The Chairman of Shaftesbury’s Royal British Legion Branch says he is grateful to townspeople for their strong support of the charity.
Robin Miller has revealed the extent of locals’ generosity toward the Poppy Appeal. And Shaftesbury residents give considerably more than the average UK donation. “Shaftesbury and district collects four times the national average for donations for the Poppy Appeal,” said Robin. “We do very well here thanks to the grateful and supportive public in the town.”
Last year the local appeal brought in an admirable £23,836. For every £1 raised by the Legion, 89p is spent on beneficiaries and only 1p goes on administration.
Sunday marks 100 years since the First World War ended but Robin is keen to remind North Dorset residents that the Royal British Legion aims to help all former military personnel who require assistance. Poppy Appeal collections will continue until Saturday afternoon and Robin says that Shaftesbury’s fundraising operation is sizeable. “We have more than 200 poppy boxes out and about,” Robin added.
Businesses have done their best to commemorate the centenary of the cessation of the conflict. A wide variety of town centre stores, from an optician to the pet shop, an estate agent to the teddy bear store and the chiropractor have created appropriate window displays featuring poppies. Robin says his team is humbled by everyone’s efforts. “All of the volunteers are very much heartened by all of the support we are given by businesses locally. It’s very uplifting,” Robin said.
Over the past months, Royal British Legion volunteers have also spent a considerable amount of time preparing centenary displays, including a giant poppy at the Royal Chase roundabout. It is made up of dozens of red-painted pebbles.
“That took four months to purchase the right sized pebbles and paint them all and then lovingly put on all of the names of the locally fallen. In the Shaftesbury district, during the First World War, we lost 82 men. Their names appear on the war memorial and the plaque in St Peter’s church.”
Visitors attending Saturday night’s Poacher’s Moon folk music performance, which reflects on the Great War, will notice the Royal British Legion volunteer’s work. “We do have a cascade of knitted poppies inside St Peter’s and that took 25 knitters approximately 2½ months,” said Robin. The poppies are attached to camouflage nets and are draped around the memorial plaque.
British Legion members have visited the cemetery, too. “In the Mampitts cemetery, we have placed more than 45 wooden crosses on the graves of all the soldiers who fell in all the wars. That includes a German’s grave, an Italian’s and the grave of a 19-year-old Russian who came here during the Second World War as a prisoner of war in Europe. They tried to save his life at Guy’s Marsh, when it was a hospital. They failed. He was buried at Mampitts and he gets a wooden cross. There are three graves in the Trinity Centre, which has now been deconsecrated. We put three wooden crosses on the military graves there,” Robin said.
Each year, Robin is contacted by the family members of former residents who served during the First World War. “You get people with great uncles and great grandfathers who died in the war. 888,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers died during the First World War. 700,000 were British and nearly 200,000 were Commonwealth soldiers, without whom we couldn’t have managed,” said Robin.
Remembrance Sunday events start at 10.30am, when groups will form in the Kings Arms car park. At precisely 10.48am, the parade will march off to the war memorial in plenty of time for the two-minute silence at 11 o’clock.
This year, Shaftesbury Carnival will lay a poppy wreath for the first time. “We have all the youth organisations, charitable organisations, Masons and Rotary,” added Robin. “We have the police and fire service giving their support. It is such a heartening experience to be on Park Walk and see nearly 300 people taking part in the ceremony.”
Robin is hoping that Shaftesbury Town Councillors will attend. “I’ve written specially to ask if they could please make a big effort to turn out. Of course some of them won’t be able to because they won’t be here, but it would be nice to see many town councillors there.”
At 11.05am, the parade will reform and march to St Peter’s Church for the Remembrance service. Anyone going directly to the church needs to be seated by 11.10am.
Robin says there are some additional events involving the Royal British Legion. This Friday, 9th November, there’s tea and a WW1-themed art display at Guy’s Marsh prison, between 2pm and 4pm. The works have been produced by inmates. Robin will be taking some of his members along.
Then on Sunday, 18th November, a new war memorial in the form of a sundial will be unveiled in East Stour at 11am. Robin is hoping that with the extensive media attention given to those who made the ultimate sacrifice during WW1, his charity will do well with fundraising, so they can continue to help living residents in and around Shaftesbury today. “We should, God willing, have a bumper year,” said Robin.