Sidmouth's Poppy Appeal volunteers have appeal of their own
PUBLISHED: 18:16 09 November 2017 | UPDATED: 13:18 10 November 2017
With Remembrance Day around the corner, people are beginning to pin their poppies into place, collection tins are being placed on shop counters, and a band of dedicated Poppy Appeal collectors are preparing to take to the streets again to help raise vital funds for current and former servicemen.
The Sidbury and Sidford branch of the Royal British Legion has 40 volunteers who offer their time to sell poppies door-to-door. But The Resident caught up with a quartet of volunteers who share more than 170 years of service between them – and found out that new blood is needed to ensure future support for the appeal.
For Tom King MBE, poppies have always been part of his life; serving in the World War Two, Tom received the Legion d’Honneur medal for his involvement in the D-Day landings and he later worked for the War Graves Commission.
His career took him across Europe to distribute wreaths on the graves of fallen soldiers and at home he has collected for the Royal British Legion for nearly seven decades.
Tom said: “I have been living with poppies all my life. I must have laid thousands of poppies on graves in different countries. The first time was at the Menin Gate in Ypres in 1947.”
Another long-serving collector is Sidbury resident Sally Harford, who began volunteering nearly 60 years ago.
Her work began in London and continued when she moved to Sidbury and visited the more remote parts of the area to ensure occupants had the chance to buy their poppies.
Sally said: “It’s the feeling you are doing some good for the servicemen, particularly now when so many of them have lost their legs.”
Tony Ward, chairman of the Sidbury and Sidford branch, said he did not become a collector until encouraged to help by a member at the branch. Now he says he has been ‘happy to do it’, having collected in Newlands Road for nearly two decades.
The final member of the quartet was Gordon Hill, who has spent hundreds of hours going door-to-door over his 25 years of service.
He said the door-to-door collection had built a loyalty with neighbours who wait for him to buy a poppy.
He added: “They get used to us and they do not buy their poppies at other places. I go out on the first day of collection or go back to them if they are not in.”
Last year £8,862.74 was collected by the local branch. It is an amount poppy organiser Colin Kingman says could be lost for the appeal if he cannot find new collectors, and, in the future, a replacement for himself.
Mr Kingman has been in the role for 15 years and along with his wife Beryl, starts working in the summer to prepare for the launch.
This year, the couple have made up nearly 80 collection boxes and tins to give to the volunteers, businesses and shops.
Colin said: “My role is to get all the collector tins and then I ring all the collectors to ask ‘are you around this year?’ and, if not, then trying to get someone new.
“We are struggling; we do not know how much longer we can do the Poppy Appeal. That would be £8,000 lost for the branch and the Royal British Legion. We are looking for people who have taken early retirement, people in their 60s or anyone who has time to spare.”
This year, they are looking for one or two collectors to visit door-to-door around the Primley area.
Beryl added: “It helps if you collect in the area you live in. It has its advantages as you talk to people and people do like to see collectors.”
The Royal British Legion officially launched the Poppy Appeal on Thursday, October 26, at Royal William Yard in Plymouth, to mark a busy two weeks of collection across the country.
Claudia Kelly, community fundraiser at the Royal British Legion, thanked all of the hard-working volunteers across the area.
She said: “It is so important to have collectors of all ages involved in volunteering for the Poppy Appeal, as the people we help are of all ages – we are the champions of remembrance, which is so important, but we are also here to help people live on.
“Although we help those who served way back when, we are also here to support the young veterans of recent conflicts, current servicemen and also their families.” n
If you would be interested in becoming a collector, contact Colin Kingman on 01395 579725.