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Alan Cranleigh on the Royal British Legion and its connection to St Johns Church

[Isabella Whitworth] (0:00 – 0:18)
I’m Isabella Whitworth, this is the 19th of April and I’m here in Hatherleigh to interview Alan Cranleigh about his time with the Royal British Legion and about the connections that the British Legion has with Hatherleigh Church. So can I start please asking you, Alan, were you born in Hatherleigh?
[Alan Cranleigh] (0:18 – 0:22)
No, I was born in Biddeford. I moved to Hatherleigh in 1972.
[Isabella Whitworth] (0:23 – 0:26)
And were you a member of the British Legion when you came in Hatherleigh?
[Alan Cranleigh] (0:26 – 0:32)
No, I was introduced to the Hatherleigh British Legion in 2015.
[Isabella Whitworth] (0:33 – 0:39)
Do you remember as a young lad, do you remember remembrance services in Biddeford for instance?
[Alan Cranleigh] (0:39 – 0:53)
Absolutely, yes. I remember me and my sisters on a Sunday, we would go down to Biddeford Quay and it was a bit of a highlight and watch the band and the servicemen walking along Biddeford Quay.
[Isabella Whitworth] (0:53 – 0:57)
So perhaps it rang a bit of a bell with you when you saw the parades here?
[Alan Cranleigh] (0:58 – 0:59)
Yes, I think it did, yeah.
[Isabella Whitworth] (1:00 – 1:04)
And were you a member of the Armed Forces, Alan?
[Alan Cranleigh] (1:04 – 1:10)
No, I was never a member but I was in Hatherleigh Fire Service for 13 years.
[Isabella Whitworth] (1:10 – 1:26)
And of course the Fire Service does take part in the parades. That’s correct. That’s right.
So why did you decide to join? I think you said you joined… 2015.
So why did you join?
[Alan Cranleigh] (1:26 – 1:46)
I was approached by Dennis Bater who also was a Hatherleigh fireman and he approached me and asked me and I said well I thought it was just for servicemen and women and he said oh no anyone can join and I said well if that’s the case yes I’d love to join, which I did.
[Isabella Whitworth] (1:47 – 1:50)
And then from then on you’ve been a member ever since?
[Alan Cranleigh] (1:50 – 1:54)
Been a member ever since and I’m now chairman of Hatherleigh British Legion, yes.
[Isabella Whitworth] (1:55 – 2:04)
And I actually went to look at the standards in the church a little bit earlier and I realised that in 1971 it became the Royal British Legion. I hadn’t realised that there were…
[Alan Cranleigh] (2:04 – 2:05)
Ah yes.
[Isabella Whitworth] (2:05 – 2:07)
Because that was the 50th anniversary I believe.
[Alan Cranleigh] (2:07 – 2:08)
That’s right, yes.
[Isabella Whitworth] (2:08 – 2:17)
So I’ve noticed the standards in the church and there’s one which says Royal British Legion and one Hatherleigh British Legion and so that’s the reason you had a new standard?
[Alan Cranleigh] (2:18 – 2:20)
Yeah we had our own branch basically, yes.
[Isabella Whitworth] (2:21 – 2:25)
So Alan who actually joins the march on Remembrance Sunday?
[Alan Cranleigh] (2:25 – 2:53)
Well anybody can march. You don’t have to be a serviceman or a woman. We have local Brownies and Girl Guides and ambulance service, police.
We’ve got an ex-submariner that marches with us and an ex-army personnel that marches with us and it’s just for anyone.
[Isabella Whitworth] (2:54 – 3:03)
And well we all know that Remembrance Sunday is near to the 11th of November but it’s actually quite close to a major Hatherleigh event isn’t it as well?
[Alan Cranleigh] (3:03 – 3:05)
Yes, Hatherleigh Carnival, yes.
[Isabella Whitworth] (3:06 – 3:09)
And that is one of our most riotous events of the year.
[Alan Cranleigh] (3:09 – 3:09)
[Isabella Whitworth] (3:10 – 3:15)
And so the night before I assume the streets are full of people and there’s a lot of litter so…
[Alan Cranleigh] (3:15 – 3:15)
[Isabella Whitworth] (3:15 – 3:21)
Is the parade take place in a clean street or…? It certainly does.
[Alan Cranleigh] (3:21 – 3:33)
I mean I have to take my hat off to the council workers that come into Hatherleigh early in the morning, the Sunday morning, and do a really good job of tidying up all the streets.
[Isabella Whitworth] (3:36 – 3:39)
And so on parade day what happens? When do you meet and where do you meet?
[Alan Cranleigh] (3:40 – 3:52)
Right we meet at Claremont and we have to be there for 10.15, ready for the march at 10.30. And Claremont is the street right at the top of the town?
[Isabella Whitworth] (3:52 – 3:56)
That’s correct, yes. And so who leads the parade?
[Alan Cranleigh] (3:56 – 3:58)
Hatherleigh Bands, yes.
[Isabella Whitworth] (3:59 – 4:03)
And is there somebody sort of like in charge of when you start to march?
[Alan Cranleigh] (4:03 – 4:13)
Yes, normally there’s an ex-officer that takes the parade. I’m not sure who’s going to do it this year, it does vary.
