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Abuse hurled at Royal British Legion poppy sellers in Chartham

By Marijke Hall

As the country prepares to commemorate 100 years since the end of the Great War, military veterans selling poppies in Canterbury say they have been subjected to unprecedented abuse.

Royal British Legion volunteers tell of alarming accounts of being sworn at and having doors slammed angrily in their faces, just days before the centenary of the signing of the Armistice.

Charlie Thomson, who served with the RAF, including overseas detachments in Afghanistan and Bahrain, says this is his third year selling poppies in Chartham but the first time he has been met with such a response.

Chartham poppy sellers, from left, Steve Pryce, Charlie Thomson and Stuart Mears have had doors closed on them while collecting. Picture: Paul Amos
Chartham poppy sellers, from left, Steve Pryce, Charlie Thomson and Stuart Mears have had doors closed on them while collecting. Picture: Paul Amos

"I’ve had people say 'no' before or telling me they haven’t got any change, which is a nice way of saying they don’t want one - that’s fine," he said.

"But it’s the first time I’ve ever been scoffed at and had the door slammed in my face. When I spoke to my colleague, he had been sworn at and told to go away and heard them mutter about the white poppy before the door was slammed.

"On the whole, everyone has been friendly and very supportive in Chartham, but we were a bit taken a back at the attitude of these others.

"I don't know if it's a generational change but I just wasn't expecting it and didn't deserve it."

Canterbury Royal British Legion member Andrew Heatlie, who organised the poppy cascade down the Westgate Towers, fears some people are now all too easily offended.

Andrew Heatlie organised the Royal British Legion poppy cascade down the Westgate Towers
Andrew Heatlie organised the Royal British Legion poppy cascade down the Westgate Towers

"If someone doesn't want to donate that's their choice," he said. "If they don't agree, they can say 'no thank you', but there is no need to get abusive.

"I have come up against people who say 'I don't agree with war', to which I reply 'no soldier does', which usually ends the discussion.

"But I get the impression that some people would rather not be reminded of the past - their attitude is 'that was long ago and doesn't affect me'.

"And it seems to me that it is the way of the world these days for people to get easily offended by anything."

Father-of-one Mr Thomson, who served in the RAF for 12 years, says he and his two colleagues have lost friends through conflicts so the appeal is particularly poignant.

"We all want world peace," he said.

"Nobody I know in the military wanted war. It is human nature that where there is a big change there will always be conflict due to politics, religion, money and power.

"Servicemen and servicewomen don’t make war – we don’t create war. We fight for those who can’t fight for themselves.

"In Bosnia there was a lot of ethnic cleansing and mass genocide. We went there under the Nato banner to stop this – to stop mass genocide. Soldiers die during these conflicts.

"In Afghanistan, when the Taliban imposed their Sharia rule, which prevented female children from going to school among other things, a lot of servicemen and servicewomen died so those people affected could have freedom.

"Servicemen and servicewomen don’t make war – we don’t create war. We fight for those who can’t fight for themselves..." Charlie Thomson

"The Poppy Appeal helps the widows, the children who have lost a mother, a father – that’s what it’s for.

"It’s not just about the First World War. It’s bringing home a message that the meaning behind the poppy is still relevant today."

Mr Thomson, 45, of Shalmsford Street in Chartham, says most people are still responsive to their fundraising efforts, despite the rise of the white poppy appeal, which promotes peace and challenges attempts to glamorise or celebrate war.

"Society has changed," he said.

"You can’t cast aspersions on a whole generation but the younger generation are a bit disgruntled and there’s a tendency to move towards anti-establishment and a left-of-centre view of the world.

"I had a chat with someone who is reasonably left wing and she is still of the mindset that the poppy is the glorification of war. It’s not about that, it’s far from it."

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