A COMMUNITY group, steeped in history, is celebrating nearly 100 years of service.

The Wark and District Branch of the Royal British Legion was first established in 1921 from the existing Old Comrades Club.

Although the earliest recorded notes from meetings date back to February 1933, the Wark branch has been running for 98 years.

A record of the 1933 meeting includes members agreeing to inscribe the bugle – now hanging in the village’s town hall.

The minutes books starting from 1921 have not been found, but members expressed their eagerness to locate them.

Longest-standing member of the North Tyne branch Dennis Grugan (90) joined in 1957 when former member Billy Ballantine was chairman.

“We started off as one of the oldest branches in Britain. You had to be a ex-service to join the Legion back then, but nowadays we accept anyone,” he said.

“We’re the only branch after Prudhoe from the River Tyne up to the Scottish border.

“In the time I have been here I have been chairman, secretary and committee member.”

Dennis recalled times when meetings were held in the village and the surrounding area.

He added: “I attended a meeting at the Black Bull in the village and the lady that owned it said she had a bugle.

“She said it was presented to the Wark British Legion in the 1930s, and now it’s on display at the Wark Town Hall.”

The bugle is hanging above a plaque, which lists all those from the village and surrounding areas who lost their lives in the First World War.

However, the Wark branch has suffered with membership numbers over a number of years.

Dennis, who was posted in the Royal Artillery brigade during the Second World War, said the Wark branch was once close to disbanding.

“We had our annual meeting and only three people turned up so the president said ‘that’s it, close the branch down’,” he said.

“But we had another meeting and that is when we decided to ask Brigadier Jeffries to be president.

“He agreed and helped turn the branch around. He said ‘if you decide on something you must carry on with it’.”

The Royal British Legion holds a fund-raising drive each year in the weeks before Remembrance Sunday, during which red poppies are offered to the public in return for a donation to the Legion.

This year, headed by organiser Ann Dover, the Wark branch raised £4,619 in eight villages. “For a branch with a membership of 16 that is a remarkable amount of money,” treasurer of the branch Stephen Herod added.

Group members also pointed out its annual partnership with Wark Primary School as a key method of increasing community engagement.

Schoolchildren design and plant crosses at the cenotaph, by the village green, as a sign of remembrance.

A service to retire two Royal British Legion standards and dedicate their replacement was held in June this year at St Michael’s Church in Wark.

The new standard was taken to Belgium in August, by former parachute brigade member and standard bearer Peter Dover and Ann Dover, to attend the Great Pilgrimage 90, celebrating the 90th anniversary of a march by First World War veterans and war widows who visited the battlefields of the Somme and Ypres.

Earlier this year, members donated £1,000 to two Royal British Legion centres in Ripon and Bridlington which provide care and provide holidays and breaks for former service people.

Chairman of the Wark branch, Anthony Church, said: “From a chairman’s point of view we need to get some new blood into the British Legion. There’s still a lot of support we can provide, and a lot of former service people coming back from war without support.”

Stephen Herod, added: “We’re raising money to help people that need help. The message we’re really trying to get out is if any former service people are having problems, they can contact us.”