The British Legion was founded in 1921 by the merging of three existing servicemen’s associations; Comrades of the Great War, The national Association of Discharged Sailors and Soldiers and the National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Sailors and Soldiers. Although primarily associated with helping wounded soldiers today, the association is also involved in helping ex-servicemen to find employment. This has been part of its remit form the very start and a newspaper article was published in 1921, the year of its founding, outlining some of its work:
Colonel Crosfield, chairman of the Manchester Board of the British Legion, who has just returned from France after taking 200 British unemployed ex-soldiers to that country for work in the devastated areas under the French Government, states that if the work of the men is satisfactory a demand for additional labour may be made.
Colonel Crosfield told a Daily Mail reporter that 100 of the men had been sent to Abancourt, midway between Amiens and Rouen, and 100 to Longué.
“It is really extraordinary,” he added, “that while the cry is constantly for economy and to save money, our Government did not give the slightest help in getting these 200 men off of the labour exchanges. The whole of the expenses had to be paid out of the British Legion Relief Funds.”
Very early on the British Legion adopted a badge of a lion’s head, with a scroll above and below it bearing the organisation’s name. These were made as small lapel badges for members to wear on a civilian suit:The rear of each badge was serialised, the numbers being stamped into the curved lapel fastening:The first year of the British Legion was also the first year that the now famous poppy Appeal was run:
Owing to the enterprise of a French woman, Mme Guérin, Armistice Day (November 11) this year will be celebrated as “Poppy Day” in Great Britain, Canada, the United States and Australia.
Inspired by the poem, “In Flanders Fields”, Mme Guérin was struck with the idea of organising the manufacture of artificial red poppies by women and children in the devastated areas of France, for sale in aid of charities on Armistice Day.
The first verse of the poem is:
In Flanders field the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
Mme. Guérin has travelled during the year to Canada, Australia and the United States, and her scheme has been adopted in those countries.
Over here the British legion have provisionally ordered 3 ½ million poppies for sale in the country in aid of Earl Haig’s Appeal for ex-Servicemen of all ranks. The profits of the sale will be used for the assistance of unemployed ex-servicemen…
The poppies which are made of scarlet cloth, and can be pinned on the coat or put into a buttonhole, will cost either 3d. or a 1s.
There is a legend in France that poppies blow with a richer colour in places where men have died