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Greenhithe and Swanscombe Royal British Legion hatches national poppy plan
A PLAN to carpet the country in poppies to remember the First World War dead was hatched over a pint in Greenhithe.
With its slogan 'Plant your town red' the Real Poppy Campaign is the brainchild of Graham Mentor-Morris, 57, a member of the Greenhithe and Swanscombe Royal British Legion.
From its headquarters in London Road, this tiny seed of an idea has blossomed into a national campaign after Prime Minister David Cameron gave it his backing.
The branch is selling poppy seeds for planting across Britain to mark 2014's centenary of the start of the First World War with plans for schools, cadet forces and youth organisations to get them free.
Mr Mentor-Morris, an ex-Royal Artillaryman who served in the Falklands and Northern Ireland, says a trip to the Flanders battlefields in Ypres first sparked the idea.
He told News Shopper: "We were just sitting around here having a drink when somebody turned round and said 'bearing in mind 2014 is the 100th anniversary, let's have a party'.
"I was sat thinking about it and I figured a more poignant commemorative idea would be to plant poppies; 100 years on, a poppy would be significant."
"You can't avoid it and everybody's going to see it."
The Mounts Road resident added: "Ypres is an emotional place to go. If you are ex-services it is on the must do list for everyone.
"On the way back you see fields of poppies all over the place so you can call that the catalyst if you like."
National service veteran Terry Tucker, 74, of Bean Road, added: "There are lots of poppies around here because of the chalky soil and that soil stretches from here right into Belgium and France.
"I think it's a fantastic idea; the most innovative idea ever for the popular appeal. I think it's wonderful."
Greenhithe RBL vice chairman Steve Brooks, 49, says the idea's beauty is its simplicity. The ex-paratrooper said: "This is something that even a child can do which is opening a packet of seeds and just spreading them. It's so easy."
Prime Minister David Cameron namechecked the scheme in a speech at the Imperial War Museum on October 11 where he pledged £50m to commemorate the First World War centenary.
He said: "Whether it is a series of friendly football matches to mark the famous 1914 Christmas day truce, or the campaign led by the Greenhithe branch of the Royal British Legion to sow the Western Front’s iconic poppies here in the UK, I think we should get out there and make this centenary a truly national moment".
The plans have also been endorsed in a letter from HRH The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.
Dartford MP Gareth Johnson added: "This is a fantastic idea and something that I am delighted the Prime Minister has personally highlighted in his speech.
"This promises to be a very moving tribute to the bravery and sacrifice our national troops made for us nearly 100 years ago and I hope local communities will give their full support to bring this vision to life."
Caption: The carpet of poppies dreamed up by the Greenhithe and Swanscombe Royal British Legion (image courtesy of JH Janssen).
Greenhithe RBL is encouraging people to buy their seeds NOW so they can be sewn, cast and planted next year or spring 2014 to ensure they flower in time for the anniversary in August that year.
You can throw a handful of seeds onto roundabouts, roadsides, verges, pathways or wherever they will grow. No gardening is required.
To buy your poppies and learn more about the campaign, visit realpoppy.co.uk
Their use as a symbol of remembrance was inspired by the poem 'In Flanders Fields' by Canadian John McCrae, with its opening lines referring to the thousands of poppies that were the first flowers to grow in the churned-up earth of soldiers' graves.