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What it's like to work for the Poppy Appeal: It’s tough, but rewarding too

We owe the First World War and Second World War generations, those that came home and those that didn’t, a debt that can never be repaid.”

Annmarie Jones and Tony Matthews at the National Memorial Arboretum
Annmarie Jones and Tony Matthews at the National Memorial Arboretum

Since 2015 Royal British Legion fundraiser Annmarie Jones has been co-ordinating the Poppy Appeal in North Staffordshire because it’s a cause that’s very close to her heart.

The 53-year-old served in the Royal Air Force for 18 years, retiring as a squadron leader in 2002.

But this is not the only reason why the mother of two is so passionate about working for the armed forces charity.

Her late father James Albert Clifford served as a private with the Ox and Bucks Light Infantry during the Second World War.

“He was called up in June 1944, he was 18 at the time and went out to France. In October 1944 he was part of a group that went into Belguim and Holland before crossing into Germany at the Reichswald.

“In February 1945, he got shrapnel in his foot. He was flown back to the UK and spend two and a half years in hospital.

“He never really spoke about it until he was near the end of his life. He told me a young man he served with was shot by a sniper while he was stood next to him.

“He told me that he never forgot him or the other people he served with and every day he would think about them.

“I was in my 40s by this time and he had never told me this before. He died in October 2011 from leukaemia,” Annmarie explains.

Her grandfather William Victor Belsey had served in the First World War with the Kent Regiment

“I don’t know a lot about him. I know he was discharged in 1917 after being gassed but I don’t know what happened.

“He died in 1955 well before I was born so I never met him. I know it was a tough experience for him and he he never had good health afterwards,” says Annmarie, who is married to Mark and mother to Hannah, aged 22, and Harry, 18.

“They were both so young when they went off to war, I had never really thought about it before until my own son was getting close to 18.

“We owe people like my dad and my grandad so much, it’s because of them that we have the freedoms we enjoy today,” she adds.

Thanks – Annmarie and Tony

Annmarie, who grew up in Norwich, was only 19 herself when she completed her officer training at RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire.

“From a young age I had wanted to be in the air force. I left school at 18 and went to work at NatWest before going to RAF Cranwell.

“I was commissioned after passing my training in May 1985. I had the most fantastic time, I always say it was a fantastic place to grow up because you are surrounded by all of those traditions and standards,” explains Annmarie.

She was an administrative officer who worked recruit training and budgets at sites across the UK from Wrexham to Aberdeen.

Annmarie retired from the RAF in 2002 because by then she had two young children and it felt the right time for her to leave.

A spell working as a business manager for the British Association for Local History followed and then in 2015 she found out about the community fundraiser position at the Royal British Legion.

“For my 50th birthday I decided I was going to do a cycle ride from London to Paris and through my fundraising I found out about this job and realised it was what I wanted to do,” says Annmarie, who this year completed a fundraising ride from London to Ypres for the charity.

“It was really good fun cycling with like-minded people who all had their own story for why they were support the Legion.

Since Annmarie took over the reins of the Poppy Appeal in north Staffordshire, which includes Stafford and the National Memorial Arboretum, the amount raised has increased from £504,000 in 2015 to £620,000 last year.

She co-ordinates and supports 50 appeal organisers who have approximately 800 volunteers working tirelessly organising fundraising events and selling poppies every November in the period of remembrance.

As part of her role she also liaises with businesses in the area which has included securing the support of Staffordshire-JCB who launched this year’s appeal.

The firm also created a Lest We Forget mini-digger, which has a smattering of red poppies across the paint work which was sold at auction in aid of the charity.

All of the money raised from the Poppy Appeal goes towards the Royal British Legion’s work providing lifelong support to members of the Royal Navy, British Army, Royal Air Force, veterans and their families.

“I really love my job – it can be tough at times however, it’s incredibly rewarding and I have a great bunch of volunteers who do all they can to raise vital funds for our beneficiaries.

“The Royal British Legion is a much loved and highly respected charity. It was set up in 1921 so veterans and their families could get the help they needed and the Legion’s work is as relevant today as it was in 1921,” says Annmarie.

She also praised the generosity of people who donate to the appeal. “No one ever walks past a collector without giving. Often they will stop and speak to use and share their story whether it’s their mum, dad or brother or were or still are in the armed forces.

“It’s lovely hearing their stories but sometimes it can be quite sad too. I had a lady tell me about her grandson who was ex-army and took his own life,” says Annmarie

Giving back – the charity is respected

“She said ‘I wish he had got the help he needed but he never asked for it’. It’s important that people know we are here to help them.

“It’s very important to me as a fundraiser that we do our best to ensure that the next generation get the help they need, whatever that might be, and quickly.”

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