Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal launches in Gloucestershire
Today soldiers, celebrities and sports stars are standing shoulder to shoulder to urge readers to back this year’s Poppy Appeal.
The British Legion in Gloucestershire has launched its annual campaign to raise as much money as possible for servicemen and women.
The charity helps members of the Armed forces and their families when they need it most; from rehabilitation when they are injured and debt advice to counselling and helping people find work.
Last year, the county appeal reached almost £900,000 but fundraisers want to smash this target ahead of Remembrance Sunday on November 11.2012 appeal theme is ‘the Armed forces and their families are pinning their hopes on you’.
It's not hard to see why Leo Cooper is backing the annual Poppy Appeal.
Military books are stacked from wall to ceiling at his Bisley home where he has lived with wife Jilly Cooper for the last 30 years.
An ex-serviceman and a publisher, Leo has dedicated his career to sharing soldier’s stories.
Born in 1934, Leo served in Kenya with the East Africa Army Service Corps, and fought in the Mau Mau Rebellion in 1959.
“He was very brave,” said Jilly. “It was a terrifying campaign for those who were there.”
It was that early experience that showed Leo that many ordinary soldiers had stories to share - and needed help.
“Leo gave them a voice by starting this wonderful publishing company,” said Jilly proudly.
Leo grew up in Yorkshire during the Second World War. With so many younger men away fighting, his teachers were older men who had served in the First World War, at Jutland or the Somme.
“Many had suffered injuries or mental trauma. You couldn’t avoid the day-to-day horrors of war. I realised that there were stories that needed to be told,” he told The Citizen several years ago.
Leo started work in publishing, over 50 years ago while also serving in the Territorial Army’s Honourable Artillery Corps.
“In the early years of our marriage he was always whizzing off for weekends of training,” remembers Jilly.
Leo has been a member of the British Legion ever since.
“The legion is a wonderful safety net,” said Jilly, who has accompanied Leo to many legion social events over the years.
Now Leo, who has Parkinson’s disease, leads a quieter life.
He is less able to get out, although he enjoys many visitors. Leo now needs daily care, and he’s aware that for many like him the legion provides invaluable support.
“It’s the best organisation bar none,” he said.
Half a century after Leo’s experience in Kenya, the need to share soldiers’ stories - and offer practical support - remains.
“It’s all still happening now, with so many young men in Afghanistan. The Legion’s campaigns are vital. It has invested a great deal in hospital care for the wounded,” said Leo.
He hopes that younger people will continue to support former servicemen.
A threadbare teddy bear with a rack of medals pinned to its chest sits on a shelf amid the books. It’s an apt memento of Leo’s life supporting the military.
“He’s been everywhere with me, even Africa,” said Leo.
Meanwhile soldiers will take to the pitch at Gloucester Rugby today to help raise funds for the British Legion.
It comes as the Cherry and White players have backed the Poppy Appeal. As well as the action as Gloucester take on Leicester at Kingsholm, Nailsworth silver band will entertain the crowd before soldiers from ARRC (Allied Rapid Reaction Corps) at Imjin Barracks hold a collection. Paralympian discus thrower Derek Derenalagi, from Fiji, who lost both his legs while serving with the British Army in Afghanistan, will also be at the game.
Gloucester captain Jim Hamilton, 29, joined coach Nigel Davies and other team mates to back the legion. His dad James was a sergeant with the Queen’s Own Highlanders.
“We’re always proud to support the Poppy Appeal, it’s something that’s close to the hearts of a lot of the players here,” said ‘Big’ Jim.
Kick off is at 4.45pm.
The campaign was launched in Cheltenham yesterday with high hopes of raising more than £900,000.
The Riders branch of the Royal British Legion rode to the front of Pittville Pump Room for the impressive launch.
They are a group of motor cyclists from across Britain who support the Legion, and have members from the Royal Navy, Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Marines.
Cheltenham's mayor Councillor Colin Hay, also an avid motorcyclist, rode in formation with the riders.
Decked out in a full suit of leather, the mayor told the riders said: "I want to say how important the appeal is.
"It is in recognition of the work of the volunteers at the legion, and everyone who has made the sacrifices.
"It's going to be the biggest poppy appeal ever, and Cheltenham is going to play a huge part in this."
David Martel, chairman of the Cheltenham Royal British Legion, said: "All money raised will go towards providing vital support for the Armed Forces and their families, so we are urging everyone to get involved and raise as much as they can."
Martin Horwood, MP for Cheltenham, expressed the importance of marking November 11 on the calendar.
He said: "I think Remembrance Day is the single, most important engagement I have in the year as a MP.
"The Legion does a fantastic job supporting ex service men and current ones who have been affected.
"We have to wear our poppy with pride, and support the Legion."
Richard Scase, from Charlton Kings, was one of the riders helping to launch the appeal. He said the Legion helped him years ago when his family was struggling.
"My family has always been involved with the Legion, and we're proud supporters of it. They helped both of us so much financially, even after I left the airforce." The charity provides support for present day soldiers and ex-servicemen.