As the nation gears up for Remembrance Day, Saturday November 11, we take a look at some of the county’s organisations and individuals supporting veterans and ensuring their sacrifices are never forgotten...

Great British Life: Carl Lewis says he's gained so much via his work as a Poppy Appeal Organiser in Tonbridge (credit RBL)Carl Lewis says he's gained so much via his work as a Poppy Appeal Organiser in Tonbridge (credit RBL)


The Royal British Legion – going strong since 1921 – is the UK’s largest Armed Forces Charity, with over 180,000 members and 110,000 volunteers. From supporting veterans and their families in debt and emergency situations to rehabilitation and housing, it provides vital help for the armed forces community. The Poppy Appeal is its largest annual fundraising event, having raised nearly £48million in support of 1.8 million veterans in 2022.

Carl Lewis, 42, has two cousins who served in the forces: one in the Queens Regiment during the 1980s, and the other in the Royal Marines from 1977 for 36 years, serving four tours of South Armagh, during the Falklands War and in both Gulf Wars. His family background inspired him to start collecting for the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal in 2015, and he became a Poppy Appeal Organiser [PAO] a year later, having been approached by the leader of his local borough council who knew of his family’s military history and his own sense of community, when the existing PAO stepped back. His work as a PAO has seen him represent the Royal British Legion at the Royal Albert Hall Festival of Remembrance and the Westminster Abbey Service of Remembrance, both in 2018.

Carl, which area does your team cover and whereabouts do you collect?

Our patch is in Tonbridge and we collect all through the town, on the High Street and in the main town-centre supermarket. We distribute poppy boxes and collecting tins across the town, to schools, churches, pubs, shops, and sports venues, as well as having a strong group of street collectors. The poppy brings people together with a sense of gratitude and remembrance in a way that nothing else does.

What do you most enjoy about the role?

The opportunity to make a difference for people who have given up so much of their lives for us, to be part of something bigger than myself, and to say thank you to those who have served and are still serving. We owe them so much.

What skills have you gained through your involvement with the Poppy appeal?

I’ve certainly developed my organisational skills, as we’ve put on several large events during my time as PAO. It isn’t easy talking to big organisations when you’re just one individual, but having the name of the RBL behind you gives you an asset. I’ve gained skills in public speaking, through talking to veterans, volunteer groups, cadet unit and scout troops. I’ve given talks about the RBL, the First World War, and my own family’s military history. I’m now more known in the town for being the ‘Poppy Man’ than for anything else I do! I’ve made great friends through my work as a PAO, and that isn’t confined just to Tonbridge – I’ve got PAO friends across the country, from Dorset to Hartlepool, from Sussex to North Wales.

What would you say to anyone considering either becoming a Poppy Appeal collector or organiser?

It can sometimes be a lot of hard work, but when you see the difference you make to your community, when you see people wearing the poppy, when you lay the wreath at your local memorial, when you see the total raised by you and your team, it is so worth it. If you have a good team behind you, and with the support of the RBL, you can do great things for those who need the help of the Royal British Legion.

Great British Life: Kate Teacher of the Hadlow Estate (credit The Hadlow Estate)Kate Teacher of the Hadlow Estate (credit The Hadlow Estate)


A Battle of Britain Memorial has been unveiled at the Hadlow Estate, near Tonbridge, remembering the pilots who fought and gave their lives between August 8 and October 10, 1940.

Research that led to the plaque's creation put the Estate's Kate Teacher in contact with the family of wartime fighter pilot Bob Spurdle, a New Zealander whose plane crashed on the Estate on October 22, 1940, while Bob was serving in the RAF. Remarkably, Bob escaped unhurt when his Spitfire began to disintegrate in mid-air, during a dogfight with a Messerschmitt 109 over Hadlow. He parachuted to safety, landing near a hop garden at Hadlow Place Farm. Kate traced Bob’s grandson in Auckland, New Zealand, having come across a newspaper article he’d written on his grandfather’s wartime exploits during her online research into the crash.

Children’s author James Russell was able to tell Kate that his grandfather, who passed away in 1994, also has two surviving children still living in New Zealand: John Spurdle, 60, and his 77-year-old sister Anne Thomas, who was born in Birchington-on-Sea while Bob was based there. Sadly, Bob’s other child, Elizabeth, died in 2004.

