Branches of Spain South participate in the service at St George's in Malaga. / SHAY CONAGHAN

Lest we forget on Armistice Day: RBL Spain South still on parade after 35 years of loyal service

The RBL Costa del Sol was founded in 1987, and now there are 12 branches located along the coast and inland

TONY BRYANT COSTA DEL SOL.

The Royal British Legion is a charitable organisation well-known all over Britain and the English-speaking world for its care and support for those who have suffered as a result of service in the Armed Forces during conflict.

The organisation was founded by Lance Bombardier Tom Lister for those affected by the atrocities of the Great War, whether through their own service or through that of a husband, father, or son.

As a result of the war, Britain's economy plummeted and in 1921 there were two million people unemployed. The situation was so severe, Lister, who was appalled by the government's inability to do anything to improve the lives of ex-servicemen, took it upon himself to do something about it: this led to the inception of The Royal British Legion in 1921.

There are more than 25 branches of the RBL in Spain, 12 of which are in the province of Malaga

Since then, the Legion, which has extended its support to those who have fought in any conflict since WWI, now has 96 branches outside the UK, stretched across Europe and as far as Canada, Thailand and Japan.

There are more than 25 branches in Spain. These are divided between RBL Spain North, which runs from the French border in the north, to northern Granada, and includes Benidorm, Alicante and Murcía; and Spain South, which covers the Costa del Sol and inland municipalities of Malaga.

Although Spain North was established in 1996, several branches had already been formed, including the Torrevieja branch, which was inaugurated on 24th April 1989.

Spain South was established in October 1987 with the inauguration of the RBL Costa del Sol, which became the Benalmádena branch after several others began to spring up along the coast and in inland towns.

Nerja was the second to open in 1988, and Torremolinos in 1991: others would appear over the next few years, including Mijas Costa (1994), Marbella (2005); Coín, Benajarafe, Los Romanes and Mollina (2006), Loja (2009), Casabermeja - now Riogordo branch – (2017) and Duquesa (2018).

All branches organise annual Poppy Appeals, and all money collected in Spain stays in Spain to help the beneficiaries that live here. The branches also participate in the Armistice Day services at different venues in the province, while also offering welfare services, a telephone hotline (telephone buddy), bereavement support and crisis grants, among other things.

This year, Spain South will be celebrating its thirty-fifth anniversary, and this milestone is down to the sheer hard work and determination of certain people who have endeavoured to keep the flag flying.

One of the pioneers of the southern district was Billy Beyts, a member of the Legion who was instrumental in the setting up of the early branches, especially Nerja. Billy, who is buried in the English cemetery, was the person responsible for informing Princess Elizabeth in 1952 that her father had died and that she was to become Queen.

"Billy was one of the founding members. He was a leading light in getting the whole thing going," former president, Bruce Macintyre, told SUR in English,

Driving force

One of the longest serving members of the RBL on the Costa del Sol was Mary LeCorne, who died in July at the age of 85.

Mary, who was given life membership in 2013 - one of the Royal British Legion's most prestigious credits, stepped down as district secretary in 2017, a post she had held for over 20 years: she had also held the positions of district chairman and district training officer, and she continued as the chairman of Torremolinos, and Benalmádena (which has now closed) until shortly before her death. Today, all founding members have either died or have returned to Britain, which has had an adverse effect on several branches in the district.

District treasurer, Margery Taylor, explained that this has become a problem, although she pointed out that this is not the only reason the Legion is experiencing problems. "Some branches have struggled to stay alive because we just don't have the people anymore. But this isn't the only reason, because a lot of the time, people are not willing to take up vacant positions," she said.

Although she is aware of the problems faced, Margery believes that the organisation will overcome its current dilemma, even though several branches have become inactive. "When we first started out in the late 1980s, some of the branches had around 300 members, but over the years membership at certain branches has dwindled. Torremolinos is still there, but this branch is struggling after Mary LeCorne's death. She was one of the driving forces of the Legion on the coast," Margery explained.

Although membership has dwindled and a few branches have disappeared over the years, the ethics and objectives of the RBL Spain South remain steadfast, as this weekend's parades and services in the Malaga province will demonstrate.