By Kenneth Gibson MSP
This November marks the 100th Poppy Appeal.
For almost a century, these appeals have helped men, women and families with injuries sustained during their time in the Armed Forces or with struggles adjusting from military to civilian life.
The service provided by military personnel is unique, as are the sacrifices they make. The challenges and difficulties which veterans and their families face are therefore often very different from the civilian population. PoppyScotland works year-round to provide tailored support to those who need it, whenever they need it.
The beginnings of Britain’s Poppy Appeal go back to 1921. At the end of the First World War, soldiers faced huge challenges in their return to civilian life. Many were left destitute, unemployed or homeless, while suffering from severe psychological trauma due to their time on the front lines. My own maternal grandfather was gassed only a month before the conflict’s end. He was only 18 years old, never fully recovered and died of emphysema at 41.
Field Marshal Earl Haig, horrified by the treatment of those who had given so much, set up the Poppy Appeal and devoted the rest of his life to supporting ex-servicemen and women. In the inaugural appeal, nine million poppies were sold by 11 November 1921, the third anniversary of Armistice Day. Haig recognised the potential of the poppy as symbol of Remembrance and as a means to support the welfare of former service personnel.
A simple image, the poppy itself was inspired by John McCrae’s famous poem In Flanders Fields. The poppy was one of very few plants able to survive and thrive amidst the horrific destruction on the Western Front.
Demand for poppies was so great in the early years of the appeal, few made it from the original factory in Richmond to Scotland. In 1926, Lady Haig therefore set up a factory in Edinburgh to produce poppies specifically for Scotland. The factory is still going strong and employs forty disabled veterans to hand-assemble over four million poppies and 14,000 wreaths each year.
I will lay a wreath on Remembrance Sunday at Kilbirnie Cenotaph as I have done every year since 2006, while Patricia Gibson MP will pay a similar tribute in Largs
The Scottish Poppy Appeal has grown into Scotland’s largest annual fundraising campaign. In previous years, over 10,000 volunteers carried out collections on our high streets and supermarkets, and ensured shops, businesses and schools have poppies to sell. Since many are unable to get out and fundraise in the normal way due to COVID-19, veterans are more dependent than ever before on our donations.
PoppyScotland has a range of new ways to show support for ex-service personnel and safely commemorate the sacrifice of those who gave their lives. They have created a virtual field of remembrance where you can add a tribute and share memories, and they invite people from across Scotland to “donate, download and display” a poppy in their windows at home.
To mark the centenary of the first Poppy Appeal, PoppyScotland is also running a year-long Poppy Pledge from 11 November 2020 through to Remembrance Sunday 2021. The challenge is to raise £1,921 over the course of the year through coffee mornings, bake sales, pub quizzes or sponsored sporting challenges.
Money raised will help fund home adaptations and mobility aids for elderly or disabled veterans, specialised training courses to help unemployed veterans find fulfilling jobs, and support for those suffering personal crises such as homelessness, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and isolation.
For information on how to donate, get involved or to sign up for the 1921 Poppy pledge, please visit www.poppyscotland.org