Lockdown hits Britain's Remembrance Day and poppy sales

By: AFP      Published: 06:16 PM, 6 Nov, 2020
Lockdown hits Britain's Remembrance Day and poppy sales

Remembrance Sunday events to honour Britain's war dead have been drastically pared back this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, while anti-virus measures have also hit fundraising for military veterans.

The Royal British Legion, which runs the annual Poppy Appeal, has warned it risks a shortfall in donations of millions during the two-week drive, its main source of revenue.

England went into fresh lockdown measures on Thursday to cut spiralling infection rates, shutting pubs, bars, restaurants and non-essential shops, and restricting social mixing.

A sombre wreath-laying ceremony is to go ahead at the Cenotaph war memorial in central London on Sunday, but there will be no veterans marching or crowds watching.

The annual Festival of Remembrance concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London was recorded without an audience, in advance of broadcast on Saturday. 

The concert features heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, and Captain Sir Tom Moore, the 100-year-old World War II veteran who raised nearly £33 million ($43 million) for health charities during the first lockdown.

The government said it wanted to keep crowds "to a minimum" at regional events and told organisers to "discourage the public from attending".

Church services have either been cancelled or will be broadcast online. 

Battles old and new

Remembrance events are held on the second Sunday in November, close to November 11, when the guns fell silent in World War I.

Poppies have been Britain's symbol of remembrance since the 1914-1918 war, when the red flowers grew on the otherwise barren battlefields of northern France and Belgium.

The British Legion is encouraging people to display poppies in windows or stand on doorsteps for a two-minute silence on Sunday. 

Asked whether veterans could face arrests or fines for attending a memorial service, Prime Minister Boris Johnson's spokesman acknowledged that the date was of "national significance" but said lockdown "rules are clear".

The ban on public services was criticised by former prime minister Theresa May. 

"Surely those men and women who gave down their lives for our freedom deserve better than this?" she said.

Virus fears and restrictions mean many dedicated fundraisers for the British Legion have been unable to go out with collecting tins as usual. 

The charity's director-general Charles Byrne said "the loss of that activity could run into millions of pounds in fundraising", urging people to donate online, where the public can also buy Covid-19 face masks featuring a poppy design.

Remember the living

To raise attention, former England footballer David Beckham on Tuesday visited the Chelsea Pensioners, the red-coated army veterans living in a London retirement home. 

On Instagram, he urged followers to "get online" to donate for poppies.

Some supporters are seeking to raise money while socially distancing.

A group of veterans will take turns to hold a 24-hour vigil beside a statue of a World War I soldier in Seaham in northeast England, organiser David McKenna told AFP.

"The thing we're really trying to highlight is that we're going into lockdown and the British Legion poppy appeal is going to really suffer," said the 54-year-old town councillor, who served in the army for 24 years.

Normally cadets sell poppies round the town, he said, and they are also available at pubs and restaurants.

"We're losing all of them, which is a massive thing," said McKenna, who has set up an online donation page for the vigil called "Stag On", an army term for sentry duty.

"We also need to remember the living," he stressed.

The town of Banbury in southern England has cancelled its traditional procession and service.

Instead it is projecting a light show onto buildings, featuring images of local soldiers set to music by Edward Elgar and the poem "In Flanders Fields".

"This year we can't parade through the streets," a council spokesman said. "This film is our way of remembering."

Local fundraiser Chris Smithson lamented the fall in takings as volunteers in the town usually collect around £60,000 in two weeks for the British Legion -- the highest figure in the county.

This year, "I'm hoping maybe £10,000", said the 54-year-old, who was in the army for 25 years. "That's a big ask, I think."

Nevertheless, Smithson said he backed the government measures.

"We decided to cancel a church service because the ones who turn out would be those most at risk."