BRANCH HISTORY

The Fort William & District Branch of the Royal British Legion Scotland (RBLS) was originally formed in 1946 to cover the whole of the Lochaber district but, for reasons unknown, it was disbanded in 1949.

 

The Branch reformed in 1954 and a letter, dated 22 January 1954, received at the Inverness Area Office bears testimony to this.

In 1957 the Branch held an open day at the King George VI Park in Fort William this was a first for the Branch and entry was charged at 2 Shillings for an Adult and 1 Shilling for a child.

Although the Branch represents the whole of the Lochaber District, today it is informally  referred to as simply Fort William Branch.

Originally meetings were held in Fort William at the Railway Cottages, Viewforth Place and the Territorial Army Drill Hall. But, in order to provide dedicated club premises, in May 1986 the members agreed to a merger with the Fort William Branch of the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE) and the joint club became known as the NUPE/RBL. The picture to the right was taken to mark this occasion.

The Branch acquired its new colours in 1987 and, on Sunday 10 May 1987 a dedication service and parade was held to mark the occasion.

The parade was organised by Major Dennis Muir and the salute was taken by Cameron of Lochiel. Members of the Commando Association also joined with the Branch to mark this auspicious occasion.

The Branch also entered the 1987 RBLS “Best Kept War Memorial” competition and their efforts were rewarded when they gained a Commendation for the Fort William War Memorial from the judging panel.

In August 1991 the Branch had the honour of lining the route along which Her Majesty the Queen would pass during her official visit to Fort William. From the ranks of the Branch Mr John Brown (who served in both World Wars and is shown opposite) was selected to be the main representative of the Branch.

In October 1991 the members voted to end the merger with the NUPE. As a consequence the Branch no longer had a club of their own and had to quickly identify new premises. The members of the Fort William Railway Club were approached and agreed to allow the Branch to use their premises. The first Branch meeting to be held at the Railway Club took place on 05 December 1991 and this has remained the Branch home to the present day.

2011 saw the RBLS celebrate its 90th anniversary. As part of the Branch celebrations a parade and rededication of colours service, organised by Lt Col Kevin Lane MBE, was held in Fort William on Saturday 21 May. The parade and service was attended by local dignatories, the RBLS Area Chairman, members from other H&I Area Branches and local Cadet Units. Two pipers led the parade which started at the West End of the High Street and finished at the War Memorial.

It was decided in September 2011 that the Branch Standard was no longer fit for purpose and so a new Standard was bought and taken into service.

In April 2011 the Branch launched the first edition of a quarterly newsletter; this proved to be a popular method of keeping members informed as to what was happening within the Branch and it continues to be published today.

In December 2011 Mrs Audrey Dennison, the then Branch Treasurer, was awarded the RBLS Presidents award in recognition of her work in support of Poppy Scotland. The award was given to her personaly by Lt Gen Sir Alistair Irwin KCB CBE during the AGM.

 

Also at the December 2012 AGM Mr Jim Bell stood down as Branch President and Mr Mark McCann was elected as the new President. At the same meeting, Mr Drew Walker assumed the appointment of Branch Secretary and Mr Hugh McInnes plus Mr James Porter were appointed as additional members of the Committee.

On Saturday 4th May 2013 the Branch, as H&I Area Winners, coordinated and ran the RBLS National Dominoes Championships. This was an excellent event and although we did not win everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

On Thursday 16 May 2013 members of the Branch plus members of the Inverness Branch and members of the Royal Canadian Legion held simultaneous events in memory of Flying Officer John McDonnell, a young Canadian pilot, who sadly died after his Spitfire crashed onto Melantee mountain in 1943.

The Reverend Donald McQuarrie and his wife joined the Fort William community in 1990 and, because the Duncansburgh MacIntosh Church is regarded as our Branch Church, he also unwittingly became the Branch Padre as well.

 

  In doing so he acted as our Padre for 21 years and has done an incredible job during that time.   Sadly he decided it was time to retire and so as a mark of gratitude for all that he has done for the veterans community of Fort William & District he was presented with a certificate of merit and an engraved 105mm brass cartridge case, as is fired by the L118 Light Gun, during the Branch reception that was held on Sunday 27 November 2011.

In 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2016 the Branch won the H&I Area AR Henderson Trophy for being the most progressive Branch without a club. This is always a great accolade for the Branch as it acknowledges and rewards the effort that people have put in throughout the year.

At Annual Conference 2014 the Royal British Legion Scotland formally adopted the trading name of Legion Scotland.

In July 2015 the Fort William War Memorial won the Highlands & Islands Area Best Kept War Memorial Competition in the Memorials Without Gardens Category.

 

This was a great achievement and only came about through the combined efforts of the Council; Works Dept; Town Team and the Branch. The award was presented to Jeanette Lane, Branch Secretary, by Jan Harvey the National Chairman.

 

As a consequence of our success at Area level, the Memorial was automatically entered into the National Competition where it received a Highly Commended award.

In February 2016 the Branch held its first Burns Supper. This was a great evening but attendance could have been better.

In July 2016 the Fort William War memorial was once again deemed to be the best within its category as it won the competition for the second year in succession.

 

Once again the Memorial was automatically entered into the National Competition where, as per the previous year, it was given a Highly Commended award.

Also in July 2016 the Branch organised and ran a summer fund raising fete, something that had not been attempted since 1957. The event raised much needed funds for the Branch but was severely affected by the vagaries of the Lochaber weather.

