Celebrating 75 years of RAFA’s Bognor Regis branch

The Bognor Regis branch of the Royal Air Forces Association is marking its 75th anniversary next week.

The major event that was planned has had to be cancelled but this significant anniversary will still be marked privately on Friday, October 16, and again as a club once restrictions are lifted.

The association was formed in 1943, during the Second World War, but it was not until after the war that it really began to develop, with branches opening throughout the country.

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The war had been over only a few weeks when, in October 1945, ten RAF veterans met in the club room of the White Horse public house in Chichester Road, Bognor Regis, to discuss the formation of a local branch.

The branch's first club, in London Road

From this meeting, RAFA Branch 381 was formed and quickly grew into a thriving organisation with the main object being the welfare of ex-RAF personnel.

The Bognor Regis branch was officially incorporated on October 16, 1945. Over the next few years, the branch grew, meeting in various public houses and raising funds through dances, bazaars and donations.

Nationally, several RAFA branches had opened branch clubs, with the aim to promote friendship and financially support the branches in their main welfare role. This became the aim for the Bognor branch in the 1950s.

Cliff Mewett, branch chairman, said: “To open a branch club, suitable premises had to be found and council planning consent obtained to adapt them into a licensed club.

The RAFA flag flies proudly every day over Waterloo Square

“This was a tall order. However, it came to the attention of the branch committee that an old hospital hut, now surplus to requirements at nearby RAF Tangmere, was up for sale at £450.

“This was within budget to purchase and arrangements were made with the Bognor Council for it to be sited ‘among the trees’ in London Road.

“The hut was duly moved and with a lot of work by the members was made suitable as a club premises.”

The branch club was opened on March 17, 1954. The one drawback was the decision by the council to issue only a renewable 12-month lease on the site, as it eventually wanted the use of the land ‘for road improvements’.

Cliff said: “By 1962, the situation was becoming critical. The club itself needed improvements and the decision was made by the branch committee to look for new premises.”

The house at 8 Longford Road, Bognor, was identified by the branch as being an ideal building to be adapted into a new RAFA branch and branch club headquarters but the application for permission to go ahead was refused by Bognor Council and the plan was dropped.

Undeterred, the branch club continued in its premises for another nine years, the council eventually giving notice to quit in 1972, before the site became Berrymill Close.

Cliff said: “In the intervening years, the search for new premises had been ongoing and ended with the opportunity to purchase the Hotham Gentlemen’s Club, in Waterloo Square.

“This was a prestigious, purpose-built club, originally opened in 1928, overlooking the bowling greens and with views from the balcony out to sea.

“The Hotham Gentleman’s Club had ceased functioning and the building was on the market for £21,000. Purchasing the property outright was beyond the means of the branch, however, having paid £7,000 from its own resources, the balance was financed over the next ten years.”

Of the 350-plus RAFA branches worldwide, the Bognor Regis branch remains one of less than 40 to have a club.

Cliff said: “Today, the Bognor branch is recognised and respected by the association for its outstanding achievements. It has very active branch and club committees, maintains its ever-increasing welfare commitments, being particularly busy at the present time, and annual fundraising for the Wings Appeal Charity regularly places the branch in the top five contributors in the country.

“Over the past 30 years, members have raised more than £500,000 in support those in need within the RAF family, both veterans and serving personnel.

“The branch club offers much to members, activities include bowls, a choir, skiffle band, reading group, regular live music, talks, excellent catering and Sunday lunches.

“It is currently undergoing major refurbishment, thanks to a grant of £150,000 from the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust.

“A combination of Covid-19 and the refurbishment forced the closure of the club in March. Sadly, we are still closed and cannot celebrate the anniversary as we would wish but we will when we reopen in the not too distant future.

“In the meantime, the RAFA flag flies proudly every day over Waterloo Square.”

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