London Poppy Day

Before sunrise on 1st November, RAF Halton personnel travelled to London to be part of something huge. Around 2000 people from the RAF, Navy, Army as well as a host of veterans and volunteers all gathered to try to raise £1,000,000 in one day for the Royal British Legion (RBL).

The event was known as London Poppy Day (LPD) and after arriving at Covent Garden, our hub for the day, our personnel moved to their locations at mainline and tube stations ready to greet the morning commuters and alleviate them of donations.

The teams worked in partnership with station managers at each of the venues and interacted with the public, to distribute poppy merchandise and spread good feeling amongst the people of London. Such was the positive reaction of the public, that vast numbers wanted to be photographed with our people with all having great interactions across all locations.

Being amid the hustle and bustle of London gave the RAF personnel a real buzz which was needed in the fresh weather surrounding the capital. Each station was under the control of an RAF Section Commander who was equipped with their merchandise and a number of Barclays PDQ machines. Fund raising really has moved on! The Barclays volunteers helped our troops with using the machines and many stayed with the teams throughout the day offering great support.

The grand media launch included celebrities such as Ben Sheppard, Nell McAndrew and the Olympic Gold medallist Captain Heather Stanning amongst others. After a photo shoot around the Spitfire that adorned the Covent Garden Plaza for the day, the celebs boarded the LPD bus along with the Halton trio of Sqn Ldr Mike Cooke, FS Jim Callow and SAC Jo Haywood.

Covent Garden was also home to a Typhoon aircraft simulator and the Motivational Outreach Team with their interactive vehicle which flanked the performance stage, beneath the colonnade of St Paul’s Church. Opposite the stage, the RAF ensign flew high looking down on the stage where a full programme of activities was running. Flt Lt Paul Ellis was the Compere for the day, skilfully interweaving the acts and performers and ensuring with Flt Lt Claire Nixon, the energy behind the stage, that the ever changing timetable ran smoothly.

On stage the acts saw an ever growing crowd. The very popular Achtung Spitfire, a collection of RAF Officers played a range of music from old classics to modern hits. They played multiple sets throughout the day to the delight of the masses and were a marked contrast with the historian, Dr Howard Tuck, who did a stage presentation with two WW ll veterans, Mr Andy Wiseman and Mr Charles Clarke. They enlightened the crowd with their stories of the true events of the war. Dr Tuck also brought the event back to the concept of remembrance and reinforced why raising money was so important. The impacting of the Queens Colour Squadron (QCS) as they took to the plaza to perform their continuity drill movements was enormous. The crowds were overwhelmed by their display and the collectors tins soon started to see the effect.

In the crowd an elderly blind man was seen to place his hand on the RAF cap badge of one of our personnel. He examined all the detail very slowly, tracing the outline with his hand before examining the features of the RAF person and the rest of their uniform. It was a touching sight that typified the meaning of a day in which remembrance is championed.

The RAF Halton Area Voluntary Band hit the right note with their anthemic military sounds and had rushed across town from a previous gig at St Pancras. Corporal Steve Johnson who works for the Chief of the Air Staff played an enthralling acoustic set after busking around a number of mainline stations. His stage show was timed just right for a visit by CAS, who took time to meet with so many of the people that made the day work. The tireless Achtung Spitfire were really singing for their supper with more slots on stage and filled in until the Portsmouth Military Wives Choir delighted the crowd with songs from their new album. The more subtle sound of the choir was followed by the delightful and talented Laura Wright, an amazing Soprano who led into the evening. The RAF Central Band played a number of short sessions of classic RAF tunes which created an electric atmosphere in the plaza. The public were dancing, laughing and joining in the spirit of the event. The mood lifted again when the Pipes and Drums formed up and started to play to set the scene for the more formal Sunset Ceremony completed by the RAF Central Band along with the QCS who performed ceremonial drill for the event. The QCS drilled to the band belting out the Great Escape and the Land of Hope and Glory, before the ensign was brought down. To witness the sunset ceremony was very moving for everyone and touched quite a few hearts along with the reading made by actor Laurence Fox currently starring in Our Boys.

Buckets filled and were replaced as the day progressed; poppy supplies were exhausted and likewise were refreshed. The ongoing total was not known but was steadily creeping up. It was aided by the Typhoon simulator, which was a great success and was constantly busy. It was the effect of the people with the buckets that made all the difference. The public were enthralled by the number of military uniforms walking amongst them and with this feast of entertainment, the donations were large.

In the headquarters, there was a constant stream of smiley military faces with very cold hands and feet, bringing in money by the bucketful. The atmosphere remained exciting all day and never seemed to wane at all. The military personnel were in fantastic spirits and after the sunset ceremony the final collections started to come in from the collectors from RAF Benson, Coningsby, High Wycombe, Odiham, Northolt, 16 Air Assault Brigade and the University Air Squadrons. The troops either returned back to Halton or headed to an after party that was arranged to thank them for their considerable efforts.

After calculating the total for the day, all the hard work we gave managed to raise over £720, 000. That is a huge total and underlines the commitment and passion that our troops showed. As was the Station Commanders intention when retired Gp Capts Duncan Welham and John Warner floated the idea many months ago, all areas of the Station were represented and gave of their best. Particular thanks go to Section Commanders and behind the scenes staff that made the day the success it was, were it not for their substantial efforts, none of this would have happened. Next year we will hit the million mark.