Sunday, 24 October 2021

Life membership of legion for Poppy Appeal stalwart

A POPPY Appeal organiser has been awarded one of the highest honours by the Royal British Legion.

A POPPY Appeal organiser has been awarded one of the highest honours by the Royal British Legion.

Pauline Palmer, of Peppard Road, Caversham, was admitted as a life member of the legion during a surprise presentation.

Mrs Palmer, who joined the Caversham branch in 1979, was tearful as she was presented with a certificate and badge by county chairman David Drew.

“I am absolutely gobsmacked,” said the 70-year-old. “This is a fantastic honour and I never thought in a thousand years it would be something I would achieve.”

She had been told that the meeting was to celebrate raising more than £45,000 for the Poppy Appeal this year — and was even asked to do the catering so that she wouldn’t become suspicious.

Mrs Palmer, a retired accountant, has been treasurer of the branch since 1991.

She became appeal organiser four years later and has produced an increase in funds raised every year since she took over the role. She decided to join the branch in order to “give something back to society”. Her grandfather, Arthur, and father, Frederick, served in the First and Second World Wars respectively.

Mrs Palmer said: “I have always liked people and I thought this would be the best outlet to put my energy into. I have lived in Caversham for so long that, love me or hate me, people know who I am. I just respond to people and people seem to respond to me. I love talking with the public.”

Her first task on joining the branch was to increase membership, which she encouraged by asking local firms to sponsor lunches for prospective members. The number of members has grown from 20 when she first joined to about 240.

She organises three events a month for members as well as helping to organise the annual remembrance day parades and services. Her other achievements include raising the money to pay for the names of 200 men who fell in the Second World War to be added to Caversham war memorial in time for the 60th anniversary of the end of the war in 2005.

Mrs Palmer, who served as a borough councillor for 14 years, believes her success lies in her ability to have fun while fund-raising.

She said: “I know when to be serious but I have fun raising money because people are going to get bored otherwise. I organised a wet T-shirt competition when I started.”

She said her “invisible army” of collectors and the people who donate to the appeal deserved the real praise.

“I am really chuffed for the people who go out on the streets and collect money — they are a lovely team,” she said. “One of our collectors is 94 and she raised £2,000 last year.

“People are really generous and it is sometimes surprising when the youngsters get really involved.”

She believe the legion is needed now more than ever.

“Although medical advances have moved on so much, if someone suffers a bad injury their life has changed forever,” she said. “They will need physical and emotional support for both themselves and their family.”

Ron Jewitt, Caversham branch president, who nominated Mrs Palmer for the role, described her as a “stalwart”.

“She really is a thoroughly good egg,” he said. “You can be a member forever and never be awarded but if anybody deserves something, she does.”

In his submission to the legion, Mr Jewitt wrote: “Her engaging personality plus hard work means she has done as much as anyone, and more, in helping our veterens and dependants — she is an asset to the legion and we are proud to call her a member.”

Gp Cap Drew said: “She is just amazing because she keeps pushing people, pushing the appeal. The percentage increase that she has made in the years she has been in post is incredible.”

* Life membership is the second highest honour awarded by the Royal British Legion. Only about 20 people in the county have earned the accolade.

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