Royal British Legion – West Dereham Branch No 3689

A brief history

After the opening of the newly refurbished Village Hall, a lunch was held on Remembrance Sunday in November 2012. At this lunch, several of those present approached Nick Cann (formerly a regular commissioned officer in the Queens Own Buffs & the Queens Regiment) asking whether West Dereham might form its own Royal British Legion (RBL) Branch. Interest was canvassed and this proved there were sufficient numbers willing and able to form a small village Branch. The inaugural meeting took place on 2nd November 2013. This meeting was chaired by the then Chairman of Norfolk County, Major (ret’d) Bill Kerr, who is also a member of Downham and District Branch. Following this meeting, HQ Norfolk County was provided with a list of 16 names from the village who had confirmed their immediate interest in joining. On 13 February 2014, HQ RBL confirmed the formation of West Dereham Branch, with the number BR 3689. Historically, West Dereham had been a sub-Branch of Downham & District Branch post World War 2. This Sub-Branch was formed in 1955 and it closed in the early 1970s. Evidently, the Branch Standard was never ‘laid up’ and this was discovered mysteriously, in the late 1990s, in a cupboard in the local Scouts’ hut. Currently it is used for Standard Bearer training.

Peter Starling was elected the first Branch Chairman and remained so until 11 November 2018 (4 years) when he became President of the Branch. Peter Starling’s father had been Secretary of the Branch from 1955 until it closed circa 1970. Fred Lucas is the current Chairman, John Walker the Branch Vice Chairman and Nick Cann Branch Secretary. Tom Foy, a Non-Commissioned Officer (Corporal) serving in the RAF Regiment, acts as the Branch Standard Bearer. Lorraine Hunt is the Treasurer and Richard French is the Branch’s Community Support Officer responsible for local welfare matters. There are four meetings held annually. Three of these are held in the Village Hall (VH) on the 2nd Sunday in the months of March, June and September, starting midday and never lasting longer than an hour. Meetings are followed by a ‘low-key’ social activity: March (a sandwich lunch and raffle), June (sometimes a pub lunch with raffle), September – the AGM (sandwich lunch plus raffle). The 4th meeting is held on Remembrance Sunday, the 2nd Sunday in November, and this follows the commemoration service at the Village’s War Memorial and then in St Andrew’s Church. It takes the form of a two-course seated lunch in the VH and concludes with some notices and a raffle. By the end of the first full year (2014-15), membership of the Branch had increased to 22. In 2019, at he end of the 5th year (2018-19), membership stood at 32 exactly double the original number.

The very first Branch event was held on 4 August 2014 at 10.00 pm at the War Memorial. This was participation in a ‘Lights Out’ ceremony held at War Memorials across the country commemorating the centenary of the outbreak of WW1. A reception was held afterwards in the VH and attendance at this event was 45. A new Standard was purchased in May 2016 and a Service of Dedication was held in St Andrew’s Church on 9 September 2016, with Rev Ken Waters officiating. The Chairman of Norfolk County, Mr John Boisson, attended plus representatives and Standards from four other Norfolk Branches. A celebratory lunch followed in the VH attended by 40. West Dereham appeared on the cover of the January 2017 edition of the Royal British Legion’s quarterly magazine – ‘Legion’ – which featured a 2-page article entitled: “The RAF Corporal who carries the Standard for his Branch”. Tom Foy carried the WD Branch Standard at the annual Festival of Remembrance in the Royal Albert Hall in November 2016 and again in November 2017. In 2017, West Dereham Branch received the ‘CW Lex Cup for Progress and Efficiency by a Junior Branch’ in Norfolk and in 2018, the Branch was runner-up for the same award.

On 14 October 2018, a full Presentation was given in the VH relating to WW1. This gave the circumstances of the lives and deaths of the 16 from this village whose names are recorded both on the War Memorial and inside the Village’s ‘Memorial Hall’. A lunch followed and attendance was 75 including the Chairman of Norfolk County and representation from RAF Marham. The 16 who died were represented symbolically by seated and named ‘ghostly’ (perspex) figures; and a full-size metal ‘Tommy’ from the ‘There But Not There’ charity was presented to the Village as a perpetual memorial (value £700).

The centenary of the end of WW1 fell on Sunday 11th November 2018. Following a service in St Andrew’s Church, 27 people attended the lunch in the VH. At 7.00 pm, the Village’s ‘Beacon of Hope’ was lit in the Parish Cemetery for the first time, along with over 1,000 other beacons lit throughout the United Kingdom. The event was attended by 60 people and 40 of these then gathered in the VH for refreshments and the singing of WW1 songs, led by Chris Young.

(Footnote: Any man or woman over 17 years of age who accepts the aims and objectives of the RBL and is prepared to commit to supporting their Branch may become a member.” For more information please contact: nick@nickcann.org.uk or message him on 07900-650090.)