At 11.00am today, people from across the country will pause to remember the millions of lives lost to war. Here in Derby, we will gather on the Market Place and at Soldier’s Corner to remember all those local men and women who have been killed in conflict.
This year, the Royal British Legion is encouraging us to rethink remembrance and consider not only those who died during the First and Second World Wars, but also veterans and service personnel from more recent conflicts who deserve our remembrance and support.
In Derby, we are proud to support veterans and their families through initiatives like the Armed Forces Community Covenant, which I launched at the Homecoming Parade of The Mercian Regiment in June 2012. The Covenant ensures members of the armed forces community do not face unnecessary hardship or discrimination in accessing work, housing or education.
The Royal British Legion also has a ‘Pop In’ advice and information center on St Peter’s Street, which provides practical help to veterans, as well as information about the work of the Legion to the public.
These services are a lifeline for many. But the inspirational story of how the poppy itself became a symbol of remembrance can also teach us a lot about the challenges many veterans face when they leave the armed forces, particularly in relation to finding meaningful work.
After the First World War, the poppy became a popular symbol of remembrance, inspired by John McCrae’s famous poem, In Flanders Fields. In 1922, Major George Howson MC opened a poppy factory in Richmond giving wounded soldiers, sailors and airmen returning from the war a chance to earn a living. Within ten years, Howson was employing 350 disabled veterans to make the poppies.
The simple design of a paper poppy hides a far greater significance. The flower, leaf, stem and button are easily assembled by an able-bodied person, but try to do it with one hand behind your back or with your eyes closed and it becomes far more difficult. These are the kind of challenges that some disabled veterans face every day of their life.
These days, the Poppy Factory has branched out into helping disabled veterans find rewarding employment opportunities across the country. Nevertheless, last year a team of disabled veterans and their families still hand-made 11.4 million poppies for the Royal British Legion.
So when we wear a poppy each year, it not only signifies the sacrifices that have been made in the past, but also the continued challenges too many veterans face today.
It is our moral responsibility to help these individuals. As a local authority, we will do all we can to support the armed forces community.