In the last week the PEI Provincial Command of the Royal Canadian Legion announced the selling of the Charlottetown Branch Number One. This is the largest legion branch in the Province. Not so long ago the Summerside branch (second largest) was sold and now those members rent a space on the ground floor of their original building. It appears the writing is on the wall, legions are failing all across the country. The question is why, what are we doing wrong? where have we erred? I think it has been coming for a long time, some members are overly protective of what they see as their sacred domain. Many veterans are turned away or turned off by the attitude of a few. In 1964 whilst serving in the Royal Navy I along with a few shipmates were refused membership at a Dartmouth NS branch because we had not served in a theatre of war. We were at the time heavily involved in the Cold War! but that apparently didn’t count. A friend of mine, also a long time serving veteran was told he could only join a local Island branch as an associate member. There are many other discriminating actions carried out by legion branches that I’m sure put off the more recent veterans and service personnel. Only recently in my branch (probably nation wide) was it decided that veterans do not have to pay for the Remembrance night dinner. If you have served in any branch of the military then you are a veteran. That wasn’t always the case, a few years ago if you were not WW2 or Korean War vet, you had to pay. Many of us were made to feel like second class veterans or not considered veterans at all.. Fast forward to today, I only attend my branch for monthly meetings, and of course I participate in Remembrance day ceremonies. That more or less totals my visits at eleven per year. Do we see a problem here?? why do I have no further interest than those stated? My branch survives on bar sales, electronic game machines and the ever popular ATM. On nights when we have a dance or a fund raiser the branch requires the services of a bouncer. The branch in order to survive has become a club or local watering hole and membership is rarely required At each branch meeting we stand for a minute of silence and say “We Shall Remember them”. But do we really remember them? This year celebrations such as the Battle of the Atlantic and the 70th anniversary of D Day went unnoticed here in Wellington and probably in many other places. I think most branches have lost sight of the purpose of the Legion, why do we exist? should we not be telling people why. “Lest we forget”. Oh! I know we do a fairly good job in November, we have poster contests in the schools, legionaries speak at local schools and nursing homes and generally we have a good turn out at the various cenotaphs. However, one day a year is clearly not enough to sustain interest in the legion. We need to do more and we need to change deeply intrenched attitudes, for example who can and can’t wear veterans medals. We should be going into schools more often, inviting school children into the branches to see the medal displays, photos and history. We could run quiz nights for veterans and even for the older students. Bring history alive for the children by showing them and telling them our wonderful history. Surely this is more what the legion should be about, not slot machines and bar sales. This is my point of view and it is one you may or may not agree with. However, if you don’t agree then tell me where I’m wrong and offer another positive solution. If we do nothing then the legions are probably close to extinction. If that happens we will have let down those brave men and women who secured the freedom we today enjoy. The question is very much “Lest We Forget”?????
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