Dwindling numbers and ageing bones proved no match to the dedication and sheer hard work of members of Burnley’s Royal British Legion branch, which has seen another record year for its Poppy Appeal collection.
The £42,600 raised by the generosity of Burnley and Padiham folk – and the commitment of Legion members – marked another milestone in the organisation’s long and proud history.
But it is a history which is under threat from the passing of time and apathy among the younger generation, many of whom have not been touched by the devastating impact of two world wars which affected most families in Britain in the last century.
There has been an RBL branch in Burnley since 1922, formed in the years following the tumultuous First World War, which claimed the lives of some 4,000 Burnley soldiers.
The presence of the Legion in Burnley for so many years is testament to the strong military tradition in the town which remains a key recruiting area for the British Army.
But, despite this, and the ever-increasing need in our uncertain world of an organisation that helps people in hard times, the RBL is equally in need of new members.
A core group of dedicated and unflinching volunteers form the backbone of Burnley’s Legion.
Most of us wear a poppy with pride in November, but how many of us actually know how the money raised is spent, and how much preparation is needed throughout the year to make it happen.
Treasurer Tom Norris (78) said: “The Legion today is as important as ever.
“The British armed services have been involved in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years, which have seen some servicemen and women returning home with the same traumatic memories and challenges as in the past.
“The size of our armed forces has been cut repeatedly over the years but now the redundancy package is getting smaller.
“We have seen servicemen struggling to adapt to life on ‘civvy street’ and finding themselves homeless or facing other problems.
“The Legion helps such people by finding them accommodation and furniture advising them on writing CVs to find work, and pointing them in the right direction.”
Families of servicemen and veterans are also helped, whether by short breaks or outward bound courses for children.
Mr Norris explained that the money raised in the Poppy Appeal is sent to the Royal British Legion head office which then distributes it to areas in proportion to the number of serving families.
Branch press officer David Elliott explained how much preparation is needed before and after the Poppy Appeal.
He said: “The process starts in January when we number all our collection boxes – around 700 of them – and box them all up at our office in Lindsay Street.
“All the little crosses that are planted at Croft Street memorial are collected and cleaned after Remembrance Sunday, and also stored here.”
The huge number of poppies and wreaths are then ordered to be delivered by June for the legion members to distribute in the run-up to November.
Last year, the Burnley branch ordered special packs for schools which included rulers, pencils and bracelets that helped to push up the final total.
The engagement of young people is an important issue for Tom and his fellow volunteers who pointed to the role of the Legion’s youngest member, Rossendale teenager Grace O’Malley.
Grace, a talented soprano, has done much in the last few years to raise the profile and money for the Legion.
Tom added: “Grace has been a revelation and I hope she can inspire other young people to support us.
“The schools in Burnley and Padiham have supported fantastically over the years, and I would like to pay special thanks to Unity College who did a special collection.”
Mr Norris also paid tribute to a number of the Legion’s slightly older members, who still put in hours of dedication despite their advancing years.
Chairman Bill Ashcroft (83) has led the branch for many years now, while president Jim Bates (93) still sells poppies in Padiham’s Tesco store.
Burma veteran Ken Dawson (89) can still be seen at Remembrance parades, as can standard bearer Terry Nightingale (70) who participated in the funeral of Lee Rigby in 2013.
Tom added: “Our members have done a superb job in volunteering for many years now, but we would like some younger blood.
“The Poppy Appeal’s new catch line is ‘live on’ which is what we all want for the Royal British Legion.”
Anyone can join the legion, for as little as £15 per year.
To become a member of the Burnley and Padiham branch call 01282 453631.