100 years of the Ipswich branch of the Royal British Legion

Queen Elizabeth I,  was one of the first monarchs to recognise the need to look after the returning veterans from wars and military service. Almshouses and homes were set up for old soldiers in respect for their military service. Some notable homes were in Chelsea and Greenwich. Many regiments set up their own regimental charities for widows and families of wounded and fallen soldiers. Regimental associations and clubs offered comradeship and help to returning soldiers or sailors.

Following the Crimea and Boer War, people were more aware of the returning soldier’s plight, the need to mark the fallen and to look after the veteran’s needs.

In Ipswich the East Anglian Boer War memorial holds 284 names, and 80%+ died of disease (Enteric Fever). Tens of thousands of people paid their respects for the returning troops and the fallen 1902.


Following the end of the First World War, in which 10,000 Ipswich men had served, national veteran groups began to form.  Discharged men faced high unemployment and the uncertainty of a new world order, with many groups were politically motivated to field their own MP’s.

It was estimated 1.7 million men had disabilities caused by military service and were entitled to disability pensions. 28% of the fallen had been married with dependents.

In 1919 riots and protests spread across the country. In Ipswich, a number of large demonstrations shook the town where local businesses were criticised for failing to re-employ the men they had encouraged to join up during the war and the drop in wages for those they had taken back on.

World Peace day in other towns and cities triggered riots and protests as many veterans were not represented in the celebrations.   

Nationally 4 veteran groups took the lead, all with political motivations.

  • The National Association of Discharged Sailors and Soldiers.
  • The British National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Sailors and Soldiers.
  • The Comrades of The Great War.
  • The Officers’ Association.

For Ipswich, the group “The Comrades of The Great War” (Tory) were the most dominant.

In 1919 British tobacco manufacturer, soldier and Conservative politician, Colonel ARTHUR CHURCHMAN and former Mayor of Ipswich, donated a Manor house and land in memory of his son CHARLES HARVEY CHURCHMAN who died in the Great War. The house was situated on St. Margaret’s Green in Ipswich.

The Manor was acquired from the Cobbold family by Arthur Churchman with an unveiling ceremony taking place on the 8th February 1919. The building was officially opened by Captain CBB Towse VC  chairman of the Grand Council of the Comrades of the Great War.

John Ganzoni MP

Other people of note who attended, were Frederick Turner chairman/commandant of the Ipswich branch COGW. John Ganzoni MP and Arthur Saunders VC.

Arthur Saunders VC

The Manor house had accommodation on the higher level for the steward and his family, a billiard room and a library.

The site was slowly developed adding an assembly hall to the side, now known as the Manor Ballroom.

1925 street map.


Feuding factions from the different groups had made veterans uneasy with the lack of movement with reform to the pension system and the lack of unity with the veteran community. An amalgamation of the 4 main groups, promoted by Lord Haig, Field Marshal and hero of the Great War, created “The British Legion.” 

  • Non-sectarian or aligned with Political parties
  • Promote the interests of discharged men.
  • Protection for widows and dependents of the fallen
  • National Day of Commemoration (two-day poppy appeal)
  • Entry into craft unions and training, help new businesses.

By August 1921 they held 3,500,000 members with subs of 6d per week. Lord Haig created a charity fund “Poppy Appeal” raising money to help veterans and families.

The Comrades of The Great War group in Ipswich converted to the Legion as it would be more inclusive to the growing industrial workforce, including all classes, with unity in the plight of the ex-servicemen.


In 1921 the War Office made moves to place a ban on military funerals. Troop levels took back to pre-war peacetime numbers resulting in a lack of soldiers able to cover military funerals. It was suggested 400 gun carriages to be given to the British legion for them to take over this ceremonial role.

It was also quoted that: “continuous funeral duties have a morbid and depressing effect on the troops.”

Ipswich Town Hall steps, November 1921 Poppy Launch.


Mrs. Jessie de Hane Sinclair – photographs of Walter and Jessie courtesy of John.




During the 1920’s the Ipswich Poppy appeal was dominated by the Women’s section of the Legion.

Dr Walter William Sinclair.

