Last year saw the 90th anniversary of the Royal British Legion, which since just after the First World War has been caring for the welfare of British servicemen, active and retired, and of their families. Needless to say, with the Afghanistan campaign dragging on (in which at this time 370 British troops have died and hundreds more have been wounded), calls on its resources are increasing all the time. Currently it spends £1.4 million a week on its various activities. Anyone can help by buying a poppy or, if they’re not readily available locally, getting in a stock to offer them to neighbouring Brits. Last year local poppy sales raised close on €13,500. Commander Healey at the Nice-Monaco branch is happy to deal with requests of this kind; the Cannes-Var branch is led by Colonel David Alexander. There are also moves to start a new branch in the East Var, led by Andrew Buchanan of Cotignac.
A rather curious episode in the RBL’s history was featured recently in a Channel 4 documentary. In 1935 a group of six Legion officials were invited to visit Germany, an event organised by Ribbentrop who ensured that the Reich’s guests were regularly photographed against a background of swastikas. They met Hitler, Goering (got up as Robin Hood with bow and arrow) and Hess. They were even given a quick tour of Dachau whose inmates, they learned, were “the workshy” and “moral perverts”. It would be easy to dismiss these now as “useful idiots” but in the mid-30s there was a lot of public desire for “reconciliation” and “friendship” with Germany. Ribbentrop exploited this, aided by his superb command of English.
Channel 4 also harbours smug lefty newscaster Jon Snow, the man who refuses to wear a poppy on camera and who notoriously branded those who said he should as “poppy fascists”. Last November he did a bit of wriggling: “British soldiers died that we could be free to wear a poppy when we want to. I choose to wear mine on Remembrance Sunday.” One critic who won’t let him off the hook is the splendid old Labour veteran Roy Hattersley who points out that Snow’s calling poppy enthusiasts “fascists” is, in the light of history, especially offensive. Hattersley, by the way, whom I interviewed a couple of times, is adamant that “any British citizen, wherever he or she lives should have the right to vote”. He also surprised me by revealing that his father was a former Catholic priest who’d jumped over the wall.