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Legion club's battle for future

PUBLISHED: 17:22 06 April 2009 | UPDATED: 10:46 07 July 2010

They were created so the war-weary could put their feet up and discuss past glories over a pint with their comrades.

But, threatened by falling membership and difficult trading conditions, one ex-servicemen's club in Fakenham is seeking to break its historic military ties in a bid to keep the business afloat.

They were created so the war-weary could put their feet up and discuss past glories over a pint with their comrades.

But, threatened by falling membership and difficult trading conditions, one

ex-servicemen's club in Fakenham is seeking to break its historic military ties in a bid to keep the business afloat.

Now veterans are steeling themselves for one more battle to preserve the General Townshend Club's affiliation with the Royal British Legion (RBL) and its work to support former servicemen and their families.

Anyone joining the club on Cattle Market Street currently has to pay a proportion of their subscription fee to the RBL.

The club's operating committee said the venue was under-used by RBL branch members and those who did use it felt they received no financial benefit from the affiliation, as the bulk of their subscription money went to the legion.

A members' ballot will be held at a special general meeting on Wednesday, with the club's charter requiring a 75pc vote in favour of the change if it is to become independent.

RBL members reacted angrily to the plan and said the club should remain true to the intentions of Maj Gen Charles Townshend, whose descendents still live at nearby Raynham Hall, and who gave his patronage to the club after the first world war.

Col David James, chairman of the Fakenham and District Branch of the British Legion, has written to more than 300 branch members urging them to vote against the planned changes, and support the club by visiting it for a drink or a meal.

“People lose sight of history so easily,” he said.

“These things were started as ex-servicemen's clubs, so it is inherent for the people who inhabit them to keep them as they were intended.

“While I accept that the club in its present form may not be financially viable, I do not believe that disaffiliation from the British Legion would meet the wishes of the original benefactor.”

Col James said the RBL's business development manager had made suggestions to make the club more viable, which had not been acted on by the committee.

“I am at a loss as to how they think they are going to progress without the British Legion members,” he said. “They have not been given encouragement to go in there - on market days it is like the Marie Celeste.”

Fakenham British Legion member Ken Canler, 96, was wounded in both legs during the bitter fighting for Monte Cassino in Italy in 1944, a battle thought to have claimed 250,000 casualties.

He said: “We are in complete disagreement. The club is saying they are very hard up but in my view this is a false move because all they are doing is upsetting their British Legion members.

“Our message is that we want the club to carry on. It is an advertising point for the legion and it should be there to help them.”

General Townshend Club secretary Tony Grover said the building became a British Legion venue in the 1920s, but the organisation had subsequently sold its interest, and control, to the club.

He said; “The fact is, there are very few ex-forces people who actually make use of the club and support us on a regular basis.

“Over the last few years there has been lots of concern from the members that their club membership fee is high and the reason for that under the current rules is, in order to be a member of the club, you have to be a member of the British Legion.

“The likelihood is we would have more members if the joining fee did not include joining the British Legion itself.

“We will be guided by the feelings of the membership.

“The ultimate possibility is the club might fold and we are trying to make sure that does not happen.”

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