Mrs. Jessie de Hane Sinclair (nee Matthews), born 18th April 1868, Wolverhampton, married in September 1899 to Walter William Sinclair, born 19th April 1868, Aberdeen. They had 3 daughters: Jean Christine, Eileen and Pamela.  A renowned eye surgeon, Walter practised in Ipswich and operated on soldiers in Ipswich during the war. He died in 1923, with a hospital ward being named after him in the new wing of Ipswich Hospital, with the monies raised from the War Memorial fund.  Jessie was one of the leaders in the Ipswich branch in the women’s section for the appeal and appears in many newspaper reports of the day, for fundraising in Ipswich.

The legion soon created a series of annual events in the town, from small garden parties to large-scale galas and fundraising for the town.



The unveiling of the War Memorial and Cenotaph in Christchurch Park 1924.  


The British Legion

  • The largest petition was presented to Parliament with 850,000 signatures, asking that disabled officers and men should have the right of claiming disability pensions.
  • Removing the 7 year time limit of claiming.
  • 1925 The British Legion dealt with 310,000 pension cases. 22,200 appeals

Many ex-service men had long-term illnesses which slowly grew worse from malaria to lung disorders caused by gas exposure during the war.


Remarks at a British Legion County meeting Major H Hussey East Anglia Organising Secretary :

  • 1926 – ex-servicemen 700,000 out of work
  • 1926 Relief committees were forced to sit daily in Towns and cities including Sundays
  • BL East Anglia Jan-May 1926 £3,138 for relief cases, in the form of food vouchers and coal.
  • 31 East Anglia ex-servicemen were helped with small business setups of £20+
  • up to 1926, £53,000 had been paid out to help set up small businesses for ex-servicemen in the UK.

In the summer, a Legion fundraising Fete was held at Christchurch Park, making national news appear in the Daily Mail.

Frederick Turner former chairman/commandant of the Ipswich branch COGW was now the British Legion Chairman for Ipswich, seen here with the Mayor of Ipswich Kavas Jamas Badshah at the summer fete. Frederick was also a local politician and had been Mayor in 1924-25.

Frederick Turner served with the 4th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment, being wounded in early 1915, and returning to the Battalion as temporary battalion commander. He returned to England to take command of the training for the Regiment.  


At Christmas 1926 the Ipswich Branch handed out gifts to 770 needy families:

  • 2560 lbs of beef (724 joints)
  • 200 rabbits
  • 800 lbs sausages
  • 724 Christmas puddings
  • 250 lbs of tea
  • Legion bars of rock and oranges for the children.

A children’s party for the poor was held in the Corn Exchange and the Public Hall, financed by the Ipswich branch.



1927 Major H Hussey BL East Anglia Organising Secretary

  • 200 branches in East Anglia
  • 50 women’s sections.
  • £75 in emigration grants
  • £440 business grants
  • £3,000 in relief cases
  • The land was being acquired for building 12 houses for ex-servicemen in Suffolk and Norfolk.
  • Poppy day Suffolk raised £4,755
  • The national poppy day raised £517,000


In 1928 the affixed name was set for “Remembrance Sunday” The legion now took the lead for this event.

  • £3,000 paid out from Suffolk Legion benevolent fund to ex-servicemen, in the form of vouchers, food and interest-free loans.
  • Assist in help for families to emigrate.
  • 6 cottages were erected in Felixstowe for disabled ex-servicemen.


The 1929 Committee of the Ipswich Branch, seated central chairman Lt. HERBERT FREDERICK PEATY, born 28th October 1867, Eton, Buckinghamshire. He served with the R.M.L.I., H.M.S. Benbow Battalion. Taking part in the Battle and Siege of Antwerp in 1914. being captured and a PoW during WW1. Herbert had served in the Royal Marines since the late 1880s. 

The Mayor of Ipswich (seated) Alderman James Hossack served with the Royal Army Medical Corps. as a Major and Surgeon in the British Committee and French Red Cross, serving on the Western front and Serbia. James Hossack’s wife Marie was listed in the 1911 census: Marie, with other members of the Ipswich Women’s Freedom League, spent the night at the Old Museum Rooms to be deliberately untraceable on the census forms as a protest. “If women don’t count, neither shall they be counted.”


Marie supported the poppy appeal, followed by her daughter Beatrice Hossack. Daughter Beatrice later became County chairwoman of the women’s section, Eastern area committee. During ww2 she lectured on gas warfare. She died in 1955 spending most of her adult life supporting the British Legion.











