Published: 06:00, 15 May 2021
The largest Armed Forces charity in the UK are today marking their centenary of supporting ex-service people and their families.
The Royal British Legion (RBL) was officially launched on May 15, 1921, formed out of four organisations all with the same common goal.
Since then the charity has worked with scores of Kent veterans to get their lives on track after the often-tough experience of transitioning to civilian life.
Nicholas Bennion, from Gillingham, was convinced by his wife to seek out the support of RBL after struggling to get used to a life outside of the Armed Forces.
He served for seven years, completing two tours of Iraq and two in Kosovo in the early to mid 2000s.
Nicholas said: "Sometimes as a man you have that feeling where if you ask for help it’s a sign of weakness, but we are all human beings and we all need help sometimes.
"We may not think of it at that moment in time but we all need help and we need to help ourselves by accepting that we are just human beings."
Veterans often find difficulties in transitioning due to the regimented culture of the Armed Forces - a stark contrast to the civilian experience of living.
Nicholas said: "In 2007 when I came out, the process was challenging. It was tough and unexpected because I knew nothing about civilian life and had limited time to prepare - I was accustomed to the way things are done, and how we are looked after in the Army.
"Everything is done in a structure and when you leave the structure it is very challenging. Sometimes as individuals we collapse and we stress out and get depressed because we are not as strong as we are in that structure.
"It was pretty challenging because I knew nothing about the outside world. But then again, we get trained to face challenges and you have to go through it."
The RBL helped get Nicholas back on his feet in 2010 with rent, a deposit for their flat, furniture and household items for him and his family.
"It was pretty challenging because I knew nothing about the outside world..."
They also provided support and advice in claiming benefits and organising a payment plan for debts that had stacked up.
Nicholas added: "If you need help, just reach out and they will be there for you. They will hear your call and they will be there for you.
"Don’t let pride hold you back. The organisation has always been there for you, sometimes we might just need a little push to ask for the help if we need it."
Where poppies are made
The charity's first Poppy Day Appeal in 1921 raised £106,000, the equivalent of £5.25 million in 2021.
Over the years the annual appeal has become one of the most recognisable in the country, with everyone from footballers to broadcasters donning a poppy in the lead up to Remembrance Sunday.
And despite the original poppy factory being based in Richmond - which still operates today - Kent plays a huge part in raising the money needed to provide assistance to veterans in need.
The bulk of the poppies are made in Aylesford by a dedicated team of volunteers, creating millions of poppies per year.
The depot is also responsible for distributing poppies across the UK and the rest of the world.
The Queen opened the factory on December 5, 1975.
Celebrating 100 years
Due to Covid-19 and social distancing measures, the marking of the centenary has been slimmed down from what it would have been.
At 9am, there will be a live streamed event at the Cenotaph war memorial in London, which will recreate the moment from 100 years ago when veterans from four organisations, brought together by Earl Haig and Sir Frederick Lister, laid wreaths as a symbol of unity and formed the British Legion.
Representatives from the Navy, Army, RAF and Merchant Navy along with a military widow will lay wreaths to mark the centenary.
RBL Branches around the world will also get involved by laying wreaths at their local war memorials.
To watch the live stream on the RBL Facebook page, click here.
The Prince of Wales has also recorded a speech dedicated to the 100 years of work done by the charity.
The Prince of Wales marks the Royal British Legion's 100th anniversary
In the special message the Prince of Wales said: "There have been times when the Armed Forces community has not been given the fair treatment it deserves. However, on every occasion the RBL is there, by its side, championing its cause.
"There are few organisations which hold a place at the heart of society in the way the Royal British Legion does. For one hundred years the Royal British Legion has been a constant, through the annual Poppy Appeal, leading the nation in remembrance, and providing a life-long commitment to every veteran and their families.
"Therefore I wanted, above all, to offer my sincere and heartfelt gratitude to all those who have helped build this wonderful organisation we know today, and to all those who will be part of its future.
The Emirates FA Cup final at Wembley between Chelsea and Leicester will also be using a special RBL commemorative coin, which will be used in the coin toss before the 5:15pm kick off.