poppy field




Not a day, exactly, but a year.  To the average man in the street, the RBL Poppy Appeal lasts for two weeks at the beginning of the winter, when lots of old men in blazers with badges appear in supermarkets or knock on doors, selling poppies in the run up to "Poppy day".  These volunteer collectors and many more, and their activities, are co-ordinated by the voluntary Poppy Appeal Organisers (PAOs), one per Legion branch, who spend considerably more than two weeks each year on their involvement in the lead up to Remembrance Day.


It starts in June, when the blank order forms drop noisily through the letterbox, with a letter encouraging early ordering of supplies and stationery.  The statistics pertaining to the Poppy Factory and the Appeal headquarters in Kent are staggering, and I won't reproduce them here, however their workload continues all year but is clearly skewed to Remembrancetide.  In June, at least one PAO I could name thinks "What, already?", and puts the package to one side for a while.  Before long, however, it has to be completed, and this is where the previous year's accurate record-keeping comes to the fore, because without good stock records, or a photographic memory, one would have no idea how much to order.


The list is long and varied: not just poppies (six kinds - traditional lapel ones, new self-adhesive ones, altar poppies, "poppy 2s", car poppies and lorry poppies), but small wooden remembrance crosses, poppy pins, straight pins, information leaflets (two kinds), and of course the collecting tins and the cardboard boxes to be issued filled with poppies.  Sedgeford & District branch issues around 80 tins (and boxes) each year.  Each set is sent to a collector or a premises (shops, pubs, garden centres, nature reserves, cafes, hotels, schools, garages..….) with 100 poppies, an ID card, an instruction leaflet, an information leaflet, some wooden crosses, some pins, and perhaps some stickers, car tax disc holders, wristbands, Gift Aid declaration forms, or other goodies.


Then there are the wreaths!  Five different designs, with or without ribbons, with or without inscriptions, issued with a note of the individual production cost - they are all different, and the RBL doesn't charge for them as that would incur VAT, so the cost is suggested as a donation. I supply 18 wreaths each year, however not all of them go to people also receiving poppies and collecting boxes.


At the end of September, Parcelforce arrives with boxes, and boxes, and boxes, all of which pile up in the hall, the garage, or wherever there is a space, and then a couple of weeks later the assembly starts - usually Chris and I sitting in one of our respective houses surrounded by lists and supplies, making up the packs for distribution.  The distribution system is hierarchical: I dispatch to area distributors and brief them, and they then deliver the individual packs of supplies, with briefings, to their local collectors or establishments.  I then sit back and take a deep breath, because……………


Mostly during the week following Remembrance Day, back come all the leftovers!  The distributors bring me an assortment of scruffy, tatty boxes of all the items mentioned above, along with heavy tins.  Once we have received most of these, we embark on logging every tin's total with the tin number, the collector's name and location, and the total amount in the tin, accompanied by tearing off the adhesive label (they have a different colour each year so there can be no confusion) removing the cap with a screwdriver to extract the money, sometimes with the help of a kitchen implement when a banknote is stuck in the tin!  That done, we can start the counting of the money - last year, made much easier and quicker by the loan of the County "counting machine" with operator, which had the job done in a day.  In previous years, a group of committee members has patiently sat around a table, counting and stacking and recording and checking and bagging…… for days. 

 Every collector and premises likes to know how much they collected.  The Legion needs not just the total, but a breakdown by house to house collections, static points (the pubs, shops, schools, etc), church collections, wreath donations, other donations……  Gift aided donations have to be banked separately, so that's another pile of forms, on which the donors' names, full addresses, and dates and amounts of donations have to be listed by hand - each form matching a paying in slip.  Then it all has to be taken to Fakenham to the bank!  Have you ever thought about the weight of £500 in £1 coins, never mind the weight of the total amount collected - in excess of £6,000? 

Each collector or establishment is sent a thank you card, on which is written the amount that they collected.  That process can continue for days or weeks, as can the logging and collation of totals by collector, distributor, and village, and the publication via village newsletters, posters for premises to display, and the thank you cards.  The Legion's standard return forms also have to be completed and returned to HQ.  Then we start to return the stock to store (usually a loft or garage), disposing of any damaged items and anything which will be out of date by next year, and counting or weighing and logging everything and packing it in bags or bundles - all labelled - in boxes, so that next June, I know how much needs to be ordered to start the whole process again.  Happy Christmas!

 These details were relevant for the years 2007 through to 2017 but there have been changes such as the fact that Legion Wreaths now have to be purchased and accounted for separately from Donations. Every year there are always more changes to keep on top of! (Editor)