This year is the 100th anniversary of the British Legion, the 100th anniversary of the Poppy appeal, and the 100th anniversary of Chesham’s war memorial, so with Remembrance Sunday coming up I thought it would be fitting to tell the story.

The Great War

In 1914 there was an influx of Belgian refugees (see Bucks Free Press 6th October 2019), after their country had been invaded by the German Reich. These Belgians left an impression after telling of the atrocities committed by the invading German army. As a result, when Britain joined the war on August 4, many people enthusiastically volunteered and felt a moral duty to fight. After conscription was introduced in March 1916, some people applied to be conscientious objectors, which included Christians from across the Christian traditions.

In 1917 the National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Sailors and Soldiers (NFDDSS) was formed for returning serviceman, who were usually injured or disabled. In 1918 a Chesham, Amersham and District branch was formed. There were also branches at Wycombe and Aylesbury.


An armistice, or cessation of hostilities, was agreed for November 11, 1918. Famously it was at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. On November 17, 1918 a national Day of Thanksgiving was called. Pubs, cinemas and other places of entertainment were voluntarily closed as a mark of respect. Peace was not really celebrated until war officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919.

Celebrations in Chesham

A series of peace celebrations took place in Chesham in 1919. They started with a united thanksgiving service, held in front of the Congregational (now URC) chapel in Chesham Broadway on Sunday July 6. Great peace celebrations were held in Chesham on Tuesday August 5. The Chesham Salvation Army band played and a memorial cross was unveiled by the Town Hall, in memory of the town’s dead. There was a carnival procession, which included many costumes and floats. The discharged and demobilised servicemen marched in a procession and saluted the cross as they passed by. At noon a dinner was given to all the ex-servicemen and their families, amounting to 800 people. Two victory oaks were planted in the park (see Bucks Free Press 16 August 2020), and the day ended with fireworks. A final peace ceremony took place on Sunday, September 7, 1919 with a parade and a service at St Mary’s parish church.

Armistice Day

The first official national Armistice Day celebration was held on November 11, 1919 with a celebration at Buckingham Palace, and a national two minute silence. The following year, on Armistice Day 1920, the funeral of the Unknown Soldier took place at the London Cenotaph, followed by a burial at Westminster Abbey, and a two minute silence was observed. Buses halted, electricity was cut to tram lines, and trading on the Stock Exchange stopped. Ever since then, a two minute silence has been held annually.

The British Legion

In 1920, the National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Sailors and Soldiers invited some other veterans’ associations to discuss a merger, which was achieved in 1921, establishing the Royal British Legion. After the Great War the red poppy was one of the few plants to grow on the former battlefields of northern France and Flanders. Its red colour was symbolic of the blood shed by many. In 1921 the poppy was adopted by the Royal British Legion as the symbol for their appeals and has now been used for 100 years. The Chesham branch of the British Legion met in Bellingdon Road until 1928, when they moved to Sunnyside Road, before moving to 111 Broad Street in 1936, this building was burnt down in 2009. They now meet at the Douglas McMinn Centre in East Street.

War Memorials

Across the country war memorials were erected in towns and villages, and in many places of worship, and even some places of work. A marble war memorial was unveiled in St Mary’s Church on Wednesday March 31, 1920, with 109 names listed chronologically in the order they died. In Chesham a War Memorial Fund raised money for a town memorial and an extension to Chesham Hospital. Chesham war memorial is now 100 years old. It was unveiled on July 14, 1921 (see Bucks Free Press August 1, 2021). It consists of a life-size statue of a soldier on a plinth. Brass plaques list names of 185 local men who lost their lives in the Great War, ordered alphabetically. After the Second World War a further 77 names were added to the memorial. Today the memorial is maintained by Chesham Town Council. Meanwhile many Bucks villages raised money for War Memorial Halls or other types of memorials.

Remembrance Sunday

From the 1920s many churches marked the Sunday nearest Armistice Day as a Remembrance Sunday. In 1939 it was decided to move the official national Armistice Day celebrations to the Sunday nearest November 11th, which was in line with common practice across the country elsewhere. Many of the ceremonies stopped during the war, but a remembrance service was held on November 11, 1945, which was a Sunday anyway. Since then the second Sunday in November is officially Remembrance Sunday, which is the day to remember those who died in both world wars and other conflicts. Meanwhile in the United States of America it was renamed Veterans Day in 1954.

Services of remembrance are held on Remembrance Sunday at the war memorials across the land. These are often organised by the local British Legion branch working with local clergy. An annual National Service of Remembrance is held at the Cenotaph in London. In Chesham a parade of uniformed organisations takes place who gather in the Broadway. The ‘Last Post’ is played on a bugle after the two minutes silence at 11 am. Then there is a memorial service at the war memorial, and different organisations lay memorial wreaths of poppies. A particularly large turnout happened on Remembrance Sunday 2018 for the 100th anniversary of the end of the war.