03 November 2023

Veteran ‘humbled’ as largest field of remembrance opened by Royal British Legion

03 November 2023

Those who lost their lives while serving in the armed forces were honoured on Friday as the Royal British Legion (RBL) officially opened its largest field of remembrance.

Dozens of veterans and their family members gathered at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire as the field, one of six around the UK, was launched, featuring more than 10,000 individual tributes to those who lost their lives in service of the nation.

Philippa Rawlinson, director of remembrance at the RBL and director of the National Memorial Arboretum, said the tributes, which have been arranged in the shape of a giant poppy, were a way to unite people in honouring those who have lost their lives.

She said: “The tributes have been planted in the shape of a large poppy, which really enforces the symbolism of the poppy and remembrance for all who have given their lives for our country in the armed forces, and hoping, together, for a peaceful future.”

The opening featured a short service, a two-minute silence, performances by the Black Voice choir and a Chinook and Apache helicopter flypast.

John Parkes, a veteran from Rugeley in Staffordshire who credits the RBL with saving his life, said he was “humbled” to see crowds of people turn out to mark the opening of the field of remembrance.

Mr Parkes, who served in the Staffordshire Regiment until 1994, fell on hard times in 2014 and developed type 2 diabetes-related leg problems.

His leg got worse and worse and he could not see a doctor when Covid hit, so he eventually had the limb amputated and was unable to work.

He told the PA news agency that in 2020, he was relying on £96 of statutory sick pay a week to provide for his family and told how he and his partner would go without food so his 10-year-old step-daughter could eat.

He said: “I was so depressed and so anxious, I was at the point of doing something final.

“The poison in my leg was killing me, we had bailiffs banging the door, we had no money.

“I had bills to pay, credit card bills, I couldn’t afford any of it. We were buying food for my stepdaughter and we were doing without so she could eat, and have clothes and shoes for school.

“A friend asked if I was alright and if I needed help, but being an ex-Squaddie, I said no.

“A few days later a lady called Caroline from the Midlands branch of the RBL rang me.

“We had nothing, but Caroline straight away started putting it right.

“She got us shopping vouchers straight away, and she did that weekly for the first month so we could start eating properly.

“They helped arrange help for us to moved into a bungalow from a rented three-bedroom house where I couldn’t use the bathroom.

“She sorted my benefits and my pension. That lady didn’t know who I was, but she sorted it all out for us.

“That is what this kind of organisation does for people like me and others. We are just eternally grateful for it.

“There are no words we can use to express our thanks to the RBL. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here now.”

Mark Smith, who served nearly 14 years with the Army including with the Royal Artillery, became a fundraiser for the charity after they helped him when he was unable to work due to surgery.

He said: “My wife was at university doing a nursing degree and then my washing machine went pop and we still had three kids at home.

“I swallowed my pride and went to the British Legion.

“I swore then I would pay it back, so I started volunteering five years later when I was able to.

“It is like a family. The reason we are all here is to help people who are struggling in life as a result of their service and also to remember those who have gone before.”

Mr Smith also lost his father, who was also in the military, on Armistice Day 2021.

He said: “I knew that that would be the day he would choose to go.

“He told me not to leave the poppy appeal and go up to Middlesborough to watch him die, because he believed in it, so it is massively important to me.

“It shows the level of support we have among the military community and the general public.”

The field of remembrance will be open until November 27.

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