100 years of the Royal British Legion in Sturminster Newton

The end of WW1 in 1918 saw millions of ex soldiers returning to civilian life, many of them bearing physical and mental wounds after four cruel years of industrialised slaughter not just in Flanders but in war theatres around the world and at sea.

It would be inaccurate to say that they were ‘the lucky ones,’ but of six million men and women mobilised during the conflict, 886,000 were killed and approximately three times that figure were wounded. 

A range of charitable organisations sprang up during and after the war seeking to help the ex-service personnel, many shocked by their experiences, cope with ‘ordinary life.’

In Sturminster Newton The ‘Old Comrades Association’ was formed in 1919 by Colonel William Whatman and this became a founding branch of the British Legion on July 28, 1921 when the many institutions were amalgamated under a common name. 

The building was a wooden hut which Col Whatman arranged to be brought from Blandford Camp. It was placed where today’s Royal British Legion stands, on Bath Road just north of the town centre, on land donated by the Pitt-Rivers estate. 

The ‘hut’ as it was known, was a popular destination for local people; not just ex-servicemen and women, as it was used as a cinema when mobile movies came to town. Its popularity increased in the 1960s when a dance hall was added, although this was disused in 2016 due to the high cost of refurbishment needed.

When it was first opened, the ‘hut’ was looked after by Mr Robert (Bob) Hatcher MM. 

Bob was a local war hero, having been awarded the Military Medal during the First World War. Bob was appointed Steward in 1919 – a post he kept until he took over the Red Lion public house in the mid 1940s. 

This pocket of local history, our Royal British Legion, celebrated its centenary last month with an evening  paying tribute to the work of the RBL, and to the various local organisations who have supported the Legion over the 100 years of its existence in the town. 
The presentations were followed by a buffet supper and a magnificent birthday cake created by Portia at Stur of the Moment, a surprise donation by the Club Chairman, Andy Conduit.

It is not widely known that anyone can become a member of the RBL and help support generations of the armed forces community. Find Sturminster’s RBL on Facebook here.

Image courtesy of the Barry Cuff Collection

1921 – a snapshot of England

Only men over 21 could vote (and women over 30 who met certain property-owning qualifications. It wasn’t until 1928 that women could vote equally with men.)

There were 1.1 million domestic servants in England, earning way below the national salary average due to no minimum wage levels and deductions for bed and board. 

The average life expectancy for women and men was 60 and 56 respectively.

The average house price £320

The average salary was £178 for men. For women it was £99.

The average average car price was £270 – two thirds the cost of a house

A litre of fuel, however, was only £0.03

A Pint of beer? That would be the same as the petrol – thruppence.

By: Andy Palmer

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