History of the Royal British Legion

The British Legion was formed on 15 May 1921, bringing together four national organisations of ex-Service men that had established themselves after the Great War of 1914-1918. The main purpose of the Legion was straightforward: to care for those who had suffered as a result of service in the Armed Forces in the Great War, whether through their own service or through that of a husband, father or son. The suffering took many forms: the effect of a war wound on a man’s ability to earn a living and support his family; or a war widow’s struggle to give her children an education. But even those who had come through the war relatively unscathed struggled with employment. As a result of the war, Britain’s economy plummeted and in 1921 there were 2 million unemployed. Over six million men had served in the war – 725,000 never returned. Of those who came back, 1.75 million had suffered some kind of disability and half of these were permanently disabled. To this figure then had to be added those who depended on those who had gone to war – the wives and children, widows and orphans as well as the parents who had lost sons in the war, on whom they were often financially dependent.

The situation so moved Lance Bombardier Tom Lister, a Lancastrian, that he decided that if the Government was either unable or unwilling to do anything to improve the lives of ex-Service men, he would do something about it himself. This eventually led to the formation of The British Legion. When the Legion’s leaders looked around them in 1921, not only did they see a gigantic task in front of them looking after those who had suffered in the recent war, they also sought to prevent further sacrifice by reminding the nation of the human cost of war and to work actively for peace. By the time of the Legion’s formation in 1921, the tradition of an annual Two Minute Silence in memory of the dead had been established. The first ever Poppy Appeal was held that year with the first Poppy Day on 11 November 1921. The Legion was granted “Royal” status in 1971, and extended its membership to serving members of His Majesty’s Forces, as well as ex-Service personnel, in 1981. Now, anyone can become a member of The Royal British Legion. We welcome men and women of all ages, whether they have served in the Armed Forces or not.