In December 2016 the Branch held a Christmas Party which it is believed is the first one to be held in more years thatn most care to remember. The event was well supported and everyone had an excellent evening.

In February 2017 the Branch held its second Burns Supper. This was yet another great evening and attendance had almost doubled from that of the previous year.

On Saturday 1 June 2017 members of the Branch gathered at the graveside of the Revd David Railton MC MA, in order to mark the 62nd anniversary of his death.

 

The name of Revd David will not instantly mean a lot to many people until it is pointed out that it was he that thought of the idea of having a Tomb for an Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey that could be used to recognise the sacrifice of all those who died and were buried as unknown during the First World War; and so, on the anniversary of his death it was only right and fitting that we pay homage to him.

 

The event was organised by Bruce James and 12 Branch Members were present; our ranks were swollen by Kevin Gray, the CEO of Legion Scotland, and his wife; plus Major Janet McIntyre and Margaret Rae from the Salvation Army in Kinlochleven. Their presence was particularly poignant as David Railton’s father had been the Second in Command to William Booth who founded the Salvation Army.

The Branch held its second Christmas Party on Saturday 16 December 2017 and once again this was hugely popular with over sixty members and guests attending.

At the AGM in January 2018 Danny Munro stood down as Branch President and Kevin Lane (the Branch Chairman) was elected to replace him. Hugh Macinnes was then duly elected to replace Kevin as Branch Chairman.

In February 2018 the Branch Committee took the decision to move from the Railway Club to the Ben Nevis Hotel in order to hold all future Committee and Branch meetings.

Saturday 3rd February 2018 saw the Branch holding its third Burns Supper. Without doubt this was the best one so far and attendance had increased yet again from that of the previous year. The Branch was honoured to have our National Chairman, Charlie Brown and Kevin Gray, the CEO of Legion Scotland in attendance at the event. 

On 7th June 2018 the Branch Held a White Water Rafting Comradeship Event; this was an incredible day which everyone thoroughly enjoyed and it allowed many people to learn a lot about themselves and what they could achieve.

 

This is certainly a day that will be talked about for many more to come.

At the Branch meeting held in July 2018 Kevin Lane, the President, presented Mark McCann with his Highlands and Islands Area Certificate for Merritorious Service and then presented Danny Munro with his National Certificate of Merritorious Service.

 

Both awards were well deserved by two members who have given much to the Branch over many years.

On the 23rd June 2018 members of the Branch gathered at the Parade in Fort William in order to prepare the War Memorial for the Best kept Competition.

 

Through their efforts, and those of the Town Team; Highland Council; Andrew Bradley (Stone Mason) and the generosity of Garden Stop, the Memorial was ready in time for the inspection where it was voted Joint First in the Highlands and Islands Area.

 

Well done to all concerned.

In December 2018 the Branch held a Christmas Party which, once again, was well supported by members and family members. Our guest of honour was Dr Claire Armstrong who is the new CEO of Legion Scotland.

On Saturday 02 February 2019, the Branch hosted the annual Burns Supper at the Ben Nevis Hotel. The event was well supported and we were honoured to have Sir Alistair Irwin KCB, CBE (The National President of Legion Scotland) and Lady Irwin as our official guests.

 

By way of introduction, Kevin Lane (Branch President) gave a brief résumé of Sir Alistair's career and then he was asked to address the Branch in his capacity as National President.

On Saturday 16 February 2019 the Branch entered a team into the H&I Area Indoor Bowls Competition that was hosted in Aviemore.

 

This was yet another first for the Branch and although the team fought valliantly they were pipped at the post and sadly did not achieve a rostrum position.

On Friday 22 February 2019 a combined darts and cribbage team, plus several spectators, sailed to Orkney in order for the H&I Area Darts competition (Stromness) and the H&I Area Cribbage competition (Kirkwall). As is the norm, the darts team found stiff opposition against the other teams and were knocked out as a result. The cribbage team faired better with Paul Martin winning the singles but sadly John Garrick and Colin MacDonald were beaten in the pairs.

 

No matter what the result, everyone felt that it had been a great weekend and many stories were still being discussed on the ferry back on Sunday.

At the H&I Area Council meeting on Saturday 13 April 2019, it was confirmed that the Branch had once again been awarded the AR Henderson Trophy for being the most progressive Branch within the Area without a Club. The trophy was presented by the Eric Munro (the Area President) and was the  sixth time that we have won this award.

Following the H&I Area Council Meeting, the Area Standard Bearing Competition for 2019 was held. This is an event that the Branch has not entered before so for the first time James Porter volunteered to do so.

 

As a first time competitor, he was initially entered into the "B" Category Competition but was also permitted to compete in the "A" Category Competition.

 

James aquitted himself way and was declared to be the winner in the "B" competition and was runner up in the "A" competition.

 

Well done to James for doing this and hopefully the Branch can continue to build on this by competing again in 2020.

June 2019 saw the Branch preparing once again for the H&I Area Best Kept War Memorial Competition. During several weekends Branch members gave their time to labour around the Memorial to ensure that it was ready for inspection on Wednesday 19 June 2019.

 

As a consequence, the Memorial was judged to be fourth equal within the Area and was then eligible for entry into the National Competition.

 

Although the Memorial was scored highly sadly we missed out on the top slot.

Although the Branch does not own its own premises this does not prevent it from carrying out all of the normal functions that are expected of it.

 

The Branch membership reached a peak of 170 in the late 80s and today sits at 88 members from all three Services.

 

The Branch is always looking to recruit new members and therefore anyone interested in joining our ranks should click this link to go to the Membership Page.

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