The Royal British Legion came into being in July 1921 as a result of the amalgamation of the four great ex-Service organisations. Soon after the First World War, these four organisations quickly acknowledged that if any real progress was to be made to improve the basic needs of the many thousands of disabled ex-Servicemen who returned after the war, they stood a greater chance as one combined force. At a Conference convened on the 14th May 1921, the British Legion was thus born with Field Marshall Earl Haig becoming the first President and Mr T.F. Lister as Chairman.
It was also decreed at the time that women would not be eligible for ordinary membership but that a separate Women’s Auxiliary should be set up - and so the 'Women’s Auxiliary Section of the British Legion' was established - with the specific purpose of safeguarding the interests of the widows, dependants and families of men and women who served in H.M. Forces, as well as widening the activities of the British Legion.
At the first Conference of the Women’s Auxiliary Section held on the 20th July 1921, a provisional committee was agreed upon and Countess Haig became the President. Lady Robertson, wife of Field Marshall Sir William Robertson, became the first National Chairman. In November of that year, HRH Princess Mary, The Princess Royal, consented to become Patroness, a position she held until her death in 1965.
At a Legion Conference in July 1922, a further Resolution was proposed that the Constitution be amended to allow ex-Servicewomen to be admitted to ordinary membership of the Legion on equal terms with the men. As a result, the world ‘Auxiliary’ was amended to 'Section' and thus the British Legion ‘Women’s Section’ was born. A further amendment to the Bye-Laws accepted that ex-Servicewomen could be members of a British Legion Branch as well as a Women’s Section Branch. It was at this same Conference that HRH Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone became President, Lady Edward Spencer Churchill was unanimously elected Chairman, and Lady Grant, Vice-Chairman.
Almost from a standing point, the Women’s Section has had to build itself up, unlike the Legion who already had a large number of fully established branches transferred during the amalgamation period. However, it soon became clear that many women were willing and eager to band together to care for the welfare of widows and children of World War I victims, as well as presiding over the wellbeing of the ex-Service community as a whole. By the end of 1922, branches had reached 126 with a total of 2,215 members.
90 years later, the Women’s Section boasts over 30,000 members and 700 branches nationwide and overseas. We remain one of the largest women’s organisations in existence and the only body of women organised for the specific purpose of caring and supporting the Armed Forces community.