During a Zoom call with James and Anne, Kate shared details of how she came across Bob’s remarkable story in his memoir, The Blue Arena. For the past two years, she has been researching Battle of Britain crashes on the Estate, as well as Kent’s role in the most famous aerial conflict of World War Two.

She was also able to tell them of her plans to put up a memorial plaque in the Estate office, as a tribute to Bob and all the brave pilots, known as The Few, who both fought and gave their lives in the air battle.

Great British Life:  Bob Spurdle pictured in the 1980s with his children Anne Powell left, John Spurdle right and Elizabeth foreground Bob Spurdle pictured in the 1980s with his children Anne Powell left, John Spurdle right and Elizabeth foreground

Anne was able to share with Kate a poignant letter Bob wrote to his mother, less than two weeks after the crash at Hadlow. In it, Bob, aged just 22, talked about the dangers he and his fellow pilots were facing. She also sent Kate a wartime photo of Bob relaxing with his dog Sailor, named after his Squadron Leader, the highly decorated and respected A G ‘Sailor’ Malan, who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Distinguished Service Order.

‘It is very kind gesture indeed of Kate to put up this memorial as a lasting tribute to all those pilots who fought and died in the Battle of Britain,” says James, who is hoping to make the 18,000-mile trip to Hadlow from New Zealand in the future.

Bob gives a remarkable first-hand account of the crash in The Blue Arena and James says he vividly remembered how he felt when he read it for the first time.

‘My heart was in my mouth. It's a really visceral read - you can really sense the ever-present fear they all lived with,” said James, who first met his grandfather at the age of 12 and was instantly smitten with him.

‘He was an absolute character, and the best grandfather a boy could hope for. He had quite a life when he got back from the war too. He built a catamaran in his back yard and sailed it to Japan, which resulted in another book, Into the Rising Sun, which is also an amazing read.’

Great British Life: The Battle of Britain MemorialThe Battle of Britain Memorial

Wanted: supporters and suggestions for a new, Kent-based memorial project

An ambitious tribute to ‘the Many’, those whose vital support role in 1940 helped the men of Fighter Command to victory in the Battle of Britain, is being launched by the Kent trust that honours the memory of the Few. The Battle of Britain Memorial Trust, which cares for the National Memorial to the Few at Capel-le-Ferne, just outside Folkestone, is planning to lay memorial tiles along the edges of the three propeller blades that radiate out from the Memorial in memory of those who served.

The Trust’s ‘Blade of Honour’ project will invite members of the public to fund a tile in memory of anyone who played a part in the victory, from ground crew to members of the Royal Observer Corps or air raid wardens.

“From those who served as ground crew to those whose contributions were less obvious but equally valuable, such as in runway maintenance or repairing telephone lines, we are looking to mark the commitment of the thousands of people who contributed to the success of ‘the Few’ in 1940,’ says Trust Chairman Richard Hunting CBE.

“We don’t have a set list of organisations or professions that we feel qualify, but are instead inviting people to nominate the person they think should be commemorated – probably, but not necessarily, a relative – along with evidence that they played a part in this historic victory. They can be military or civilian, as long as they contributed.”

Those who are nominated need to have played an active support role in the Battle of Britain, which ran from 10 July to 31 October 1940, or one month either side of it. They may have served as coastguards or firemen, for instance, or with the National Pigeon Service, the NAAFI or the GPO.

Critically, any surplus funds from the project, which was formally launched on Battle of Britain Day, 15 September, will be used to support the charity, which receives no public funding and relies on supporters to continue its work.

‘At this stage we are asking people to submit an expression of interest,’ says Richard. “We won’t start the project until we have the 270 names we need to finish a complete blade, but given the many thousands of people who contributed to victory in 1940 and the esteem in which they are held, we are confident that we will soon reach our first target.’

For more information, see


The Veterans’ Village right here in Kent

Separate from the RBL is RBLI (Royal British Legion Industries), a charity that provides employment, support, housing and care to the British Armed Forces community. Its employment support programme, LifeWorks, has helped hundreds of veterans back to work across the UK. Aylesford is home to the veterans’ village that the charity runs - the largest of its kind in the country and first set up in 1919 to provide support for those returning home after fighting in WW1. The latest phase of its Centenary Village project will see the building of a new community centre, homes for multiple occupancy and for previously homeless veterans.

Remembrance Day Services

Expect these to be taking part throughout the county on November 11, with canon fire marking the start of a two-minute silence at 11am - the Armistice, an agreement to end the fighting of, began at 11am on 11 November 1918. See for details of events close to you.