In the summer of 1946, Sergeant A.S. Davis was finally released from the Royal Artillery after almost 8 years service. He returned to Benfleet as plain old Alec Davis and effectively started a new life with the lady he married 4 years earlier, in 1942.
I can’t be sure when he joined the South Benfleet Branch of the British Legion, but I know he was a very active member by the mid 1950s. At certain times during the year he would disappear into his little workshop and make games for the Legion Garden Fetes. It might be a plywood panel with carefully cut, painted and numbered holes, only just big enough for a perfectly aimed ping-pong ball to pass through.
But the contraption I remember most clearly was a wooden board with a curved and twisted copper pipe running from one side to the other. The challenge for the player was to hold and carefully guide a metal loop from one end of the pipe to the other, without allowing the loop to touch the pipe. Just one moments loss of control or concentration would result in the harsh sound of a very large mechanical bell.
There were also Tombola evenings when dad would take to the stage to call out each number. He knew all the Bingo-Lingo; “Legs 11”, “two little ducks” (22), “Heinz varieties” (57), “key of the door” (21) & so on. There was also one call I thought was a bit dodgy; “was she worth it?” 7 and 6. But it turns out that this was the cost of a war-time marriage license: 7 shillings & 6 pence (what’s that, about 37.5p in today’s currency).
November was all about Poppy Day, so we had poppy trays to make up with a collection ‘tin’ and a selection of poppies, some on little wooden crosses. Back then, the poppies were made of paper, with a thin wire stem bonded into a black bitumen centre. At some point these were replaced by machine made plastic poppies.
Each tray was delivered either to a local shop to sit on their counter, or to a door-to-door volunteer who would call on every house in a designated area. I did this once when I was about 10 or 11, but I didn’t really like it.
We were supposed to collect donations for poppies. But if a child came to the door and asked me how much the poppies cost, I would make up a price. I didn’t want some little tike putting a penny in the box and taking 5 poppies!
I also remember the Jumble Sales, which revealed two sides of human nature. On one hand there were the very generous people that freely gave their time and sometimes valuable items for sale. On the other hand there were some very mean minded individuals who wanted stuff for
practically nothing. If you were asking 9d for a nice hard-backed book, someone would want it for 2d. Remember, this was not a car-boot sale. The meagre amount of money we raised was to help those left crippled (physically or mentally) by their heroic actions in World War 2, which was still very recent history in the 1950s & 60s.
On one occasion, a well dressed man arrived and said he’d come to collect a large piece of furniture (I think it was a book case) and he needed a hand to get it into his van. So 2 of the guys left their stalls and did most of the heavy lifting, out through the carpark and into his vehicle. When they got back to the sale, they asked who made the sale and how much it went for. Turns out this smartly dressed con-man had not paid anyone!
I think the chairman of the South Benfleet branch of the British Legion during the 1950s had been someone I only knew as Mr. Chinnery (not sure about spelling), but my dad took on the role in the 1960s.
The Legion operated from a hall at the bottom of Vicarage Hill which they shared with a sports & social club. They believed that they had a long-term agreement to continue using this hall, so it came as a huge shock to my dad when they were kicked out sometime during the 1970s.
At the time I was not that interested, but I’d love to know now what the real background was to this episode.
I guess that was the end of the South Benfleet branch because we still have the Chairman’s Medallion. And looking at the British Legion list of branches for Essex, I note there is no Benfleet branch, although there is one for Hadleigh & Thundersley, and another one for Canvey Island.
So my dad was the last Chairman of the British Legion (South Benfleet branch).