IT was formed to remember those who shall grow not old, but yesterday a dedicated band of men and women were forced to admit that age had finally wearied them, as they gave up their work for war veterans.
The branch of the Royal British Legion in Royston, Barnsley, was set up 86 years ago and founder members held their first meeting in the village’s Ring O’ Bells pub, a few yards from St John the Baptist’s Church.
Fittingly, the last five members hosted their final function there yesterday, after laying up the standards of both the men’s and women’s sections of the Legion in a service watched by the Bishop of Wakefield.
Malcolm Cooper, who took up the role of branch secretary 12 years ago after returning to Barnsley following 36 years working in South Africa, said it was a sad day but had been inevitable for some time.
He added: “We only have the five members now, and I am next to the youngest at 81. The president, Edwin Parkin is 91. Nobody is interested in joining us now.
“Just to get approval to lay up the standards has taken 18 months. It is quite a procedure, but we’ve been lucky because we have been supported by our vicar Matt Bullimore and the Bishop.
“People always want to remember those who ‘grew not old’ but we wanted to care for those who did grow old and served their community in new ways.
“It was important to us that our old soldiers from the two World Wars could die with dignity.
“We’ve done that and always made sure the standards were at their funerals and we will continue to make sure that poppies are available in our shops and schools.”
One of the last actions of the branch was to commission a hand-made wooden corbel to house the standards on south wall of the tower at St John the Baptist.
The Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Revd Stephen Platten, said he was “saddened” to see the branch close ahead of Remembrance Sunday, but added: “I am thankful for all that they have done for people in this place.”
The Bishop, who is the Church of England Bishops’ spokesman on defence issues in the House of Lords, added: “The Royal British Legion is one of those remarkable institutions which has adapted over the years according to the needs of those it serves.
“But as society and the nature of war have changed, it has remained steadfast in serving our ex-servicemen and women for almost a century. The financial and social care it continues to give is immense. It is one of our leading charities.”
Local MP Dan Jarvis, who saw active military service in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan with the Parachute Regiment, also attended the service and will unveil a plaque marking the work of the branch during the Remembrance Service in Royston on Sunday. He said: ‘The Royal British Legion is, and has always been, an incredible organisation that has provided vital support; not only to the families and loved ones of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in serving their country, but also to those servicemen and women who have returned from active duty.
“It remains as relevant today, as it has ever been. I was very sad to hear that the Royston branch is closing – I am sure there will be many people who owe a huge debt of thanks for everything the branch members have done.”
Vicar of Royston, the Rev Dr Matt Bullimore, said: “The standards remind us of service, duty and care and they’ve been used in remembrance of those who died in active service and of those who died in later years.
“It is a privilege to be able to lay them up.”