British Legion East Anglia Area conference, Ipswich. Held at the offices St. Margret’s Green. Taken at the rear of the building. Now offices and Maner Ballroom car park.







Throughout the 1920s-30s the Legion posted adverts in the local papers advertising men and family members searching for work. The unemployment rate was running at 14%.

Annual Fetes and fundraising continued, supported by all political parties, unions and businesses of the town.  


Suffolk Chronicle & Mercury Newspaper – 9th November 1934


Arrangements for the Ipswich observance of the anniversary of the Armistice have now been compiled.

The Two Minutes’ Silence will be kept on the Cornhill at 11 a.m., and subsequently, the Mayor and Corporation and ex-servicemen’s organisation will proceed to the Cenotaph in Christchurch Park, where they will be joined by other representative bodies, and participate in a service of remembrance, at which the Bishop of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich will give the address.

The East Anglian Daily Times has received the following letter from the Mayor and Mayor-elect on the subject of the Cornhill observance:

To the Editor.

Sir,- It has been arranged that hooters from Orwell Works, Waterside Works and Nacton Works shall give simultaneously, at 11 a.m., the signal for “The Silence” on Sunday, November 11th. May we ask that no other sound signals be utilised? Drivers of cars are requested to stop their engines, and members of the public are asked to keep their dogs away from the Cornhill.

P.W. COBBOLD (Mayor)
G.A. MALLETT (Mayor-elect).
A. MARY JOB (Organiser).

From 10:30 a.m. the British Legion Band will play selections on the Cornhill, and the subsequent arrangements are as follows:-

10:55 a.m.-The Mayor and members of the Council, the High Steward of the Borough, the Member for the Borough, the Lord Bishop of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich and others take up positions on the Town Hall steps.

11:00 a.m.- Waterside Works, Orwell Works, and Nacton Works hooters sound for “The Silence.”

11:02 a.m.- Hooters sound for the end of “The Silence.”

After the sounding of “The Last Post” a short service will be conducted by the Bishop of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich. “O God, our Help in Ages Past” will be sung, prayers said by the Lord Bishop and by the Rev. S. S. Shurbsole, B. D. (President of the Free Church Council), and the Lord’s Prayer (in which all are requested to join) will be recited. “The ReveIlle” will afterwards be sounded, and the service will conclude with the Blessing and the National Anthem.



Members of the Royal Artillery Association, the Guards’ Association, the Coldstream Guards’ Association, the Old Contemptibles, the British Legion, and the L.N.E.R. Old Comrades’ Association will parade in Lloyds Avenue, Ipswich, at 11:45 a.m. under the command of Colonel G. W. Horsfield, T.D., O.B.E., with Lieut.-Colonel Harold Hooper, M.C., as Adjutant, and Sergt.- Major Dawes. They will march to the Cenotaph. The Mayor and Corporation, with the Bishop and clergy, will form a procession from the Town Hall to the Cenotaph, where the civic dignitaries and the ex-Service parade will find representatives of the 4th Battalion the Suffolk Regiment, the Women’s Section of the British Legion, Toc H, the St. John Ambulance, Mason Linen Guild, R.A.O.B., the Boys’ Brigade and Life Boys, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Guides and Brownies, and the Salvation Army, in the positions allotted to them facing the Cenotaph. Combined choirs of the town will lead the singing, under the conductorship of Mr. Jonathan Job, F.R.C.O.

The service will commence between 12:20 and 12:30 p.m., with the hymn, ” O God, our help in ages past,” and the address by the Bishop will be preceded by prayers by the Rev. R. Sinker, and a reading of Scripture by the Rev. O. D. Wiles, M.C. After the singing of “For all the saints,” the Mayor and representatives of organisations will place wreaths on the Cenotaph. The service will conclude with “The Last Post,” an interval of silence. “The Reveille,” the Benediction, and the National Anthem.

A cross of remembrance will be placed in position in front of the Cenotaph on Friday, and Flanders Poppies may be placed therein on Saturday and Sunday.



The chairman of the Ipswich branch BL Major R T Barnard reported in December that the poppy appeal had raised £1,914.

With 488 benevolent cases. 330 pension & disablement cases all being dealt with that year. A reserve of £1,589 is held.

