A SOCIAL club at the heart of the Ellesmere community is celebrating a double anniversary next week.

It is 100 years since a group of army veterans got together to set up the town’s ‘Comrades of the Great War’ Club.

Now, a century later, what is known as the Comrades Sports and Social Club is marking not only its centenary, but also the 50th anniversary of moving into its permanent, purpose-built headquarters.

“It’s such a shame that we’re unable to hold an event that would really do justice to the achievements of one of the oldest organisations in Ellesmere,” said club president Jan Oliver, a former Royal Navy Wren.

“For 100 years, the club has played and still plays such a vital part in bringing the people of the town together and it’s still thriving.”

The club’s origins date back to 1920 – two years after the end of the First World War – when a group of 63 ex-soldiers, founded the men-only club. which met on the top floor of The Old Armoury, local headquarters of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry.

The Cross Street building occupied part of what is now Ellesmere’s main car park, but it burnt down in 1967 forcing the club to move into temporary accommodation.

With the number of old Comrades dwindling, the club was reorganised and decided to admit women as members. Nearly 500 women applied to join 800 male members of the club, resulting in a waiting list.

Three years later, in October 1970, the only surviving founder member, 76-year-old Albert Whiston, cut a ceremonial tape and raised a glass to drink the first pint, to mark the opening of the club’s new purpose-built premises in Victoria Street, close to the town centre.

Costing £38,000, the building included a main hall for entertainment and other activities, a members’ lounge and a games room. with a central bar connecting all three. More space was created later by building an extension at the front of the premises.

One of the first events was a sell-out concert starring leading singer Ruby Murray, who had ten chart hits during her long career.

Many other show business stars have since performed at the club, including comedians Ken Dodd, Les Dennis and Jimmy Cricket, and pop groups such as the Merseybeats and The Ivy League.

At the peak of his success in the 1970s, six-times world snooker champion Ray Reardon visited the club to play an exhibition match. A local man won a raffle for the chance to take on the genial Welshman.

After making the first break, he didn’t get another shot. Reardon easily cleared the table to score a maximum break of 147.

In its heyday, the club boasted up to 1,000 members, many of them working at the town’s largest factory, the Unigate/Dairycrest dairy, which employed more than three hundred people.

Former chairman Hamilton ‘Hammy’ Lindsay recalls: “Back then, the club was always jam-packed at weekends and you had to arrive really early or you wouldn’t get a seat.”

He remembers the days when the club organised summer outings, with up to 16 coaches lined up to take members and their children to various seaside resorts, mainly in Wales.

“Times were different then. There was so much more going on because people used to come out more to socialise,” said Mr Lindsay, who has been a member for nearly 50 years, half of that time as a committee member.

“We used to have fruit and vegetable shows and cage bird events. There was something happening all the time.”

The current membership is almost 400 and the building is home to more than a dozen organisations. They include the local branch of the Royal British Legion, the Ellesmere Society, Probus Club, Amateur Dramatics Society, Ellesmere Angling Club and a local Diabetic group.

It is also used for line dancing, Weight Watchers’ sessions, Zumba and Pilates classes, and Ballroom and Latin dancing lessons.

There are also bingo sessions, quiz nights and discos, as well as various charity fund-raisers. The club also rents out two allotments. and an outbuilding serves as a base for the local pigeon-racing club.

With a modern fully-equipped kitchen, the club caters for Sunday lunches and offers a ‘lite-bite menu on Tuesdays, (11.30am-2pm and Fridays and Saturdays between 5.30 and 8pm).

Secretary Tina Evans explained: “During the lock-down we delivered lots of meals around the town and surrounding area, and they proved very popular. The service is

still available for people who’re self-isolating. In fact, we can cater for all kinds of functions and people can hire the facilities if they wish to do their own catering for their own private function. Membership is no longer required to make use of the facilities.”

Entertainment Secretary Lionel Edge is delighted that the club has been able to resume it programme of weekend concerts after the disruption caused by the Covid-19 lock-down.

“We’ve organised the concert room so we can ensure there’s good social-distancing,” he said. “We’re looking forward to welcoming some talented all-round entertainers.

Singer Mark Jones from Oswestry will be on stage this Saturday, October 24, with local entertainer Vicky Bailey booked to appear a week later.

As the club celebrates two landmark anniversaries, officials are hoping to encourage a new generation of young people to use the facilities and take part in its activities.

“We already have a small group of youngsters playing snooker here,” said chairman Ray Corkhill. “And we want to look at ways of getting others involved.”

It would be a fitting tribute to those brave young soldiers who survived the horrors of the First World War and laid the foundations for such an invaluable and enduring community organisation.