IT’S that time of year again, where boxes of red poppies adorn shop counters and supermarket foyers.
But while we drop our change into the box and proudly pin the red paper flowers to our lapels, few of us stop to think about where the money goes.
While helping us to remember the men who sacrificed their lives in World Wars One and Two, the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal actively helps the lives of soldiers, sailors and airmen - whether fighting today or 70 years ago.
Erik Farr-Voller is the regional secretary for Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA Forces Help), which, at 125 years-old, is the oldest services charity.
Erik says that SSAFA uses funds from the Royal British Legion to support its clients.
“We often receive funds from the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal to help us meet the costs of our clients’ needs that cannot be met by their own regiment, whether in the Army, the Royal Air Force or the Navy,”
To be eligible for help with SSAFA a person only has to have done one day’s service. The charity’s mantra is ‘one day’s service, a lifetime of support’, and that extends to the families of servicemen as well.
“We send out a case worker to assess cases that are brought to our attention,” says Erik.
Cases may require a mobility scooter, for example, or fitting a new boiler at a widow’s home.
“SSAFA and the Royal British Legion work very closely together and a lot of people don’t realise that,” adds Erik.
Assessments are thorough, according to Erik.
“Assessing a case study is complex - we have to ask people about their regular bills and how much savings they have and if it’s more than £16,000 we can’t help them.”
SSAFA help families too. “In some cases we’ve sent children to boarding schools and in other cases we’ve paid for their music classes.”
Many of SSAFA’s cases are of men in their 70s and 80s, who are left to look after themselves on a very small pension.
Erik says: “As a country we don’t look after our servicemen or ex servicemen at all. Since World War Two or the Falklands there have been few major conflicts so a lot of people have no serviceman background, though it’s changing a little with the lads coming back from Afghanistan.”
But it’s the Poppy Appeal that enables SSAFA to meet the needs of its 50,000 servicemen and their families every year. “Without the Royal British Legion it would be very difficult for us to do what we do,” says Erik.
The Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal is its biggest fundraising campaign.
It harks back to John McCrae’s poem In Flanders’ Fields, which describes the poppies blowing between the crosses. It was an American war secretary, Moina Michael, who - inspired by the poem - started selling poppies to friends to raise money for the ex service community.
The Royal British Legion adopted the poppy for its fundraising in 1921 and has sold poppies to raise money for ex servicemen ever since.
Paul James, the regional secretary of the Royal British Legion for Yorkshire, said: “The money from the Poppy Appeal goes towards the welfare of beneficiaries, and that can be anyone who’s served for seven days as a paid servicemen or 14 days in the Territorial Army.
“We also look after the dependents of the beneficiary, whether husband, wife, child of or same sex partner.”
The range of help the RBL provides is staggering, from cutting people’s grass to helping with the weekly shop.
“We also provide emergency accommodation if somebody is without a home. We support them and pay for a bed and breakfast until they have found suitable accommodation, at that point we can help with the bond and the first month’s rent.”
Many of the servicemen that the Poppy Appeal helps struggle with debt, drink and drug problems.
“Some individuals can’t cope with life outside service and there’s also the issue of post traumatic stress. “Many of these men have seen their friends blown up or are even getting over having killed someone themselves.”
It’s not uncommon for former servicemen turn to substances or alcohol as a result. “Many of them hide stuff away - the biggest thing is the shame.”
The RBL has a scheme working with ex servicemen who are serving sentences in South Yorkshire’s prisons.
“Prison is familiar to them, they are told when to eat and what to do and that’s what they’re used to. We do a lot of work in prisons and run mentoring groups to help the ex-serviceman get their lives back into order.”
This all-embracing support system, funded by the Poppy Appeal, as well as legacies left to the charity, explains its whopping expenditure - the RBL spends £220,000 a day on welfare.
But, as far as Paul, Erik and the thousands of men and women its supported is concerned, it’s worth it.