South African Legion

The South African Legion

 

After suffering the horrors of war in France and Flanders thousands of men who fought on the British side in World War One underwent incredible hardship once they had been discharged from the armed services and returned to civilian life.

Realising the serious plight in which men found themselves, three prominent soldiers : Field Marshall Earl Haig, General the Rt. Hon. J C Smuts and General Sir H T Lukin founded the British Empire Service League (BESL) The inaugural meeting was held in the City Hall, Cape Town on 21 February 1921.

The South African Branch was titled ‘British Empire Service League (South Africa) but in April 1941 in deference to the pro-war and anti-war factions in the country the name was changed to the ‘South African Legion of the BESL’.

In 1952 it was again altered, this time to the South African Legion of the British Commonwealth Ex-Service League. Originally in Bloemfontein, the Headquarters moved to Johannesburg in 1942.

The aim of the BESL was to provide care, employment and housing. In South Africa the Legion was equal to the challenge. It built on the foundation and continued this good work after World War Two. Thousands of men and women have been assisted in all manner of means and this work carries on to-day. Former National Servicemen and those who were part of the Armed Struggle are assisted with advice and direction.

Towards the end of World War Two the Legion launched several housing schemes in various parts of the country, including housing projects for coloured and black soldiers. A large social centre and chapel in Soweto is a good example. When the Government lifted the ban on Black people owning property, veterans living in over 200 homes built by the Legion in the Dube and Moroka districts of Soweto found themselves entitled to acquire their homes on a 99 year leasehold.

From the beginning the Legion established a close liaison with Government Departments, which fortunately still exists, although there have been times when relations were strained. A major clash took place when the Legion reacted strongly in 1956 to the Government’s move to ban Black and Coloured veterans from Remembrance Day Services. Successive governments have enlisted the help of the Legion when drawing up war pension legislation and Legion representations have made a significant contribution towards making this legislation among the most generous enacted in the world. The fight to obtain parity of pensions for all – white, coloured and black veterans was finally won in 1986/87. It had been a long battle.

One of the Legion’s major undertakings is securing pensions for South African post-war disabled servicemen, It also undertakes investigations on behalf of the RCEL in respect of assistance requested by other Commonwealth ex-service personnel who reside in this country.

Poppy Day, when the South African Legion holds a street collection to gather funds to assist in the welfare work among military veterans, takes place on the Saturday nearest to Remembrance Day.


Search this Site

Next Event

Jun
9
Fri
2017
10:00 UK Founders Day Parade @ Royal Hospital Chelsea
UK Founders Day Parade @ Royal Hospital Chelsea
Jun 9 @ 10:00 – 11:00
UK Founders Day Parade @ Royal Hospital Chelsea | England | United Kingdom
Purpose: Founder’s Day (also known as Oak Apple Day) is the highlight of the Royal Hospital Chelsea’s calendar, an event attended by all our brethren, the Chelsea Pensioners, celebrating the founding of the Royal Hospital
Jun
24
Sat
2017
10:00 UK Armed Forces Day Parade 2017 @ Woking Town Centre
UK Armed Forces Day Parade 2017 @ Woking Town Centre
Jun 24 @ 10:00 – 12:00
UK Armed Forces Day Parade 2017 @ Woking Town Centre | Woking | England | United Kingdom
Purpose: A chance to show our support for the armed forces of our host nation. This event is under the auspices of the Royal Naval Association.
Jul
9
Sun
2017
10:00 Delville Wood @ Delville Wood
Delville Wood @ Delville Wood
Jul 9 @ 10:00 – 14:30
Delville Wood @ Delville Wood | Longueval | Hauts-de-France | France
Purpose: We remember the 229,000 South Africans who volunteered for World War 1, paying tribute to 2,500 who perished in the Battle of Delville Wood, the single biggest SA military loss on the battle field.

Auction Now On