Everytime Lucie Nowak goes to work, she is reminded of her brother.
Benjamin Nowak was killed in Iraq in November, 2006.
He was a physical training instructor with the Royal Marines and his family were devastated following his death at the age of 27. Lucie runs the Benjamin James hairdressers, in Cooper Street, Chichester.
This month, she presented a cheque for £1,685 to the local branch of the Royal British Legion, the biggest amount she has yet managed to raise.
“Obviously, the legion and poppy appeal have been amazing,” she said.
“I’ve seen what they’ve done for our family and I’ve seen what they do for soldiers that come back – for them and their families.
“If we’ve not got these people doing that, then we don’t have our life today really. I think they deserve a lot of respect from everybody.”
She set up her hairdressers in Chichester less than three years ago, deciding to name it after her brother, whose full name was Benjamin James Nowak. Their dad is called James Nowak.
“When we were opening, I thought rather than giving it a random name, I wanted it to mean something,” she said.
“I didn’t want to forget him, I didn’t want a day to go past.
“When I pick up the phone I say ‘hello, Benjamin James’.”
Years after Ben passed away, Lucie said her dad still found it difficult to say his son’s name as it was too painful – something that has been healed by picking up the phone at the hairdressers.
“I think it’s been a really good thing for our whole family to do something and feel together about such a sad thing that happened,” she said.
The poppy appeal drive in November is an especially poignant time of the year for Lucie and her family, as Ben was actually killed on Remembrance Sunday. Each year, the family all try to do something special to remember him.
“It’s just become more important,” she said of marking the occasion.
“We’ve always worn the poppy and we always go to Portsmouth to the remembrance service there. We go there and stand in the same place.
Her brother would have been 35 now and Lucie spoke of the joy he brought to the family when he was with them.
“He was really bubbly and you never heard him moaning,” she said. “He was such a positive person. No fear at all. No fear, which is probably why he volunteered again.”
After signing up at the age of 17, Lucie said her brother was in conflicts in Iraq twice and the Congo.
When he died, he was in 45 Commando attached to 539 Assault Squadron and was a physical training instructor.
He had been based in Arbroath, where a gym and fitness centre bears his name – the Ben Nowak Centre – and it was opened by his father, James.
Ben died along with three others when he was on a multi-national forces boat patrol on the Shatt Al-Arab waterway on November 12, 2006.
Lucie’s mum Vanda said: “He just loved what he did. He loved his chosen profession.”
Each year, Lucie has held a raffle for the Chichester branch of the Royal British Legion, but this year she decided to do something bigger.
With the support of Marco No1 Northgate, she hosted an event on November 30 at the restaurant, which raised the money.
“They’ve been really good to us,” she said. “They gave us the venue on a Sunday afternoon for nothing. We decided we were going to put on our new collection of haircuts for 2015.”
So rather than previous years, when they held a raffle and raised £200 or so, they went all out this year to create a larger event and were supported with raffle prizes, such as a bracelet from Timothy Roe and a haircut from the famous Lee Stafford.
“It went really well,” said Lucie. “We had a toastmaster, he hosted the whole evening for us.”
While the poppy appeal naturally gets a lot of attention in November, it runs the whole year around.
So far the Chichester poppy appeal has already managed to raise close to £50,000, thanks to the generosity and hard work of people like Lucie in the area.
Now, she said she was looking at what more she could do for the legion.
“I try to do as much as I can for the legion and I’m looking into being a case worker for them,” she said, adding the times could be flexible to work around her job.
For Lucie and her family, the memory of Ben lives on forever and especially how he would always make people laugh.
“He was such a joker and it didn’t matter if you met him for the first time or had known him for years, he would have you in stitches,” she said.