French British Legion branch vows to keep Remembrance alive
A branch of the Royal British Legion in France is determined to make 2021 Remembrance events the most special yet as it celebrates its 75th anniversary
Local children laying poppy crosses at Talence communal cemetery, Bordeaux Pic: Duncan Andrews
Despite challenges from Brexit and the pandemic, Bordeaux and South West France branch is hopeful that its biggest event of the year, the Poppy Appeal, will still be a fundraising success.
“It is very important to us to continue raising money,” says branch chairman Duncan Andrews.
“This year is difficult because many poppy collectors have either gone back to the UK or are elderly and feel vulnerable out and about, so the best way is to ask for them by post.
“We hope to have new members and new poppy collectors for next year.
“Brexit means the RBL poppy shop in the UK is no longer sending orders of gift merchandise to France because the customs duty is too high to make it worthwhile.
“I can assure everyone that in France this year there are plenty of poppies, wooden crosses and wreaths in stock. By next year, the Legion is hoping to persuade authorities that poppies should be exempt because they are for charitable purchases.”
Mr Andrews says one of the roles of the branch is to help anyone in the region who needs it.
“We have a welfare officer and we will give assistance to anyone with a financial, mental or physical problem. If we cannot help directly, we will find someone who can.
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“We did not ask whether they were members or not because I feel it is selfish not to share any useful information we might have with others. Our doors are always open.
“Every year, there are two or three cases where financial help is needed. This year, there were two cases which needed substantial help and we shared the care with the local SSAFA armed forces charity branch, of which I am also a member. We also work closely with the Royal Air Forces Association local branch.”
Every year, members are invited to attend memorial services, and Mr Andrews says the branch prides itself on joining French commemorations too. “We remember the Cockleshell Heroes, the 12 Marines who canoed down the Gironde to blow up enemy ships in Bordeaux in 1942. “Only two survived. We also remember the French civilians who risked their lives to give them shelter.
“In November, one member visits all the war graves in churches along the Charente- Maritime and Gironde coast, which are mainly of the victims of the Lancastria liner, sunk by a German bomber while evacuating possibly as many as 5,000 troops and civilians from St Nazaire in June 1940. It is important to keep the Remembrance alive.”
On November 14, the branch will hold a Remembrance Sunday service at 11am at the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery at Talence, Bordeaux. Everyone is welcome. Prospective new members can email email@example.com or visit facebook.com.