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Nationwide poppy campaign to mark Remembrance Day centenary started with Greenhithe pint

PUBLISHED: 11:37 05 November 2013 | UPDATED: 11:37 05 November 2013

Phil Berry, Harry Wilmot, Reg Furzer, Graham Mentor-Morrisand Steve Ward.

Phil Berry, Harry Wilmot, Reg Furzer, Graham Mentor-Morrisand Steve Ward.

Archant

Around 16 million people lost their lives during the four years of the Great War, with almost one million of those British troops.

The poppy campaign was picked up nationally and is now supported by B&Q.The poppy campaign was picked up nationally and is now supported by B&Q.

Next July will mark 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War and, to mark this anniversary, two men stumbled upon a poignant idea that would capture the nation’s interest.

Amazingly, it all happened over a pint at the Royal British Legion Greenhithe and Swanscombe Social Club in London Road.

“It’s a very simple idea,” says builder Graham Mentor-Morris, who founded The Real Poppy Campaign along with friend Phil Berry.

The idea was originally to plant poppy seeds in and around Dartford. The council soon ordered a million seeds to populate, among other places, Central Park – and it was later joined by Gravesham in the scheme.

The idea was forumulated by Graham Mentor-Morris over a cheeky pint.The idea was forumulated by Graham Mentor-Morris over a cheeky pint.

Enquiries from across the country began to roll in and the campaign garnered support from Prime Minister David Cameron and Prince Charles.

However, it was facing an uncertain future as a £92,000 application to the Heritage Lottery Fund was rejected due to a high level of demand.

Days later, on Friday, it was announced the campaign would become a national initiative by the Royal British Legion – changing its name to the Centenary Poppy Campaign. Seeds will now be distributed to every UK school and will also be on sale at B&Q stores nationwide.

Graham, 57, has now seen his simple idea spread and is glad people have taken notice.

He said: “We’re really pleased with how it’s taken off. It started in a very small way but people have taken it to heart. We’re now at a stage where our small branch just can’t cope with it all.”

He says his main hope for the campaign is that it will educate children who he feels aren’t aware of the huge sacrifices that were made.

He added: “Millions died 100 years ago next year, and because of the iconic images most people recognise the poppy as a symbol of remembrance.

“But a lot of young kids don’t know what the poppy is about, so we just want to provoke the question from youngsters – why do people wear them?”

Dartford MP Gareth Johnson last week hosted a parliamentary debate to highlight the campaign that the Prince described as “poignant and evocative”.

Addressing rows of fellow politicians, Mr Johnson said: “Like many families, my family also felt the brunt of the hostilities. My great grandfather, Robert Barr, as a middle-aged man, answered the call of duty, left his family, joined the East Kent Regiment, went in to battle and never returned.

“Witnessing the pain in the face of my grandmother when talking about him is a memory that will stay with me forever.

“It is right therefore that we mark the centenary so that the complete failure of politics that took place then is never repeated. The events will be very much a commemoration and not a celebration.”

The RBL club, where the seeds were sown for the poppy campaign, is still open to new members – despite a boom in applicants after it was mentioned by Mr Cameron.

Anyone wishing to join should visit rblgreenhithe.co.uk. To find out more about the Centenary Poppy Campaign, visit realpoppy.co.uk.

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