It was very important for me to spend part of my year of volunteering to help with poppies for Remembrance Day in this important year in particular. The poppy not only representing the Royal British Legion and our service men and women but also representing freedom, camaraderie and an individual’s sacrifice for a bigger cause. I was lucky to find a contact in Glossop in Jean and George who were organising the poppy volunteers for Remembrance Day. My first shift was to help two people in a supermarket. I went to find a man named Jim who would be selling poppies. It took me a while but eventually I saw older gentleman sat behind a table with poppies laid out in front of him proudly wearing a set of medals. I explained to Jim that I come from the local newspaper and I was there to help volunteer. Jim was happy for me to write about him but made it clear that he didn’t want me to make a fuss. I sat by Jim as he told me about how he got his three medals and how at only 18 years old he had been in Germany trying to cross the Rhine near the end of the war. He received a medal for that mission as he, a wireless operator and some engineers got safely to the other side. He didn’t consider himself a veteran of World War II and I can understand what he meant. Although he didn’t say it I had the feeling that coming to the war just 18 as it was ending you wouldn’t think you were necessarily a veteran of that war. However I saw Jim as a veteran of World War II and he had the medals to prove it. He described to me how the day before his mission to cross the Rhine the Major had allowed him to sleep overnight. He and his colleagues had dug a hole in the ground and were delighted to get some sleep. Sat in the middle of the supermarket it was very weird be having this conversation but also deeply moving. Jim mentioned his third medal was from Palestine and he sadly said it was difficult there as it was hard to tell who the enemy were. It made me think of modern conflicts probably being quite similar, a new type of war. Someone had got Jim a coffee and he sat there quite happy. Although Jim had not been very well he seemed delighted to be out and about wearing his medals. Lots of people stopped at the table as we spoke and gave money, some didn’t even mind if they got a poppy. One man said, “don’t worry I will get one later”. Another man came to the table and explained that he been in the Army and we chatted for a while. Jim told me that I was very good at poppy selling and although I appreciated the flattery I was very sure it was him and his medals were causing people to come over and donate money. Although in many ways people seemed just to be touched by the cause and happy to support those who gave so much. Jim’s shift ended and he was taken home by one of the organisers after he done the shopping. I was joined on the shift by Terry who’d been in the RAF for 20 years. Younger than Jim he asked me about my knowledge of the Cold War. Terry was charming and told hilarious stories of his time in the RAF. He made it sound fun and as if he’d had the time of his life. He had met his wife on an airbase. He drove the base taxi to ferry people about the base and it meant that he was able to take his future wife out into town when he wanted. However when he recounted the story of ejecting from an aeroplane when it got into trouble and the hours that he spent at the end of the runway waiting for his orders that I felt the sad truth of even a Cold War.
A young girl came over to the table and Terry asked her whether she knew what it was all about and she said yes. She had learned all about Remembrance Day at school and bought herself a wristband. The table contained much more than just poppies. It had wristbands, crosses, hair slides, rulers, pencils and erasers. The most sought after item was a metal pin that marked 1914 to 2014. We quickly sold out of them. Tina, Terry’s wife, arrived to say hello and told me that my poppy leaf was pointing in the wrong direction. It was meant to point at 11 o’clock because of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. I asked Tina where my leaf was pointing and she told me that it was about 20 minutes to. We both laughed. I felt that I had sat listening to the most entertaining history lesson ever told and we had covered about 40 years of history at least. If this is what selling poppies is like then I am sold.
My next opportunity was to be scheduled down for a whole hour on my own. So far I felt I hadn’t really done anything other than listen to the very entertaining and emotional stories told by others. After they left I sat quietly behind the table and I realised that as a busy mum it was probably the first moment I had actually had any peace all day. I looked at the supermarket and suddenly realised how odd supermarket buildings are. Many people wandered past and explained they did have a poppy but it was on their other coat. I felt they didn’t need to worry, I wasn’t the poppy police. Although I did understand what they meant because I often feel guilty for not wearing my poppy and I must have about four.
One lady came over with a little boy with cute blonde hair and put some money into the collection box. As they left the mother said her little boy, “We have to give something what with daddy being in the army”. I felt a little bit sad. I didn’t know the story of his family but I imagined that the daddy was far away somewhere else. I was saddened when I remembered that earlier in the day a collection box had been stolen off the high street in Glossop. Suddenly a jar fell out of someone’s shopping bag and got smashed on the floor. I stared at the red contents as they were being cleared up. Beetroot or red cabbage I would guess. Before I left I spoke to Jean, one of the organisers, and she told me that people often volunteer for an hour on the appeal for their first year but by the time they’ve done it for one hour they’re keen to volunteer again even in the same week. I felt exactly the same. It was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. It wasn’t difficult to raise money for the Royal British Legion, the poppies just sold themselves. Everyone was friendly and it was a lovely feeling to sit beside so many different people from such diverse backgrounds. Joining the poppy appeal in your local supermarket is the easiest thing in the world to do for young and old. It makes you feel fantastic and you only need do an hour if you want but you will soon want to do it again I promise.
The final stage was for me to attend the count on Armistice Day. This is when the volunteers open and count the collection boxes. This means that each group or business who had a collection tin would know what they had raised individually for the poppy appeal. With coffee and cake flowing, a band of volunteers counted the money. I was very excited to help; although last year Glossop alone raised roughly £14,500 which I didn’t fancy counting in one penny pieces. It was a bit like Christmas as you opened each collection box which could contain any amount of donations from pennies to £20 notes. After my 8th piece of cake and with the piles of money in front of me like Scrooge McDuck bagged away the count was drawing to a close. The total had far surpassed last year’s amount and we had made over £18,000 (with more to come from the wreaths which organisations and individuals lay at the war memorials).
Wear your poppies with pride Glossop and Tameside, and thank you for your generosity.