Petals dancing in the breeze after being released from the Just Jane Lancaster at the Lincolnshire Aviation Centre in East Kirkby.Petals dancing in the breeze after being released from the Just Jane Lancaster at the Lincolnshire Aviation Centre in East Kirkby.
Petals dancing in the breeze after being released from the Just Jane Lancaster at the Lincolnshire Aviation Centre in East Kirkby.

PICTURES: Roar of Lancaster marks launch of Lincolnshire Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal

Lancaster bomber engines roared as thousands of red petals danced in the breeze to signify the launch of the Lincolnshire Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal.

The spectacle at the end of a taxi run by the historic WW2 'Just Jane' aircraft at Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre never fails to attract amaze - and the crowd applauded as the poppies were released from the majestic aircraft's wings.

John Johnson, Lincolnshire RBL County Chairman, speaking earlier inside the hanger in the shadow of the Lancaster where the launch ceremony was held, spoke of how honoured members were to be in the presence of living history.

He told the gathering representing 56 branches from all over the county that this year was especially significant as it was the 100th anniversary of the Royal British Legion and the Poppy Appeal.

After a difficult year because of the pandemic, Mr Johnson said as the volunteers go out into the community once more, it was a year full of hope.

"It's absolutely brilliant to be back face to face and see so many wonderful people here today - faces I've known and new faces that I want to get to know," he said. "Once again what a wonderful privilege to be here with such a wonderful backdrop - the Just Jane Lancaster - and this is all down to our very good friends, the Panton family, who allow us to use their facilities.

"Where else would you come to to see a living part of Lincolnshire history?"

He said that the focus of the 2021 Poppy Appeal was the collectors - and especially the younger ones who were the Legion's future.

Putting the spotlight on the audience, he asked one volunteer why she did it and she replied: "Every year we say, 'we will remember them' and if we don't keep doing it, who will remember them?"

Two of the youngest Poppy Appeal collectors - Faris (12), and Zain (8) Belkhear, were in the audience with their aunt, Alyson Wilson, who is Poppy Appeal organiser for Healing and Limber.

Faris has been helping since he was four years old and, when asked why he did it, said: "Servicemen have given their time so we can have a better life. We can't take it for granted and it's essential to have a Poppy Appeal as a reminder."

Standards from around the county were presented before the Lord-Lieutenant for Lincolnshire, Mr Toby Dennis, in a procession around the hangar. It was also the final time for the National Service Royal Air Force Standard which was later laid to rest in the chapel.

Also on parade was representatives of the county's youth groups.

Officially launching the 2021 Poppy Appeal, Mr Dennis said: "On May 15 1921, 100 years ago, the Royal British Legion was formed by Field Marshal Earl Haig and Tom Lister - two great leaders of service men and women.

"The reason for the formation of the RBL is as important today as it was then.

"Services may have changed but basics are still the same, rehabilitation of servicemen, housing support, private health of all kinds and, especially these days, mental health. .

"The significance of the poppy is a symbol of reflection. War memorials are still being erected around the UK and around the world - notably in June the British Normandy Memorial was unveiled in France to honour D-Day and Normandy fallen.

"Lincolnshire supports the Armed Forces and most recently we visited Grantham to see Coldstream Guards Band Concert.

"The RBL carries forward for the next 100 years and we must support them as much as we can.

"It is to this extent we look forward to the support of all the collectors to raise as much money as possible for this wonderful organisation.

"Her Majesty said at the height of the pandemic we will meet again and here we are today.

"I now have the greatest pleasure of officially launching the 2021 Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal. Last year was a difficult year a as we all know but this year, in our 100th year, it's business as usual and we will be out there in our communities which we love."

Gemma Leaming, Community Fundraiser, emphasised the Poppy Appeal was not about beating previous years' fundraising totals. "It's a pleasure to be here and an honour to do this job and be out there supporting all of the volunteers who give us so much of their time every year - you do an outstanding job," she said. "There would be not a Poppy Appeal without you. You really are the heart of the RBL and we always welcome new volunteers."

In spite of the appeal not being about 'numbers', Andy Hill of the East Midlands Royal British Legion Riders, shared the branch's recent fundraising success, announcing they had recently collected £4,000 and raised £21,000 last year. "We are proud of what we do," he said.

Towards the close of the ceremony, which included the Last Post and Reveille, Mr Johnson thanked the Swineshead Silver Band for their contribution, pointing out the power of music as the rain had cleared and sun was shining for the taxi run of the Lancaster.

Pat Nicholson, Lincolnshire Poppy Appeal co-ordinator and member of Wainfleet Royal British Legion, said she was delighted and proud at what the county has achieved.

"There were some empty seats at the launch but that is understandable as we are still in the midst of a pandemic," she said.

"It has been said that the Poppy Appeal isn't about how much we raise, but every penny counts - however small - to make a difference to the lives of our veterans and their families."

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