British Legion (Kenya) collection... British Legion (Kenya) collection, 1928-1969
This collection contains administrative records of the Kenya branch of the British Legion, dating from its inception in 1929, until the late 1960s. It gives an insight into the changing political climate in Kenya at this time, including pivotal events such as World War II, the Mau Mau Uprising (from 1952) and the eventual independence of Kenya from the British in 1963.
It is made up of ledgers, containing the minutes of various committees, financial records, correspondence, and an exceptional scrap book that contains a mostly chronological array of photos, press cuttings and publicity material relating to the works of the British Legion and its members in Kenya. The majority of the material relates to the Kenya Executive Committee (the de facto head office) but there are also important documents from the Nairobi and Highland branches, the African Section and Women's Section.
Key points of discussion include fundraising and the distribution of said funds; the formation of African and Asian Sections, and the activities of the British Legion (Kenya) during and after the country's move towards independence. Of particular significance are the lists of ex-service members (or their dependents) who are receiving benevolence from the organisation, giving insight into the everyday triumphs and struggles of those impacted by conflict in the British Empire.
The records also show the complexities involved in administering an organisation in a colonial country undergoing profound change. The funds raised by the Legion and generously distributed to veterans, their widows and orphans in need of financial or medical help changed thousands of lives. Similarly, numerous people traumatised by wartime experiences into making poor choices in later life were helped without judgement. One of the research highlights of the collection is the level of detail provided on individual hardship cases and their circumstances.
However, the structural inequalities of the colonial period can be seen throughout the collection. The numerous social events can be viewed as much as an attempt to cement European culture in the colony as a fundraising activity. There is also discussion throughout on the uncertain status of African soldiers as members of the Legion, their exclusion from some events and its responsibilities towards them. In the years leading up to independence there is further uncertainty and argument over the future of the Legion in an independent Kenya: on the one hand attempts were made to prepare the African Section to take over the Legion's activities but on the other hand some were reluctant to relinquish control to Africans and plans were made to repatriate funds raised to the UK before the transition. Many of the decisions taken and opinions documented are clearly unacceptably racist, especially by today's standards.
The British Legion emerged out of the need to support veterans of WWI and bereaved families, and to ensure the establishment and upkeep of graves and commemoration events. It is a charity that raises and distributes funds, and is the organisation behind the historic Poppy Appeal. It was established in 1921.
WWI saw a significant campaign in East Africa, and subsequently a need there for commemoration and veteran support. For this reason the British Legion (Kenya) was created in 1928, seven years after the founding of the parent charity.
As with its parent branch in the UK, its aims centred around commemoration of the sacrifice made by service personnel and also the provision of fellowship and benevolence for veterans. The Legion was responsible for the Armistice Day parade in Nairobi each year as well as other ceremonial events. They also raised a large amount of funds through the annual Poppy Day and other fetes and fundraising activities. This was distributed through the committees reponsible for benevolence. The Legion also administered British Legion Park in Nairobi, which functioned as a combination of youth hostel, members' club and care home to meet the varying needs of veterans who lived in or were passing through the city.
The organisational structure of the Legion itself changed over time, with the formation of regional branches in the 1950s and then their reabsoprtion into the main Executive Committee in the 1960s. The African Section was formed in 1945 and after independence became part of the King's African Rifles and East African Forces Old Comrades' Association. The Women's Section existed for the duration of the Legion's existence in Kenya, and a significant quantity of records have survived detailing their activities. Although the Legion ceased many of its operations after the late 1960s following loss of revenue, it retained an office in Nairobi until recent times.
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