Kitchener comrades

Comrades Club committee member Jason
Comrades Club committee member Jason
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Your club needs you. There couldn’t be a better place to find a twist on the old Lord Kitchener campaign than here, in the Comrades Club, Adelaide Street, Blackpool.

It was established as the Comrades of the Great War Club by First World War veterans who needed a place of escape, somewhere to retreat to, amidst those who had shared the bloody and muddy trench warfare.

Chairman Tim Pipe, formerly of the Royal Engineers, admits it’s all gone far too quiet on this North Western front and it’s time to ring in some changes and recruit more members, particularly with four large snooker tables up for grabs, a monthly madness night (three guest artists), and non-members and holidaymakers alike able to pay just £2 a week for a pass for all club features – such as pints at £1.80 before 6pm and only 40p more after.

The club is owned by members, and entertainment manager Jason Hill, 38, admits: “We don’t want to see this fantastic little club go under. The pub and club trade is suffering as it is, a lot of elderly members rely on the Comrades as an escape route.

“It’s having a tough time, financially, along with other clubs, so all income is welcome, and we are trying our hardest, through a new committee, to turn the issues round.”

It’s at the heart of the town centre, yet sufficiently off the beaten tourism track to avoid conflicts with the stag and hen culture.

“It’s within the traditional terraced holiday area, guesthouses standing shoulder to shoulder, their clients now courted by a club which once boasted a long waiting list for memberships, and arguably required more references than the funny handshake brigade in the Masonic Hall opposite.

Both buildings open doors to the public this week as part of the Heritage Open Days programme. Tours of the Comrades Club run every hour from noon to 4pm, Thursday to Sunday. The masonic hall opens 10am to 4pm same days for guided tours, too.

The Comrades Club is one of the quirkier private clubs in Blackpool. It’s also a survivor, as befits its Great War origins.

The building was a grammar school before it became a club. It was run by Thomas Sankey, teacher and sportsman, who, in 1893, according to resort historian Ted Lightburn, brought the Australian cricket team over to play at the new athletic grounds, now the present Blackpool Cricket Club, both of which he was instrumental in founding.

The same year he bought a large semi-detached house on Adelaide Street called Frogmore and relocated his school there, naming it Blackpool Grammar School. It expanded next door. Both premises make up the Comrades Club.

Upstairs the club lets rooms to Orb Artists Collective (which has weekly Life classes – “we knock and wait before we go in,” chuckles Justin), Blackpool Tiggers charity, Blackpool and Fylde Model Railway Society – which has an immense layout on which members have worked for more than 20 years and have yet to finish, and an online holiday company which helps with the Comrades’ website (www.comradesclubblackpool.co.uk), while Justin runs the club’s Facebook social network.

It helps pay the bills but, more importantly it adds to the camaraderie, says chairman Tim. “We welcome all here. But we’d like to return to our roots too, and renew links with the services.

“We’re already a base for many but Blackpool’s the veterans capital, so we’re forging new ties and organising reunions. I first came here 25 years ago when in the army, and the club was buoyant then. The great thing about service clubs is the banter. You can’t do without it.”

Ray Pye, 72, vice-president, holds court from one of his favourite corners of the spacious club – the sub-mariners’ section.... although he admits he only ever came up for air from “a bacon butty – I was in the catering corps!” He’s recruiting members from local hoteliers and their visitors.

“It’s Blackpool’s best kept secret,” he adds. A big “your club needs YOU” event on September 16, £2 entry, hopes to change all that.

President Wally Sutton, although not in the best of health, remains a stalwart, with wife June working behind the bar with Cath Beale, both women keen to have more females involved in what was once a male bastion.

There are now ladies darts and dominoes teams and poker and snooker players, along with plans to transform what looks like a broom cupboard into a ladies ‘section’.

“We may be outnumbered but we’re not outsmarted,” says Cath. “We’re holding out for better.”

The last words go to one of the club’s anonymous founders who wrote long ago: “The main object was to keep alive the spirit of comradeship born of the stress of the Great War.

“If we had learnt to appreciate anything it was to appreciate our fellow man of any rank, fighting shoulder to shoulder.

“We wanted to make impossible that class warfare into which we nearly drifted before August 4 1914. Comradeship was the thing to do it.”