Les Constantine (third left) carrying the Burma Star standard for the final time.Les Constantine (third left) carrying the Burma Star standard for the final time.
Les Constantine (third left) carrying the Burma Star standard for the final time.

PICTURES: Lincolnshire Poppy Appeal launch sees pride of veterans

A poignant farewell to a standard that has been been paraded in recognition of Burma Star veterans since the Second World War proved a fitting tribute by the Lincolnshire Royal British Legion at the launch of this year’s Poppy Appeal.

Flanked by standards from across the county, Les Constantine, former chairman of the Skegness branch of the RBL, stood in the shadow of the Avro Lancaster NX611 'Just Jane' for an emotional final salute to the Lincolnshire RBL president Mr Gary Headland

Mr Constantine, who has carried the standard for Skegness and Mablethorpe Burma Star veterans for 20 years, said it was had been an honour to have served in this way.

"Members of my family served in Burma and it is sad to see the standard go but, sadly, it is time because of lack of members,” he said. "There will never be another Burma but the Air Force, Navy and Army, like the Royal British Legion, will carry on.”

The process of the laying up of the Burma Star standard began in the nostalgic hangar at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre in East Kirkby, where the Poppy Appeal launch was held.

A special mention was given to 97-year-old Burma Star veteran Alfred Conway who had once again joined the crowd of volunteers and veterans for the launch.

"I feel highly honoured to be back and see the work continue for veterans,” said Mr Conway from Anderby Creek. “I haven’t been well this year but with like to thank the Skegness RBL members for their support.”

.After celebrating 100 years of the Royal British Legion at last year’s launch, the focus of the ceremony looked to the future and the importance of the continuation of the RBL’s work in supporting veterans and their families.

Twenty-nine standards from around the county were presented before Mr Headland, who launched the appeal in his capacity as deputy Lord Lieutenant of Lincolnshire following a procession around the hangar.

Mr Headland, who has been RBL president for two years, said it was humbling to attend the launch stand before the veterans who had served their country, their families and the volunteers who raised money for the RBL.

He said his own experience in the Air Force before retiring as a Wing Commander was a proud moment of his life and he gave heartfelt thanks to those currently serving in the armed forces and emergency services.

"It was an incredible honour to be invited to be president and serve this fabulous county,” he said.

He recollected a recent example of the RBL motto ‘Service before Self” when he was invited to do a fundraising sleep out in his capacity as chief executive of a group of colleges.

Having just a roll mat and sleeping bag on which to sleep, he said: “It was jolly cold but let’s not pretend this is what it is like to be homeless,

"Among my reflections during the night were, at the last count, six per cent of the homeless on the streets of Britain are veterans.

"In my mind I was raising money that night for veterans because everyone deserves a roof over their head.”

‘Service before Self’, was also evident as he looked around the hangar. Mr Headland said: “It’s alive and well – people going out on behalf of others and coming here today to congratulate and reflect – and to welcome our young men and women into a career in service.”

John Johnson, Lincolnshire County Chairman, also paid tribute to all those who gave their time to raise money for the RBL.

"Wearing a poppy is a symbol of remembrance and unites everyone to remember all those who gave the supreme sacrifice for their sovereign and country,” he said.

"The Poppy Appeal allows the legion to continue its work with our many beneficiaries – ex-servicemen and women and their families."

Tribute was paid to the three standard bearers from Lincolnshire who were invited to attend the funeral of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth 11.

Parade Marshall Alan Canon, from the Pinchbeck branch of the RBL, was one of them, along with County Standard Bearer Graham Hewitt and Gary Watson from Grantham.

"It was an honour to be invited and really not expected,” said Mr Canon. “Lincolnshire had three of the 72 standards at the cenotaph as the gun carriage carrying Her Majesty passed by.”

There was also mention for the county’s serving personnel, represented on the day by SAC Tony Dixon of RAF Coningsby, recently returned from the Falklands.

Special recognition was given to RBL Poppy Appeal collectors. The Gill Rymer Cup was presented was presented to Claire Law of the Wrangle and district branch, the Shepherd Poppy Trophy to Gill Hodgson of the Woodhall Spa branch, and the Stella Willing Rose Bowl to a poppy appeal organiser without a branch, Sean Ashton of Barton on Humber.

The future of the RBL was also acknowledged – including youth cadet units from Boston Sea Cadets and Coningsby Air Cadets who were present at the ceremony

A proud Tina Woods, County Youth Officer from Alford, said it was an honour to spread the word about the RBL to the youth of the county.

She said: “An important part of our work is spreading the word about our work to the youth of the county.

The Poppy Appeal will continue to Remembrance Day on Sunday, November 13. Poppies and collection boxes to make a donation are available at shops around the county.

"After all, they are our future.”

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