ARTHUR Ward, of Fullbridge, has the sad distinction of being Maldon’s last official casualty of the Great War.

Aged 22, he finally succumbed to his wounds at home in June 1920.

Less than a year later, his name, along with 145 others, appeared on the town’s war memorial.

The Portland Stone cross was unveiled on Sunday, May 8, 1921, to the sound of a muffled peal from the bells of All Saints'.

The ceremony was packed with onlookers, including ex-servicemen who were keen to pay their respects to their fallen comrades.

That same month many of them joined the ranks of a newly formed organisation called the British Legion.

With an objective to improve the material circumstances of veterans, the Legion saw the coming together of four earlier, more radical comrades associations.

With Field Marshal Haig as its first president and the Prince of Wales as patron, membership took off and 1,478 branches were established across the country – including Maldon, Heybridge and District.

The Maldon Branch established separate men’s and women’s sections.

In early September 1923 a cavalcade of charabancs took 90 women members from outside the war memorial to a garden party, hosted by Captain and Mrs Long-Price at their home – ‘Rosmeade’ – in Ulting.

Their president, Lady Champion de Crespigny, and chairman, Mrs Ffinch, were among those present that day.

Moving forward and described at the time as “the biggest thing that the ex-servicemen in this town have ever attempted”, the planting and dedication of the Avenue of Remembrance on the Promenade, took place under the auspices of the Legion on November 27, 1935.

Even at that stage, just 17 years after the end of the First War, tensions were once again beginning to build across Europe.

Both German and British veterans were keen to maintain good relations and, on the invitation of the German Ex-Prisoners of War and War Victims Association, in 1936 a peace mission, comprising 32 members of the Maldon branch, travelled to Germany.

In June of the following year, the Maldon British Legion hosted a reciprocal visit.

The German contingent, led by the diplomat Baron von Lersner was welcomed by the mayor.

They visited the Moot Hall, the grammar school and then attended a reception at chairman Major Claude Tritton’s house, Langford Hall, where, as surprising as it is to us today, the German National Anthem was sung, Nazi salutes were given and flags carrying the swastika were much in evidence.

The Baron later laid a wreath at our war memorial and, at a dinner held at the Swan, gave a speech, stating that Adolf Hitler had no desire to go to war with this country.

It is one of the Maldon branch’s more bizarre chapters and sadly it was all to no avail, as the outbreak of the Second World War occurred two years later.

During that conflict, the Legion provided members for the defence services and made an important contribution on the Home Front.

Membership increased following VE Day and both the men’s and women’s sections flourished during the early 1950s.

The branch helped organise Maldon’s celebrations as part of the Festival of Britain in 1951, including the free use of their long-term headquarters at 21 Silver Street.

In 1966 Colonel BH Bright was the president, Mr GC Scott chairman, Mr EA Tulk vice-chairman and Mrs Keeble was president of the women’s section, with Mrs Wiggins as the chairman.

The branch was also represented on the town’s octo-centenary committee in 1971.

In that same year, 'Royal' was proudly added to the British Legion’s title.

Selling poppies and organising the annual remembrance parade have always been key tasks of the Legion – the Maldon branch being no exception.

In many ways, those two aspects of the Legion’s work are timeless and continue much as they did back in the 1920s.

In more recent years the branch and its reputation would be nothing without the contribution of long-serving and dedicated members such as Peter Webb, the former parade marshall for 25 years, who was ably assisted by the late Albert Kilby.

Derek Monk was the branch standard bearer for 40 years and continues as vice-chairman.

The late Tony Newton was another long-serving member.

However, any history of the branch would be incomplete without mentioning the current chairman, sprightly 94-year-old, ex-Royal Marine Commando Ron Baker.

A true hero of the Second World War, Ron continues to carry the baton of remembrance, a worthy leader of the Maldon branch of the Royal British Legion – an organisation that, just like him, continues to be about ‘Service not self’.