INSPIRATIONS: Collecting for the poppy appeal

Graham Matthews at the Remembrance Sunday 2013 in Chichester PICTURE BY MAKAELA PAPWORTH
Graham Matthews at the Remembrance Sunday 2013 in Chichester PICTURE BY MAKAELA PAPWORTH

AS THOUSANDS gathered to honour the fallen, Sunday marked the end of a collection drive from dedicated volunteers.

Every year, people are inspired to help the poppy appeal in aid of the Royal British Legion.

The RBL provides lifelong support for the armed forces community and has done so since its inception in 1921.

Graham Matthews has been involved with the RBL since leaving the navy in 1979.

He ran the Felpham poppy appeal for 30 years, before stepping into the Chichester appeal last November.

“People think the poppy appeal comes out for ten days, but it’s actually weeks of work before and about two weeks afterwards,” said Mr Matthews.

For the past few weeks, he has had volunteers out around the city, as well as collection tins in shops.

He can recount numerous examples of remarkable acts of generosity from the public when it comes to honouring and helping to support the armed forces.

“We’re confident there’s very little copper in the tins,” he said, just before emptying one to be counted in a secure location in Chichester.

Sure enough, it was full of pound coins and several notes.

“One of the helpers watched one man draw £100 out of the ATM and put it in his tin,” he said. “It’s been very gratifying, the amount of money that’s been donated.”

Last year’s appeal raised around £35,000 in Chichester.

The RBL has recently made its largest donation of £50m to support the defence recovery capability programme for wounded, injured and sick armed forces men and women.

It is the largest single donation in the charity’s history.

Mr Matthews spoke of one soldiers in his 20s, with a young family, who received help from the RBL last year.

This year, he was out collecting in Chichester and helped to raise several hundred pounds to help others.

Sometimes, Mr Matthews wonders why after 30 years he continues to do it, especially as it becomes harder each year to get volunteers, with current members of the branch getting older and unable to get out on the streets collecting.

When he feels like this, he always thinks of a pilgrimage he led to Holland and Belgium on behalf of the RBL, as part of the charity’s widow scheme.

He spoke of one woman, who did not speak to anyone, but was visiting the grave of her fiance, who had been killed.

“For 60 years she had grieved, she had not had an opportunity to lay things to rest.”

She had not been able to visit before – it was only as a result of the RBL’s work she was finally able to be there.

He said her change after the visit was transformational.

“I’ve never seen anyone change so much. When I’m down and think ‘What the hell am I doing this for?’ I think of that lady.” Mr Matthews is the joint organiser of the Chichester appeal along with Paul Gaffney. Branch president Chris Lane said the help of youngsters was crucial to the appeal’s success, as many of the current members are getting older.

“You’re lucky if there are ten mobile enough to do it.

“I can’t do anything except help count. My wife runs around frantically. It’s a very friendly little branch. We all get on very well together.”

Mr Lane said anyone wishing to join the Chichester branch can visit one of the meetings.

The branch meets every third Saturday of the month at 2pm in the St Pancras parish hall.

Throughout the area there are other inspirational stories.

In Petworth, Jack’s Walk is an iconic date in the calendar.

In October, 1998, Jack Holloway, then 79, decided to organise a sponsored walk in the Petworth area to collect funds for the poppy appeal.

The ex-soldier raised more than £30,000 for the RBL, until he passed away aged 91 in 2011.

The eight-mile walk now continues every year in honour of the Tillington man and continues to support the RBL.

Organiser of the Petworth poppy appeal Ian McNeil said this year’s walk had been ‘excellent’.

“The great thing is that there are quite a lot of people that all collected for Jack’s walk. We really had an awful lot of people who sponsored us for it, which was wonderful as I think people feel quite strongly about supporting Jack’s memory.

“He was a great character.”

Following, Jack’s death, Mr McNeil said there was a wish to perpetuate the walk.

“I think there’s a basic affection for him and people wanted to continue to do it.

“It’s one way we continue to support the RBL and the poppy appeal. I hope it will long continue.”

Meanwhile, Primrose Jeffries, the poppy appeal organiser for Bognor Regis, told the story of a remarkable individual who dropped an anonymous cheque into a collecting tin every year.

Donations started at around £100 but have been known to rise to as much as £500.

“He’s one of those anonymous people who likes to stay in the background,” she said.

She said everyone was so grateful for his contributions.

Primrose has been running the appeal for the last 14 years and the whole family get involved.

“It’s just something that appealed to me. I’ve got to repay back to those people who gave their lives for me. I thought the best way to do that was to become a poppy appeal organiser.”

She especially thanked the RAF club in Bognor Regis, which let the appeal use its building as a home.