[Isabella Whitworth] (4:14 – 4:37)
But yes, an ex-officer would take the parade and he will assemble us all at Claremont ready for 10.30. And I seem to remember as a spectator that many marchers are in civilian clothes but wearing medals so they’re not necessarily in uniform and they may have been armed forces, they may have served in the army.
[Alan Cranleigh] (4:37 – 4:52)
That is correct, I mean I myself, I mean I marched when I was in the fire service. But now that I was, well since I’ve been invited to join the British Legion I always wear my father’s medals.
[Isabella Whitworth] (4:53 – 4:57)
That’s very nice to know. Where did your father earn his medals?
[Alan Cranleigh] (4:57 – 5:17)
Well my father was in the navy, he joined at 15, he told lies about his age because I think he just wanted to get away. But anyway, he served quite a long career in the navy and that’s a very nice story.
[Isabella Whitworth] (5:18 – 5:26)
So the band now, we have the band going down the street towards the church, then what happens?
[Alan Cranleigh] (5:27 – 6:05)
Well we assemble in the square, the Hatherleigh band dismiss themselves and walk off to the left and the rest of the parade march into the church, oh sorry, outside of the church. Anyone that’s carrying a poppy wreath veer off to the right-hand side ready to lay their wreaths and myself, I go up to the top of the churchyard with the vicar and then there’s Debbie Lang and Patrick Kimber, they go off to the left ready to read out the names.
[Isabella Whitworth] (6:06 – 6:12)
And once the names are read, I mean the wreaths are laid first and then the names are read?
[Alan Cranleigh] (6:12 – 6:14)
The names are read first, yes.
[Isabella Whitworth] (6:14 – 6:15)
And then the wreaths are laid?
[Alan Cranleigh] (6:15 – 6:16)
And then the wreaths, yes.
[Isabella Whitworth] (6:16 – 6:22)
And then presumably everybody proceeds into the church?
[Alan Cranleigh] (6:23 – 6:32)
Yes, when we’ve all done our bit, yes we go into the church and well find our seat, stay standing up until the vicar says otherwise.
[Isabella Whitworth] (6:32 – 6:35)
And what happens at 11 o’clock?
[Alan Cranleigh] (6:35 – 6:49)
Well 11 o’clock when the bell strikes, well if you’re not standing you would stand and we have a two-minute silence and then the vicar tells us to sit.
[Isabella Whitworth] (6:50 – 6:59)
And does the service take the same form each year? Is there a kind of form that that remembrance service takes?
[Alan Cranleigh] (7:01 – 7:20)
Yes, I suppose there is really, I mean the vicar says a few words, we have a couple of hymns, Digby Greenhill who’s our British Legion president, he’ll go to the pulpit and say a few words, yes and then we have a normal service until it’s all finished.
[Isabella Whitworth] (7:20 – 7:22)
And is the last post played?
[Alan Cranleigh] (7:23 – 7:28)
Yes, I can’t remember exactly when it is played but it is played, yes.
[Isabella Whitworth] (7:28 – 7:29)
That’s by a member of the band presumably?
[Alan Cranleigh] (7:30 – 7:32)
One of the members of the heavenly band, yes.
[Isabella Whitworth] (7:32 – 7:38)
And then after the service, how does the service end and where do you go after that?
[Alan Cranleigh] (7:40 – 7:59)
Right, well the vicar would lead out of the church with the flag bearers and then we would all follow behind and assemble back in the square with the heavenly band in the front, British Legion next and whoever wants to march behind the British Legion.
[Isabella Whitworth] (8:00 – 8:01)
And then where do you go?
[Alan Cranleigh] (8:01 – 8:14)
Right, well we’re given orders again and we all march down to the community centre where we’re dismissed and we all pop into the community centre for a tea or a coffee.
[Isabella Whitworth] (8:14 – 8:16)
And so you have a social moment?
[Alan Cranleigh] (8:16 – 8:18)
A social moment, yes that’s right.
[Isabella Whitworth] (8:19 – 8:19)
And then?
[Alan Cranleigh] (8:20 – 8:27)
Well and then we either go home or go to the pub, which is normally what I do.
[Isabella Whitworth] (8:27 – 8:37)
It’s normally what you do, yes. So in your time you’ll have met many veterans who are sadly no longer with us. Do you recall any who say served in the Second World War?
[Alan Cranleigh] (8:38 – 8:46)
Well the ones I remember is Derek Sanders and Gordon Causey and I think they were desert rats.
[Isabella Whitworth] (8:47 – 8:48)
So they’re both soldiers?
[Alan Cranleigh] (8:48 – 8:48)
[Isabella Whitworth] (8:49 – 9:01)
And the other event I suppose that the British Legion is associated with is the poppy collection which used to take place door to door. I believe that doesn’t happen anymore?
[Alan Cranleigh] (9:01 – 9:21)
No unfortunately it doesn’t, since Covid basically. So what we do is we leave boxes of poppies and a collection box in the various shops and the pubs and we go to Hatherleigh Market on a Tuesday leading up to Poppy Day.
[Isabella Whitworth] (9:22 – 9:34)
Well Alan thank you very much for your recollections of the British Legion over the years and I hope that lots of people will enjoy hearing your memories on the oral history website.
[Alan Cranleigh] (9:35 – 9:37)
No thank you very much, yeah I hope so.