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Remembered Today:

British Empire Leave Club, Cologne 1919-1920


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Back in 2003 there was a thread about the BELC, but it is now closed.

I have come across a few details of the club written by Margaret Thomas, an Australian VAD, who served from 1914 to 1920 at various hospitals in England and France.  I'll let her tell you about her time at the BELC.


There was an "Army of Occupation" in Cologne in Germany and Lady Gatacre and Decima Moore[1] (the actress) had been given permission by Sir A. Robinson, the C-in-C of Cologne, to take 25 ex-VADs up there to run a club for the soldiers. They asked me if I'd come. Such an invitation was too exciting to turn down (berth in Ormond or not:) So I asked the

War Office for permission to postpone my sailing, giving the reason. They granted it so then I cabled home to Father and Mother "Sent Germany on Duty".


The club was to be called the "Empire Leave Club". Our uniform was navy blue suit and cap for outdoors and tussore silk frock with a light blue silk VAD veil for indoors. The Army had commandeered a swagger' German peace-time club in the Hohestrasse for us. It had a big restaurant, ballroom and concert room to be staffed by us, and the resident part to be run by Army orderlies. The troops got good meals for nearly nothing, a dance four nights a week (dancing lessons if they wanted to learn) and concerts and sing-songs. A home from. home for the 30,000 or so troops in occupation in Cologne. Many of them came in from the surrounding districts for two or three days' leave at the club.


All the VADs were billetted in the 'Dom" hotel not far away. We also took batches of troops sight- seeing and for trips down the Rhine, as far as Bonn, in our own pleasure steamer. At Christmas time we staged the pantomime "Babes in the Wood" and a variety show "Toy Town". Went into the forests with Army lorries and cut down lots of Christmas trees which the soldiers helped decorate. There was a Father and Mother Christmas to distribute gifts. I was there for a year and it was all very interesting but quite different from the tour years I'd spent in military hospitals.


As the Army of Occupation became gradually reduced the need for the club ceased and we all returned to England.


Was Lady Gatacre "Lady Beatrix Gatacre", the widow of Sir William Forbes Gatacre, K.C.B., D.S.O. 1843-1906 ?

Who was Sir A Robinson?

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The previous topic reference was  https://www.greatwarforum.org/topic/4610-british-empire-leave-club/



There is reference to the Club in a few online pages  from The British Army of the Rhine by Michael Foley


Google Books sample pages


There is mention of a telegram of congratualtions being sent by Sir William Robertson. Perhaps this name was meant in the previous reference to Sir A Robinson.


Imperial War Museums  has a 99 page book titled The British Empire Leave Club  in its Library

Catalogue number LBY 58396








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What a super account. It reminds me a little of some of the facilities that once existed for the British Army of the Rhine during the Cold War.  One can imagine what an opportunity it seemed for an adventurous young woman from the far side of the world.


Perhaps one of the mods could merge the threads, as it would be nice to have this account added and preserved.

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  • 4 months later...

Rather late in the day, but only just noticed

Remembered Today: Civilian Clerk Georgina Eliza Massie (Joy) LAW Mentioned in Despatches British Empire Leave Club who died 13/02/1921 COLOGNE SOUTHERN CEMETERY Germany

(13th February '21) 


The IWM  book:  https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1500055610  mentioned by Maureene above, appears to  be the same as the one offered here  https://www.chiltonbooks.online/product/2740682/The-British-Empire-Leave-Club-Cologne--British-Army-of-the-Rhine--The-British-Empire-Leave-Club---Signed-by-Decima-Moore--  except this one is signed by Decima Moore; this also gives some other biographical details of Decima (including that one of hers sisters was the mother of the first wife of Laurence Olivier)



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