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Evening Meeting With Amanda Mckean, Director Canterbury Festival

30th April 2024
Venue: Cricket Ground

Evening meeting with Amanda McKean, Director, Canterbury Festival.
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Lunchtime Meeting Agm & May Business Meeting

7th May 2024
Venue: Cricket Ground
Lunchtime meeting 12.30pm for 1pm meal Annual General Meeting to be followed by the May Business Meeting.
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Evening talk: Gerry Ferrett MBE, 100 Years of Poppies

We were delighted to welcome Gerry Ferrett MBE and Eric Hearn from the Royal British Legion to our meeting and to hear Gerry’s very interesting presentation (just a few days after Remembrance day) titled “The Poppy – A Symbol of Remembrance”.

Gerry, a former President of the Canterbury Branch of the Royal British Legion, previously served in the RAF and in 2006 received an MBE for services to the Royal British Legion. He was accompanied during his talk by Eric, who recently completed five years as Chairman of the Legion Branch. [We also had two guests in our audience who are both British Legion members – Barbara Rampton (Poppy Appeal Organiser for the nearby villages of Nonington and Staple) and Barry Rampton (Asst. Poppy Appeal Organiser).]

Our Club has supported the Legion’s Poppy Appeal with collectors since 1993 though – as Past President of our Club, Stephen Thompson, stated during the evening – our relationship goes back to 1971/1972, when Stephen’s father David was President of our Club.

Gerry told us that the poppy is now seen widely as a symbol of remembrance; it is also seen as a symbol of support for those that have served in the armed forces community, as well as for the many civilians and other members of the uniformed services that have helped the country. Although wearing a poppy is no means compulsory, we were told that wearing one is “greatly appreciated” by those that it is intended to support. 

Going into the history of the poppy’s symbolism, Gerry related how World War I had wreaked havoc across Western Europe and resulted in vast swathes of bleak and barren land where little could grow. Yet, in Flanders, which sadly saw some of the greatest loss of life on the Western front, thousands and thousands of bright red poppies bloomed. This phenomenon was noted in the famous poem by John McCrae, “In Flanders Fields“, in which McCrae channelled the voice of fallen soldiers. The poppy’s symbolism was strengthened by the follow-up poem by American Moina Michael, written two days before Armistice Day in 1918: “We Shall Keep the Faith“. Moina vowed to always wear a red poppy and came up with the idea to make and sell silk poppies to support disabled veterans. Subsequently, a French woman, Madame Guérin, organised French women, children and veterans to make artificial poppies and sell them as a way to fund the restoration of war torn France. Eventually this helped spread the symbol across Britain, the Commonwealth and other Allied Nations.

The first poppy appeal raised more than £106,000 – a considerable sum at the time. The following year a poppy factory was set up – and gradually there was a build up to what we have today, where thousands of poppies are made, by machine, every day! 

During his talk Gerry showed us several variations of the little wooden poppy crosses used by different faiths, from Christianity to Hinduism. We also learnt that the original poppies didn’t have a leaf – that particular feature was introduced in the 1960s. Nowadays the poppy is fully recyclable – all three parts, the petals, stalk and black centre, can be recycled at any Sainsbury’s supermarket in the country.

Poppies are distributed in Canterbury throughout November each year, including to local schools. In fact, many schools also make their own wreaths, and one is usually laid at the War Memorial in the Buttermarket during the remembrance period. Poppies are also distributed via shops and supermarkets. 

Gerry showed us all a 2018 picture of a special Field of Remembrance created in the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral, appropriately next to the War Horse, to mark the 100th Anniversary of the Armistice in 1918. A named poppy cross was planted for each of the 500+ persons on the First World War Memorial in the Buttermarket.

Our own collectors were out this year as usual. Gerry told us that this year our Club raised around £3,000* – and that over the years we’ve now helped collect over £45,000 for the appeal, which is heart-warming to know. 

The money raised by the appeal is used in various ways, such as giving much-needed help and support to serving and ex-service men and women. This might include helping those that have lost a limb or who are suffering from mental health issues such as PTSD, or for the running of rehabilitation centres (including a facility established in 2011 to support those wounded and injured while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan). The focus for these individuals is very much on what they can achieve rather than on what they can no longer do.

Gerry also spoke of some of the other types of support the Legion gives. For instance, in 1985, a special Government Scheme was announced to enable war widows to visit their late husband’s grave overseas with the aid of a grant – the Legion was asked to organise a series of group visits each year to various war cemeteries overseas. While showing pictures of widows laying poppy sprays and wreaths of poppies, Gerry explained to us why this was so very important. 

He also showed pictures of little ‘lollipop stick” crosses – made by a children at a school in Canada and sent over with  a request for them to be laid at the graves of the “unknown” at the various cemeteries on the group visits abroad.  We were also shown a picture of a widow laying poppies at a special memorial cross in the grounds of a hospital in Singapore, and a photo of a veteran taken during one of the special visits to Singapore, standing “now” next to a black and white picture taken “then” when he was held as a prisoner of war in Singapore.

Gerry also gave some other unusual examples of helping those affected by past wars – some of which are too personal to share here. 

It’s clear – perhaps because of his own service in the RAF – that Gerry has a strong interest in the welfare of service personnel and their families, so it’s no surprise that when summing up his own involvement with the Legion, Gerry pronounced that “once I got involved, there was no turning back”. 

You can find out more about the Royal British Legion here

Picture: Eric Hearn (left) and Gerry Ferrett MBE (right) photographed during our meeting. Picture credit: Rotary Club of Canterbury. 

*We subsequently received an official letter of thanks from Gerry for supporting the Poppy Appeal. This year, as last year, Past President Alastair Scott raised the most. “What a superb effort once again,” said Gerry.

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