Lest we forget - Poppy Appeal launches in Suffolk and Essex ahead of Remembrance Sunday 2016
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November's Poppy Appeal is now under way - with those wearing the poignant red flower asked to remember not just the sacrifices of those in the past, but the brave men and women serving around the world today.
The important work of the Royal British Legion (RBL) and the Poppy Appeal are often associated with the First and Second World Wars and the elderly veterans who courageously risked their lives to protect our way of life.
But this year the Legion wants the British public to ‘rethink Remembrance’ and consider all generations of the Armed Forces when they wear the red poppy.
Michael Grigg, from Stradbroke, whose 21-year-old son Private James Grigg was killed in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in March 2010, said the Poppy Appeal was is important as ever.
“Servicemen and women and their families need all the support they can get, especially with recent conflicts,” he said.
“You need to support these families because of the hardship and the mental anguish they go through.
“The Royal British Legion and the Poppy Appeal is very important.
“It reminds us we live in a very fragile world and it doesn’t matter what beliefs or views we have, the Poppy Appeal unites us all.”
A recent study by Suffolk County Council for the Armed Forces Community Covenant estimates that there are 3,300 serving forces personnel in Suffolk and in addition a veteran population of between 33,000 and 37,000.
Regular and reserve forces contingents of the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force are stationed across Suffolk performing a number of defence roles.
Suffolk RBL county chairman Denis Bloomfield said: “The service of the Armed Forces community to the nation comes in many forms from being parted from family and loved ones for long periods of time, commitment to training, to physical and mental injury and, sadly, in some cases making the ultimate sacrifice.
“For large numbers of today’s veterans there are very limited outward signs of health problems and unfortunately many veterans are invisible in our communities and do not easily get the help they so desperately need.
“Through our network of Legion branches backed up by full time staff we hope to be there to offer help, support and comradeship where and when necessary.”
This year’s Poppy Appeal national fundraising goal is £43million, the most it has ever aimed for.
Kate Green, the RBL’s area manager for the east of England and Essex said money raised would go to help those in the Armed Forces all over the country.
“We’ve been going for almost 100 years and the Poppy Appeal gets bigger, better and stronger every year and remains hugely relevant,” she said.
“We would like to change the public perception of the Poppy Appeal, although it is still important to remember those who fought in the past.
“But it is those still serving now, who don’t come back or return home severely injured we must also remember.
“Sometimes they come back with injuries you cannot see – emotional trauma or post traumatic stress. It is so hard on the families.
“Although we haven’t got Afghanistan or Iraq going on now we still have service personnel taking part in humanitarian work, UN missions and peacekeeping all over the world.”
The Royal British Legion remains committed to helping the lives members of the armed forces young and old across the region.
Mrs Green said the charity are doing vital work in Suffolk, especially helping elderly veterans who may be isolated and lonely.
“It is still a very rural area and we have an aging population,” she said.
“As we have lost post offices and pubs some have felt cut off from the community. We provide emotional support to those who have become more socially isolated.”
In Essex, homelessness among former service people is a problem the RBL is trying to tackle.
Among the initiatives, the charity is a running educational classes to teach young men and women in the Armed Forces about looking after their money and preparing them for life outside.
Mrs Green said: “I remember being a young soldier myself and because you are safe and secure and being looked after it can be a shock returning to society.”
There are a number of ways to get involved with this year’s Poppy Appeal and the work of the Royal British Legion.
You could pick up a poppy from a volunteer vendor, donate to the charity via their website or volunteer your time as a visitor, fundraiser, collector or caseworker.
Bury St Edmunds
Volunteers collecting for the Poppy Appeal in the west of the county reported a “very successful” launch day on Saturday, with local people keen to donate and get this year’s campaign underway.
The launch in Bury St Edmunds, which was held on the steps of the Angel Hotel, was attended by some of the army of volunteers who give up their time every November, alongside ex-servicemen from the Royal British Legion (RBL).
Pip Davies, Poppy Appeal co-ordinator for Bury, said: “We felt that Angel Hill was a poignant place for the launch because so many parades and Remembrance Day events have been held in this area.
“Historically being a garrison town with the old Suffolk Regiment – and having so many other armed forces stationed in the area – the appeal in Bury is particularly relevant.”
In the Sudbury area, almost 700 collecting boxes have been distributed. Stuart Hume, chairman of Sudbury RBL said a staggering £42,395 was collected last year in an area where there are around 24,000 residents.
This year’s appeal launch took place outside the Town Hall with RBL representatives including Second World War veteran Len Manning, 91. As a 19-year-old Rear Gunner in a Lancaster bomber, he was shot down behind enemy lines, bailed out from 4,000 feet with his parachute on fire and spent seven months hidden by the French resistance.
At the launch on Saturday morning, Sudbury Mayor Sue Ayres spoke of the demands faced by military personnel and the challenges of adjusting back to civilian life.
She said: “In 2012, 44 British solders were killed in Afghanistan but 50 serving soldiers and veterans took their own lives in the same year.
“The challenge for the RBL is to continue to support the treatment and rehabilitation of the wounded service personnel now they are not in the public eye.
“We must also remember the families of those injured along with members of the ex-service community who also face challenges in finding work and a home once they leave service life. Again the RBL is there to offer assistance with the money you donate.”
A new area for soldiers to study, learn and relax has been opened at Colchester Barracks funded by the Royal British Legion.
The £31,000 ‘Poppy Suite’ was created after the existing common room and library were moved and will be used as an informal place for soldiers to study while on courses as well as briefings and seminars.
The room features comfortable seating and a refreshment area as well as murals created by art students at Colchester Institute combining poppies and parachutes to reflect the town’s 16 Assault Brigade.
Lieutenant-Colonel Ciaran Griffin, Commander of Colchester Barracks, thanked the RBL for its support.
He said: “As Garrison Commander it is my aim to make Colchester the most attractive posting in the British Army with the best facilities for our personnel.
“We are hugely grateful to the Legion for their support and talented artists from Colchester Institute, which has turned this facility that was fit for purpose but sterile into a comfortable space that will inspire out soldiers to learn.
“The Poppy Appeal us a cause that is close to the heart of all in the military and I encourage all to be generous in their support of the Legion’s excellent work with the Armed Forces community in its entirety.”
How the poppy appeal helps
A Suffolk RAF medic who saw action in both the Falklands and the First Gulf War says the Royal British Legion has been a lifeline to him after being diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
Ian Ewers-Larose, 48, from Ipswich, fell ill soon after leaving the RAF and now walks with the aid of sticks.
He had to have both of his hips replaced and will see his mobility deteriorate further as he gets older.
When the carpet in Ian’s bungalow had become severely worn and a tripping hazard and he couldn’t afford a replacement, the RBL stepped in to help. As the cold makes his condition much worse, the charity have also paid for logs to stock up his wood burner through the winter.
Mr Ewers-Larose said: “They have helped me out in lots of practical ways, things that need to be done but there’s no one to go to for help.
“Sadly the number of older veterans are dwindling and some people may think ‘what are they still collecting for?’ But I think the appeal is vitally important.
“The symbol of the poppy, although it is there for remembrance, is also there to give hope to those servicemen and women who need assistance and support.”
Visit the British Legion website for more information