In association with The Royal British Legion, we recognise the unseen service of the Armed Forces past and present.
I come from a military family,” explains poppy seller Chris Stephenson. Along with his wife, every autumn Chris, 73, who served in the Royal Air Force for nine years, spends eight hours a day, rain or shine, outside his local branch of Sainsbury’s in Witney, quietly raising awareness of Remembrance. And his motivation for doing this, as with many volunteers, is deeply personal.
“Eight members of my family fought in the First World War,” he says. “My grandfather and three of my great uncles died out there. My father was one of the last to get off Dunkirk beach. My wife’s father was also on the destroyer escort ships protecting the Atlantic convoys. I had the honour – on one of my trips to France and Belgium – to pay respects to my grandfather and great uncles and to meet a Canadian family and pay my respects to many Canadian soldiers. Most of the people I’ve mentioned have long departed this Earth, but wearing the poppy every year is my way of remembering and showing them gratitude. It’s the least I can do for the sacrifice they made.”
The Royal British Legion, which was born in 1921, is the country’s largest Armed Forces charity, with 235,000 members, 110,000 volunteers and 2,500 local branches. The charity provides lifelong support to serving and ex-serving personnel and their families. Support starts after seven days of service and continues through life, long after service is over, from expert advice to recovery and rehabilitation to transitioning to civilian life.
The poppy is a symbol of Remembrance and hope for a positive future and peaceful world. In the spring of 1915, shortly after losing a friend in Ypres, a Canadian doctor, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote the poem In Flanders Fields which inspired the poppy’s use as a symbol of Remembrance.
“I think I was about four years old when my father pinned a poppy on my coat,” adds Chris. “So when I became a member of The Royal British Legion it was only right for me to raise money for the people who gave so much for their country. I will continue doing it until I’m no longer capable of doing so.”
The red poppy is worn as a show of support for the Armed Forces communities across the UK, Allied Forces and the Commonwealth and all parts of the poppy are recyclable. Only donations from the sale of RBL red poppies go directly to helping those in need. Last year the Poppy Appeal raised over £50 million for charity. “In my position as a Poppy Appeal organiser, I help hand out 240 boxes of poppies, 240 collecting tins to all the local shops, pubs, clubs, hotels and businesses,” explains Chris. “I’d say 99.9% of the people I meet in Witney and surrounding villages are absolutely fantastic. Most, if not all, thank us for what we are doing and ask if we will be back again next year. People actually come looking for us to put money into our tins. With the help of council staff, shopping precincts, and staff and Sainsbury’s customers, my wife and I collect for the whole fortnight of the Appeal.
“I’d like to say thank you to all the people in Witney who help us to raise such a wonderful amount of money each year for such a worthy cause.”
Rotary Watches is proud to continue its partnership with the Royal British Legion by launching a new limited-edition timepiece marking this year’s Remember Together campaign and its heritage as one of the official watch suppliers to the British Army during World War II. There are just 1,000 individually numbered models available. Visit www.rotarywatches.com
Tattoos have become central to Remembrance in the Forces community. Inked on to the skin, they commemorate friends who have served, illustrate sacrifices and mark the lasting bonds formed between men and women who live, train and fight together. Military tattoos are full of meaning and symbolism. Read the stories at www.britishlegion.org.uk and visit the live exhibition at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire before Sunday, 1st December.