Lieutenant Colonel Kingsley Reavell was the retiring RBL president. He served in WW1  as 2nd Lieutenant with the 3rd East Anglian (Howitzer) Brigade, B Battery (2nd Suffolk) serving on the Western Front, Egypt and Palestine.   WW2 in the Home Guard, Suffolk T.A. Association, 8a Princes Street, Ipswich. Kingsley was the son of William Reavell, managing director of the engineering company, where he continued his engineering career following the first world war.

Captain Gorge Godfrey Vinnicombe Suffolk BL chairman stated there were now 144 BL branches in Suffolk.

George Vinnicombe had seen service in WW1 with the 2nd/4th Norfolk Regiment, W.O. II Class, 200550 – attached to the 6th King’s African Rifles – Sergeant/a/W.O. II Class. Awarded Victory & British War medals. In WW2 he was a lieutenant with the 7th Suffolk TA in Ipswich.

Born in 1893, Colkirk, Norfolk. George married Lena Jessie Potter in 1922, having 5 children, Lena died 20th March 1980.

George died in 1956 and received an MBE for covering 30 years of service to the Legion and the community. He also held a seat as a district councillor and chairman of his local branch RBL at Bramford. Over 50 standards took part in his funeral service. 

An Ipswich RBL sheltered housing scheme named after him. Vinnicombe Court Ipswich.

In 1947, it was estimated 27,000 people attended the British Legion Summer Fete in Christchurch Park.
The 20th Fete included the British Legion parade, demonstrations from the Royal Hospital School, HMS Ganges, naval training demonstrations and a motorcycle display team. The Ipswich British Legion Band played with children being entertained with  Punch and Judy and Donkey rides.
It was reported the town centre pubs ran dry!
Mayor Mary Whitmore welcomes Lieutenant.-Col. Sir Evelyn Barker G.O.C Eastern Command, British Legion and inspects standards and veterans with the Mayor. 
Ipswich Branch President Col F. L. Tempest,  Mayor and Sir Evelyn laid wreaths at the cenotaph during a sort service to the fallen.

August 1947 Evening Star reports:


“Double disability pensions”

A British Legion deputation, led by their chairman, Col. C. Gordon Larking, interviewed the pensions Minister, Mr. J.B Hynd, today to press claims made at the resent Legion conference.

The deputation pressed for the raising of the basic 100 percent disability pension from 45 shillings to 90 shillings and urged that no widow incapable of self-support should receive less than 50 shillings a week.

A strong plea is being made that widows of men who neglect to claim should be entitled to apply for widow’s pension and that war widows under 40 years with no children should have a pension of £1 per week raised to £1, 15 shillings

After the meeting Lt-Col. Gordon Larking said “The Minister promised to give sympathetic consideration to all the matters which have been raised. We are convinced the Minister has a perfect understanding of what the Legion wants and we hope for tangible results”

 On Christmas day 1947, the Mayor of Ipswich James Barry Cullingham travelled around the town’s hospitals, children’s homes and old people’s homes. The Mayoral party moved on to Freeland Children’s Home, then the Isolation Hospital accompanied by Mr F.W. Goodchild, the Ipswich director of Social Welfare. At Heathfield’s old people home, the chairman Mr C.W. English of the Social Welfare Committee met the Mayor, where gifts were distributed from the British Legion and music was played by the Ipswich Mission Band.


Company Sergeant Major (CSM) Robert Russen, was part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) entering Europe as a private soldier in the 4th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment. Robert was a long-standing member of the BL and Remembrance committee.

BL float in Ipswich carnival 1956.



Ipswich British Legion Band. The Band was started in the 1920s and continued to perform up until the end of the 1980s.


The British Legion becomes the “Royal” British Legion.

The RBL had royal patronage from its founding in 1921, the Legion received its “Royal” appellation on 29 May 1971, on its golden anniversary. Membership was extended to serving members of the British Armed Forces, as well as ex-Service personnel, in 1981. Now, anyone can become a member of the Legion.


