Special feature
The rich history of Stratford's British Legion

By Steve Hayes 14/03 Updated: 14/03 16:00

Buy photos » Where it all started - Founder members posing outside the Flowers Brewery Club, Guild Street in 1922 (s)

STRATFORD'S Royal British Legion celebrates its 90th anniversary with a special parade through the town later this year.

As the branch reaches the historic landmark The Observer's Steve Hayes spoke to chairman Pete Summerton about the organisation's role in the town over the years and how it continues to be relevant even nine decades after it was established.

MANY things have changed in the 90 years since the first official meeting of Stratford's branch of the Royal British Legion way back on July 15 1922, but the involvement of the Summerton family has been one constant.

Oliver, the father of current branch chairman Pete, was a founder member and was himself later chairman and the involvement of Pete's grandchildren now means four generations of the Summerton family have supported the branch in some way.

There are now some 500 members of the Stratford branch and as Pete tells me, the organisation is as relevant as it has ever been.

"The aims of the legion have never changed, it was always about the camaraderie, Remembrance and fund-raising to help out ex-servicemen after World War I and it still has those aims.

"Through the 90 years there have been a lot of conflicts and with servicepeople out in Afghanistan and elsewhere it is still very relevant.

"You only need to look at the names which have gone up on the town's war memorial in recent years to see that."

The Stratford branch first met out of the brewery club in Guild Street and then a school on Alcester Road before finally finding a permanent base in Bull Street in 1925, where it has been ever since.

This was thanks to a donation of money from a Mrs Bachelor - a key figure in the branch's early years.

Through the inter-war years the branch, like many others up and down the country, grew and grew with a women's section formed in 1928 and a growing committee and membership.

Old papers reveal fascinating tit-bits and details about the branch through the years - right down to the £106 taken on the club's billiard tables documented in the annual report for 1937.

Then as the Second World War gripped the nation the legion was consumed by the war effort and activities continued to be restricted as many members spent all their spare time helping out. After the war years enthusiasm and energy was renewed.

But the branch has had its difficulties and scandal. In 1956 there was a disagreement with the church after a vicar insisted collections on Remembrance Sunday should go to the church and not the Poppy Fund.

While in 1957 a steward was accused but later acquitted of stealing hundreds of pounds from the branch - it was then criticised for 'appallingly bad administration'.

But its work continues into the present day and the Summerton family has been at the heart of its activities throughout its long history.

Summerton Way, off Evesham Place, was even named after the family to recognise its loyal service to the town.

Pete has always lived in the family home in West Street and even recalls it being used to board American military policemen who were in the country when he was a child, during the war

He said: "I can remember the US policemen staying here now, it was a time where everyone just mucked in and got on with things, its incredible to think of it really.

"There is a feeling of great pride the family has been involved all along.

"It is a shame we seem to be losing some of the respect that was present in those early days.

"But we still have a very valuable role in arranging Remembrance, supporting ex-servicemen and fund-raising.

"With the conflicts at the moment the Legion is still as important and relevant as it ever has been."

The branch will celebrate 90 years with a special parade through the town on June 16 which the national chairman of the RBL will attend with a civic reception at the Town Hall after.

Buy photos» A recruitment drive by Stratford's British Legion in 1925 - holding the bayonet is Pete's father Ollie Summerton (s)

Buy photos» ABOVE A jeep outside of the Summerton family home in 1944. It shows Ollie Summerton, who was a Home Guard Sergeant with his eldest son Ron and a young Pete sat on the lap of a US Military Policeman staying at their home (s)

Buy photos» Pete Summerton and his family with Stratford Mayor Bill Dowling last year as Summerton Way was officially unveiled 30.011.031.strat.nc2 www.buyphotos247.com

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