The Second World War had only been over a few weeks, when in October 1945 ten ex RAF men met in the club room of the White Horse Public House in Chichester Road to discuss the formation of the local branch of the Royal Air Forces Association. From this meeting RAFA Branch 381 was formed and quickly grew into a thriving organisation, whose main object was the welfare of ex RAF personnel: 'No man or woman in the district who have served in the Royal Air Force need ever be in real distress, unless it is of his or her own making, whether a Branch member or not'.
Over the next few years the Branch grew, meeting in various public houses, raising funds through dances, bazaars and donations. Nationally, a number of RAFA Branches had opened up Branch Clubs, whose aims were to promote friendship and financially support the Branch's in their main welfare role. This became the ultimate aim for the Bognor Branch in the 1950's.
In order to open a Branch Club suitable premises would have to be found and Council Planning consent obtained to adapt them into a licensed club. 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, Bognor.
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 17 March 1954.
The one drawback the Branch Club faced was the decision by the Bognor Council to only issue a renewable twelve month lease on the sight occupied by the Club, as they eventually wanted to use of the land 'for road improvements'. By 1962 the situation was becoming critical. The Club itself was in need of improvements and the decision was made by the Branch Committee to look for new premises. A house, 8 Longford Road, Bognor, was identified by the Branch as being an ideal building to be adapted into a new RAFA Branch and Club Headquarters, but their application for permission to go ahead was refused by Bognor Council and the plan was dropped.
Meanwhile the existing Branch Club, apart from its short term lease problems, was in urgent need of internal improvements, which the Branch Committee decided to go ahead with. The Bognor Post, a popular weekly local newspaper of the time, took a keen interest in this and published the following on 2 March 1963:
THE CLUB WHICH HELPS ITSELF
Unshaken by a recent planning decision which went against them and by a lack of certainty about the future, members of the Bognor Regis Royal Air Forces Association Branch and Club are planning ahead.
Only a few weeks ago the members learned that the Bognor Regis Council's Plans Committee had refused permission for them to adapt a house into a new headquarters. Already, however, the members have started working out how they will improve their present premises in London Road, a wooden hut, on which they only hold a twelve months lease. The RAF men are allowed to use it only from year to year and they might be wary about making any great improvements.
"Still", said one of them this week, "we cannot go on indefinitely without doing something to improve the place, so we are going to cover the floor with hardboard and we are going to box in the rafters. We members will do it ourselves, that is how we get things done".
The efficiency of the Club's 'do it themselves' efforts in the past is obvious in the premises' bar. Until fairly recently this consisted of a small, often crowded, room with a bar counter at one end and a billiards table at the other. Then the members started work. They extended the room by cutting away most of the existing partition wall and putting up another, extended the bar counter and carried out an extensive redecoration scheme.They feel they have made it one of the most comfortable bars in the town, the decorations are colourful and appropriate. Round the walls there are eighty Squadron and Command badges in a frieze and behind the counter, suspended from the ceiling, a range of more than sixty model aircraft made by the members. Also behind the bar is an array of Pennants bought back from abroad. Not surprisingly the bar nowadays is a popular social centre for the Branch, which unlike most in the country is steadily growing. There are 353 members, including 100 life members and 89 Friends of RAFA, who are men and women who did not serve in the Royal Air Force, but take part in the Club's activities. Numerous social events are held by the Club and the next will be a Tramps Supper, on 2 March.
Mr Reginald Boarer, the Club's Publicity Officer, hopes by then to have the new flooring down in the main hall.
"Once we get cracking it won't take long. It would be a pity if we have to tear it all up again next year, because the Council decided we couldn't have the lease any longer, but it's no use thinking like that all the time".
The Branch continued in their premises for another nine years, the Council eventually giving them notice to quit in 1972, the site becoming Berrymill Close.
In the intervening years the search for new premises had been ongoing and ended with the opportunity to purchase the Hotham Club, in Waterloo Square, Bognor. 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 £7000 from their own resources the balance was financed over the next ten years.
"This is one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken by a RAFA Branch and we have acquired one of the finest Branch Headquarters in the country. The Branch was formed in 1945, by a handful of people who had no clubhouse and met in public houses. Those loyal and dedicated pioneers laid the foundations of what is now today one of the largest and most active RAFA Branches anywhere", said the Branch Chairman, Squadron Leader Duncan Jamieson RAF., retired. He added, "I hope the excellent facilities provided by our new Headquarters will attract many more members who served in the RAF and the WAAF, as well as friends who can make a contribution. We need all the support we can get".
As ever the Bognor Post was on hand to report the move:
THE RAFA BRANCH'S NEW HEADQUARTERS
'For the members of the Bognor Regis Branch of the Royal Air Forces Association, today, Saturday 1 April 1972, marks a milestone in their history. Their new Headquarters in Waterloo Square, once the Hotham Club, will be officially opened by the Minister for Posts and Telecommunications, Mr Christopher Chataway, MP for Chichester.
The premises has a Regency room with a billiards table and "The Battle of Britain Bar", so named because of the Branch's long association with RAF Tangmere. Adjoining the bar is a comfortable lounge and on the ground floor is a quiet room for reading, meetings or card games, a flat for the Club Steward and his wife and an office for the Secretary. The premises also has meeting rooms which the Branch plan to let in the mornings and afternoons.
Bognor RAFA have now occupied the premises for forty two years at the time of writing and both the Branch and Club have gone from strength to strength. The Branch is noted throughout the organisation as being one of the top in the Country, being regularly in the top three for the annual Wings Appeal collections and has been awarded for the efficient way it conducts its business. In 2015 it will be celebrating its 70th anniversary, no doubt headed its excellent Branch Choir.
The Branch Club thrives, with an active committee, a Bowls Section, restaurant and good entertainment. Musically it boasts a Swing Combo, a Skiffle Group and the longest running pantomime in Bognor, twenty five years.
New Club members are always welcome.