1983 – Remembrance Service and Wreath laying hit the headlines in the following day’s newspapers for the wrong reasons. In the Evening Star & East Anglian Daily Times, it was reported that a Cambridge University student had kicked the Wreaths into a pile at the foot of the Ipswich Cenotaph and set fire to all 25 wreaths. He was caught by the police and arrested. In the Magistrates court, it was said Mr. ……. aged 26 “did not like War” but was noted Mr. ……. was suffering from mental health problems. Each wreath was valued at £7.50 and damage to the tarmac was £80. The act was described as “a mean and nasty offence.” Mr. ……..  pleaded guilty and was admitted to a mental health institution and a trial was set for a later date.
A second service and wreath-laying ceremony were held the next day to replace the 25 wreaths.

The Women’s Section of the Ipswich RBL. 1990’s.

Ladies preparing for the poppy appeal.

Mr Reg Driver. Chairman of the Ipswich Branch. Reg Served during WW2, being captured at Tobruk and taken prisoner in North Africa and Italy. Reg campaigned for many years for the installation and the final list of names who fell from Ipswich during WW2, as well as Post 1945 names. 

2001. The Annual Sunset RBL parade and garden Party, held at the grounds of Peter Thompson’s (secretary and later Chairman.)  garden.

Reg Driver and Betty Thompson. 

In the 1990’s, an Ipswich school girl, 11 year old, Sarah Bloomfield began campaigning for a focal point to remember the fallen men and women from Ipswich who were lost during WW2. Sarah’s grandfather, 23 year old, Albert Bloomfield had been killed on the 21st May 1941, during the bombing attack on H.M.S. Juno, at Crete. She was saddened that her father Conway had nowhere to visit in the town to see his father’s name. Sarah wrote many letters to find support to remember the fallen of Ipswich, including letters to the Prime Minister, John Major.

In May 1995, the Evening Star newspaper joined together with the Royal British Legion to launch the ‘Forgotten Heroes’ campaign.


The Evening Star used the headline “Our Shame”

Sarah’s campaign was successful and raised £10,000. In November 1995, a Roll of Honour in the form of a book of remembrance was dedicated during a poignant service held at St. Matthew’s Church.


The book was placed on permanent display at the Tourist Information Centre, St. Stephen’s Church. (Now closed down) The Mayor Cllr Roger Fern received the final version of the Book on behalf of the Borough, presented by the Ipswich branch of the RBL in 2004.

Reg Driver, Peter Thompson, Jim Manning (IBC), Mayor of Ipswich Cllr. Roger Fern, Wally Thompson. Roll Of Honour book.  

Just over 600 names had been submitted to the ‘Forgotten Heroes’ campaign, to be included on the memorial. However, this was 50 years after the end of the war – many relatives had died, or moved out of the area. We now know that so many names have been missed.

Finally, on the 16th May 2004, the WW2 memorial was unveiled in Christchurch Park. The bronze memorial was erected alongside the 1,481 names of the men who had paid the ultimate sacrifice in WW1.

The memorial wall was replaced to house the new plaques, as well as remedial work on the Cenotaph, with the costs reaching over £100,000. The money was raised from public donations and the help of the Ipswich Borough Council. The Council is responsible for maintaining the cenotaph and memorial at Christchurch Park.

HM Lord Lieutenant Tollimache unveiled the plaque with Civic acceptance from the Mayor of Ipswich Cllr. Penny Breakwell.

The Royal British Legion branch president Mr. Reg Driver and branch Chairman Mr. Peter Thompson led the proceedings with Reverend Cannon Peter Townley, The Bishop of Edmundsbury and Father Foster taking prayers and blessings.

Hymns included “For The Fallen” and “I Vow To Thee My Country.”

The Royal Hospital School Band provided the buglers for the ‘Last Post’ with Standards from the R.B.L.

The poem “Who Are These Men” was read by Miss Sarah Bloomfield, the schoolgirl campaigner.

Following the ceremony, the crowds were entertained by the Royal Hospital School marching band, ceremonial guard and Sunset Ceremony on the Mansion Green.


Chairman Reg Driver had seen many sad events in Ipswich, one being vandalism in the Fields of Honour, in Ipswich Cemetery, where Portland headstones of the WW1 fallen had been kicked down. There is now CCTV in that area of the Cemetery.

    Ipswich Rbl chairman. Mr. Peter Thompson. RN

2012, The Queen’s jubilee and RBL garden party held on the Mansion green, Christchurch park. (Mayor Mary Blake). Stalls, music and entertainment were held throughout the day, finalising in a sunset parade, lighting of a jubilee beacon and fireworks.


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