When you pick up a poppy, remember those who preserved our freedoms. We talk to those that continue to serve the community and those telling their stories.

The poppy seller

Great British Life: Poppy seller Andy Stephenson. Photo Andy StephensonPoppy seller Andy Stephenson. Photo Andy Stephenson

Andy Stephenson has been the Royal British Legion poppy appeal organiser for Aldbury for 32 years and in that time has overseen a collection raising £53,000 towards the appeal from this small village.

‘As a former member of the RAF and having witnessed the good that the legion had done for many others in need, I was proud to take over the appeal which runs for two weeks every year,’ says Andy. ‘When we are collecting, usually in the bleak conditions of November, I enjoy engaging with people and explaining what the funds are for, but it always amazes me that so many always contribute, but few know about what they contribute towards.

‘During my time raising money, I have gained a much deeper knowledge of the RBL and become more involved with the proactive side of the charity. It led me to become a volunteer welfare and since 2007, I have assisted 500 plus veterans in need. Through the branch support community scheme, I met 99-year-old Normandy veteran Jack Horne. Jack was referred to me because he’d been very isolated. The legion’s involvement gave him a new lease of life and he was invited to witness the Royal Salute at the Tower of London on the day of the Coronation; the Honourable Artillery Company treated him like a King. He passed away three days later but it was my great pleasure to have enjoyed Jack’s company.

Great British Life: The late Normandy veteran Jack Horne. Photo Andy StephensonThe late Normandy veteran Jack Horne. Photo Andy Stephenson

‘Volunteers raised £47m last year to support our armed forces community, an incredible achievement. We need collectors to take over from the generation before. You could learn a great deal about life and know you are raising funds for an excellent cause simultaneously.

‘The poppy appeal is unique. It is a time to remember those who have fallen in the service of their country, support those still living but in welfare need and respect the brave young men and women in the armed services today.

‘For me the poppy means remembrance, passion, hope, and a future for all.’

Heroes helping heroes

Great British Life: Simon Moloney served in the armed forces for 11 years and was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross for bravery. Photo Simon MoloneySimon Moloney served in the armed forces for 11 years and was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross for bravery. Photo Simon Moloney

After an army career of 11 years in the Household Cavalry Regiment for which he was awarded a high bravery award in Afghanistan, Simon Moloney, 32 wanted to help those that had suffered trauma. ‘As long as people risk their lives for our freedom, we must be there to offer them support when they need it.’ He co-founded Head Up, a mental health charity for the armed forces community with ex forces colleagues Paul Minter, George Dagnall and Adam Carrier.

‘Ongoing help to improve mental health of armed forces personnel and veterans is imperative,’ says the Watford resident. ‘Men and women who volunteer to help protect and defend the freedom of our nation, sometimes do so at a huge price to their lives, both physically and mentally. Many are too proud to ask for help, which is why we must find ways to entice those towards the support that is there for them.’

The charity teaches serving personnel and veterans from every service including reservists, how to improve their lives through good daily habits and positive mindset methods. The organisation holds wellness days, presentations and mini-retreats, and is currently developing a seven-day retreat.

‘We lost several friends in the armed forces and knew of many more that were living their lives in misery due to the effects of war. To date we have reached just over 3,000 people who either still serve or have served in the armed forces in some capacity.

The group is supported by individuals, groups and organisations through fundraising. Paul set a new world record by running 5,000 miles around the UK coastline in 2022 and George and Adam will soon be setting off, rowing 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean. To support the charity go to head-up.org.uk

The act of humanity

Great British Life: Percy Buck pictured far left. The image was colourised by Doug Banks of Colourising History. Photo courtesy of Christina ReynoldsPercy Buck pictured far left. The image was colourised by Doug Banks of Colourising History. Photo courtesy of Christina Reynolds

When Hitchin resident, Christina Reynolds found a black and white photo nearly 100 years after it was taken, it was to reveal a surprising act of humanity. The photo pictured Private Percy Buck, her grandfather, with his wife, Bertha, and son (Mrs Reynolds’ father).

Private Percy Buck was only 26 when he died at the Third Battle of Ypres – the Battle of Passchendaele, on 31 July 1917. With the war raging around him and mortally wounded, the young man clasped hold of a photo of his family. His dying wish, written on the back, was that the photo be returned to his wife.

However, it wasn’t a fellow colleague in the trenches that was to send it home, his request was honoured by Gefreiter Josef Wilczek, a private in the German army. He sent the photo to the Red Cross in Geneva, along with a forwarding note writing: 'He was holding the card in his hand and the finder was asked to forward it to his wife. I, wishing to fulfil the last will of the dead comrade, send it to you. May he rest in peace.'

It was translated and sent on to his wife in Hitchin, saving the family the grief of uncertainty.

Sadly, Percy’s body was never recovered, and he is remembered today as one of the 54,896 names inscribed on the walls of the Menin Gate Memorial to the missing in Ypres and at his local memorial in Hitchin. He was one of 490 men of the Hertfordshire Regiment lost in the battle. Gefreiter Wilczek was also a casualty of the First World War, he was wounded on October 31, 1918, just two weeks before the Armistice.

Paul Johnson of the Herts at War project, said more than 20,000 different stories had been revealed by the work of the project, but this one stood out because ‘it was an incredible moment of humanity in the carnage of war.’