Commemorations to mark centenary of Royal British Legion

Military veterans and supporters took part in a weekend wreath-laying ceremony in Co Armagh to mark 100 years since the formation of the Royal British Legion.

Sunday, 16th May 2021, 12:24 pm
Updated Sunday, 16th May 2021, 2:26 pm
The Royal British Legion marked the support organisation's centenary with a wreath-laying ceremony in Portadown on Saturday. It was one of a number of event taking place across the UK. Photograph: RBL Portadown

The centenary event in Portadown was one of many taking place across the whole of the United Kingdom on Saturday – including a poignant ceremony at the Cenotaph in London.

Royal Irish veteran John Robinson laid the first wreath at the Portadown war memorial on behalf of the 700-strong local RBL branch.

At 9am in London – exactly 100 years to the minute – representatives of the Royal Navy, the British Army, the Royal Air Force and the Merchant Navy laid wreaths at the Cenotaph.

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The service was led by Lieutenant General (Retired) James Bashall, the national president of the Royal British Legion and replicated what took place on May 15, 1921 to mark the RBL’s foundation.

Also taking part was military widow Emma Gray, whose husband was a major in the Royal Marines before he passed away in 2016.

When the RBL was formed in 1921, the first ever poppy appeal sold out almost immediately and raised more than £106,000 – a considerable sum at that time – to help veterans of the Great War with employment and housing.

RBL members in hundreds of towns and villages across the country also held their own commemorations at 9am on Saturday. Similar events took place in Thailand, Malta, Chile, Belgium and France.

Portadown Royal British Legion held a wreath-laying ceremony on Saturday to make the centenary of the organisation. Photograph: RBL Portadown

The centenary was also marked at the FA Cup final between Chelsea and Leicester.

Before kick-off, a specially minted 50p poppy coin, created by the Westminster Collection, was used for the coin toss between the team captains.

The Prince of Wales recorded a special birthday message to mark the centenary that will be played to the charity’s members during their annual conference.

In the video message, Prince Charles pays tribute to the work of the charity and its achievements over the last 100 years.

“There are few organisations that hold a place right at the heart of society in the way the Royal British Legion does,” he said.

“I want to offer my sincere and heartfelt gratitude to all those who have helped build this wonderful organisation”.

A number of celebrities have also recorded video messages of support, including Ross Kemp, Stephen Fry, Ben Shepherd, Georgia Toffolo and Mica Paris, adding to those already recorded and distributed by troops currently deployed in Poland, Estonia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Paying his own tribute, DUP leader designate Edwin Poots said he commended all the RBL volunteers as they celebrate such an important milestone.

“Throughout Northern Ireland we have witnessed how the Royal British Legion has been a lifeline for the armed forces and our veterans. In particular, the many who were maimed physically and mentally through Operation Banner and other conflicts around the world,” Mr Poots said.