The Last Chairman of Benfleet British Legion

Steve Davis
Steve Davis

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 cameĀ  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).

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  • Hi Marina,
    Good to hear from you after all these years.
    Dad was quite good at finding volunteers, although he didn’t then sit back, he was a very energetic member of the British Legion. He really wanted to support ex-servicemen.
    I don’t remember Phil ever doing a Poppy Day collection, but I may have been too young to remember.
    I think you moved away from Benfleet many years ago. It has certainly changed a lot since we were kids.
    Take a look at my earlier article, if you haven’t already seen it: https://www.benfleethistory.org.uk/content/browse-articles/areas/bread-and-cheese-hill/living-in-bowers-road-in-the-1950s-1960s

    By Steve Davis (08/03/2021)
  • Hi Steve, I used to go door to door with your dad as well. One wonderful memory is going to the Albert Hall in the early 60s with my dad and your dad for the poppy day memorial, something never to be forgotten. I lived next door to you until I got married. I have lovely childhood memories of Philip and the things we used to get up to. Marina (was Sears).

    By Marina Birt (08/03/2021)
  • Hi Tony,
    do you have any memories of these social events? If so would love to hear them, as they may jog my memory.

    I’m sure there would have been card nights (maybe Whist or Cribbage) or possibly Beetle Drives. But I only seem to remember Tombola & the raffles as part of any evening social events.

    By steve davis (18/01/2021)
  • Hi Polly,
    the ‘Stiff’ family name seems very familiar to me, but my memory is not so good these days. Did you have a sister named Pat or maybe a brother born in the late 1940s?
    Re: The Last Post, I guess you are saying that someone played trumpet. It was not my dad. He played drums in the Boys Brigade and there is a photo on this linked page that shows him having a bash somewhere in Italy: https://sergeant-ack-ack.blogspot.com/p/a-few-more-photos-this-looks-like.html

    By steve davis (18/01/2021)
  • Hi Steve. My Dad, Bill Stiff, built the bar in the British Legion which he leant on for a few years, every Sunday. Did your Dad used to play The Last Post at the Memorial on Remembrance Sunday?
    Polly.

    By Polly Yorke (16/01/2021)
  • I well remember your father Alec whilst visiting the Legion club during the 50/60’s during the time my family were living in Fleet Road. My father John Milton served in Royal Artillery on searchlights during WW2 and became a member after demob.

    By Tony Milton (16/01/2021)

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