learning and work. Specialist services are provided by partner organisations. Opportunities for funding may also be available to those who qualify for assistance. The website have been designed to give a single gateway to the services and support that partners provide for resettlement, learning and work.[12]


The Royal British Legion received criticism following a controversy involving the acceptance of a donation from the far-right British National Party after BNP member Rachel Firth raised money, giving half to the BNP and half to the Legion.[13]


There are over 50 Legion bands around the world, each run and funded independently. They include full concert show bands, brass ensembles, pipe and drum bands, marching carnival bands and youth bands.

The Central Band of the Royal British Legion is the Legion's flagship band. In existence since 1944, the band was recognised as the Legion's premier band in 1983 and gained its title of "The Central Band of the Royal British Legion" three years later.[14]


The Royal British Legion has an extensive network of Social Clubs called Legion Halls throughout the United Kingdom; sometimes these are known as United Services or Ex-Servicemens Clubs. The Royal British Legion also has branches in the Republic of Ireland, and spread around the world, mostly in mainland Europe, but also in America, and Azerbaijan amongst other world nations.[citation needed]

The Royal British Legion Riders Branch (RBLR) is a specialist UK-wide branch of The Royal British Legion for motorcyclists. Its members hold events such as Weston Bike Night in Weston-super-Mare; and rallies such as the RBLR 1000,[15] a 1,000 mile in 24 hours sponsored ride; all to raise money for the Poppy Appeal. Many RBLR members attend the repatriation ceremonies in Wootton Bassett.[16][17][18] Ex-services members of the RBLR often wear medals and head dress with their leathers and motorcycle kit.


The Royal British Legion has an official membership magazine Legion, which is free to all Legion members as part of their annual subscription.[19]

Anyone can join the Legion, it is no longer required to have served in the military.[20]

See also

Notes and references

  1. "'Royal' British Legion wants higher pensions", The Times, 31 May 1971
  2. "The Royal British Legion Poppy Factory". The Royal British Legion. Retrieved 2009-11-11. 
  4. Pook, Sally (10 Nov 2006). "I won't bow to poppy fascists, says Jon Snow". London: Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2009-11-05. 
  5. A time to remember, but should we wear a more 'Christian' white poppy or a 'PC' red?
  6. "BBC Remembrance Page 2007". Retrieved 2007-11-12. 
  7. Mark Townsend, "Army inquest backlog grows: Widows must wait longer for results because coroner has yet to receive promised funds", The Observer, 9 September 2007, p. 2.
  8. "Cameron speech in full", BBC News Online, 3 October 2007.
  9. Matthew Taylor, Richard Norton-Taylor, "Priority NHS treatment promised to war veterans", The Guardian, 23 November 2007, p. 1.
  10. Alex Barker, "Brown under attack over armed forces", Financial Times, 23 November 2007, p. 2.
  11. Paragraph 72, Limbu & Ors, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department & Ors 2008 EWHC 2261 (Admin) (30 September 2008).
  12. "". Retrieved 2009-09-28. 
  13. "British Legion accepts BNP gift". BBC. 11 September 2009. Retrieved 2010-03-05. 
  14. "the central band". the RBL. Retrieved 2009-08-16. 
  15. "History". RBLR 1000. Retrieved July 10, 2010. 
  16. "British Legion Riders Bike into Bassett". Wootton Bassett Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved 10 July 2010. 
  17. Gillan, Audrey (25 February 2010). "How Wootton Bassett became the town that cried". Retrieved 10 July 2010. 
  18. Deal, Paul (10 November 2009). "Wootton Bassett sheds tears for soldiers". BBC News. Retrieved 10 July 2010. 
  19. "the legion online". the RBL. Retrieved 2009-08-16. 
  20. "Join us". RBL. 

External links

Regional branches

County branches

Video clips

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