This week saw the launch of the 2012 Poppy Appeal, which will continue until Remembrance Sunday on 11 November. Last year, I was very privileged to launch the appeal of my own branch of the Royal British Legion - the Hoyland and District Branch - in Hoyland town centre. This week I helped plant a 'virtual poppy' from Barnsley Central Library to promote the appeal throughout the Borough. This is the time of year when we all come together as a nation to express our unequivocal support for the amazing work of the Royal British Legion.
Following the First World War, civilians wanted to remember the people who had given their lives in the cause of peace and freedom. An American War Secretary, inspired by John McCrae's poem 'In Flanders' Fields', began selling poppies to friends to raise money for the ex-Service community. The Royal British Legion (RBL) adopted the poppy for its fundraising in 1921 - and so the tradition began.
Last year, the Poppy Appeal raised a staggering £40 million, breaking all previous records. This growing success is testament to the excellent work that the RBL does all year round in providing vital practical, emotional and financial support to all members of the British Armed Forces and their families.
In my constituency in Barnsley, there is a rich history of people serving valiantly in the Armed Forces - from the 'Barnsley Pals' in the First World War to the those brave people serving our country in Afghanistan today. As a Member of Parliament, but more importantly as a member of my local RBL, I have witnessed the incredible welfare and comradeship that the charity provides to the local Armed Forces community.
The type of support includes: recovery facilities for serving personnel; help with claiming a War Disablement Pension; support for families going through an inquest or compensation claim; advice on getting a new job after serving in the Armed Forces; and help with re-training and gaining new qualifications. The list goes on and on. In total, nearly nine million people are eligible for support from the RBL and over £1.6m is spent every week to help those in greatest need.
It is also important not to forget that as well as providing vital support to members, the RBL is a formidable campaigning organisation when it needs to be. When I was a Shadow Defence Minister, we worked very closely with the RBL to get the Military Covenant enshrined into law. Since then, we have been campaigning hard to get every local authority to sign up. Once councils sign the Armed Forces Community Covenant, charities in the local area can apply for funds to support projects that will help support service or ex-service personnel in civilian life. The funds can be used for things like projects to improve the health, welfare or financial literacy of Service personnel or one-off activities, such as an activity camp involving the Armed Forces and local young people.
Labour also worked with the RBL on the successful campaign to stop the Government scrapping the Office of the Chief Coroner - something which was so important to RBL members and bereaved Armed Forces families up and down the country.
On Friday, the Union Flag flew at half mast above Barnsley Town Hall as the Council and Borough paid its respects to Sergeant Gareth Thursby of the 3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment (The Duke of Wellington’s). Sergeant Thursby was killed last month while serving in Afghanistan.
And this week there was more sad news from Afghanistan as the Ministry of Defence announced the names of a Royal Marine and an Army medic who died after being injured in Helmand. They were Cpl David O'Connor, of 40 Commando, and Cpl Channing Day, of 3 Medical Regiment. They were fatally wounded in a firefight while on patrol with C Company in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province on Wednesday. David O'Connor, 27, was from Havant in Hampshire and Channing Day, 25, was from Comber in County Down. We mourn their loss and honour their bravery.
This week also saw the death of William Walker, aged 99. The former Battle of Britain Flight Lieutenant's death meant the passing of one of the last of 'the few’. This was a timely reminder of those who served our country in the past and in so doing preserved the freedom that we all enjoy today. But many of William Walker's comrades made the ultimate sacrifice and never got to see their old age.
For all of those people - past and present - we support the Royal British Legion and we wear our poppies with pride.
Michael Dugher is Labour MP for Barnsley East and shadow minister without portfolio