You couldn’t miss them: charming, proud and vocal, as well as immaculately presented in suits donning their war medals; they made a huge impact — all in the space of just 12 hours. The new generation of armed forces veterans — many in their 20s and 30s who now work in the city – worked tirelessly for this year’s London Poppy Day raising £450,000.
Supporting the Royal British Legion National Poppy Appeal, around 500 retired military personnel, alongside 500 current service men and women descended on the city, making their presence felt at 60 train and tube stations after beginning their relentless efforts at 7am before finishing at 7pm.
The competitive, determined psyche synonymous with military personnel underpinned the momentous effort, despite only raising £500 when the fundraiser was first launched back in 2006, with just a handful of volunteers. Every year has seen a significant increase of money raised from the previous effort, with last year’s total of £241,000 by 500 collectors a marked increase from 2009 when 300 volunteers secured £60,000.
And people are starting to take notice now following this meteoric rise: the founding members of the initiative attended Downing Street to meet Prime Minister, David Cameron, in honour of their noble efforts. London Mayor, Boris Johnson, also pledged his support and officially launched the fundraiser at City Hall.
The remarkable transformation over recent years has provoked parallels with the uprising of public spirit that occurred at Wootton Bassett; now prestigiously known as Royal Wootton Bassett after being granted royal patronage at a ceremony earlier this month in recognition of its role of military funeral repatriations in the early 21st century.
As with Royal Wootton Bassett, London Poppy Day has undergone a metamorphosis, with it hoped the event continues to grow — ideally spreading across the country — and raises increasing funds in the future. “It all started when we noticed there were not many poppy sellers about, so ten of us — all ex-soldiers — got some tins, got out on the streets and effectively bullied people, in a nice way, managing to raise £500,” said former army Major Ben Hancock, whose leadership has been behind the success of the day.
“People then started to hear about it and wanted to help out, so we did it the following year and since then it’s grown exponentially — at least tripling each year,” he continued. “The real heroes do it for two weeks but as many of us work in the city and can only do it for a single day we go out and try to make a real difference in the 12 hours.”
Acknowledging a successful day, Mr Hancock, who served his country for 11 years, said the hard work paid off. “Londoners have expressed their solidarity by donating £38,000 per hour over the 12 hours of London Poppy Day. We nearly doubled last year’s total by doubling the number of volunteers and places we collected at, and thanks to people being even more generous than before.
“Many people know of a family that has lost someone serving in the war effort. We just want to help ex-servicemen and their relatives. It really is a call to arms for the new generation of ex-military to step-up and make a difference. The skills and ethos of being in the armed forces lives on in London Poppy Day.”
Army veteran and former Major, Stephen Marcham MBE, personified the spirit and will to succeed. “Not wearing a poppy was not an option,” he said, referring to members of the public that came within shouting distance of him.
“A lot of people relate to us as we’re wearing suits like them; many workers probably didn’t realise there were so many ex-servicemen in the city. We have a lot of fun and often find ourselves getting mobbed by those wanting to donate for such a good cause.”
Other features of the day included a warship in Canary Wharf, up to 30 companies agreeing to open their doors so volunteers could collect on trading floors, and Barclays donating £1 for each Boris bike trip, as well as 3,000 large knitted poppies fetching over £20 a piece.