Since the first poppies bloomed on the scarred battlefields of WWI the red flower has become an enduring symbol of recovery and hope.
Evolving from a symbol into a fund-raising tool, the poppy is used by the state’s Returned and Services League to help veterans and their families.
This year, as Australians mark the centenary of the armistice, more veterans than ever before will be assisted through the RSL Poppy Appeal, which was launched at Newcastle’s Memorial Walk last Friday.
“The poppy is a symbol of the promise that Australians make to look after anyone who has put their hand up to serve their country in the military on our behalf, and who might need help as a result of their war service,” RSL NSW president James Brown said.
“The money that comes from the Poppy Appeal will be used to support the work of our state-wide professional veterans’ welfare organisation, RSL DefenceCare, which is taking calls from veterans and their families in need every day.
“Sub-branches will receive a payment for their fundraising efforts that can be used to support the work they do in their local area.
“This year marks 100 years since the guns fell silent at the end of World War I, and as we honour the past we also look to the future.
“Our commitment in the next 100 years will be as resolute as the last 100, and our sub-branch members continue to play a vital role in helping veterans across the State, no matter where they live in NSW.”
All NSW RSL fund-raising activities were suspended last year due to legal concerns.
In Newcastle on Friday, Mr Brown said NSW RSL was “really thrilled” and “very proud” to have the Poppy Appeal back this year.
Money raised through the appeal will now be used to help veterans through RSL DefenceCare’s veteran sport program launched in October.
RSL DefenceCare will be able to subsidise the costs of sporting activities and other training activities through Veteran Sport Australia to help improve the health and well-being of veterans with injuries and illnesses.
Veterans and 2018 Invictus Games competitors Andrew Wilkinson, Pete Rudland and Garry Robinson joined Mr Brown in Newcastle for the appeal launch.
Mr Rudland, who along with Mr Robinson was wounded in a 2010 helicopter crash in Afghanistan, expressed gratitude for RSL DefenceCare’s launch of a sports program, which will subsidise the cost of training.
“Finding funding to pursue sport, especially when you have left the defence force and you’re in a vulnerable phase of your life, is so important,” he said.
Mr Wilkinson, a former member of the Royal Australian Navy, echoed Mr Rudland’s gratitude in the RSL supporting veterans’ recovery through sport.
“I have experienced firsthand the benefits of being part of well-organised and well supported adaptive sports programs and it is particularly exciting that part of the funds raised through this year’s Poppy Appeal will be used to enable veterans from around the State to access this exciting new program from Veteran Sport Australia,” he said.
“Often veterans struggle with isolation but don’t know where to turn. Involvement in sport delivers a physical outlet but equally as importantly a mental connection that both contribute to overall health and wellbeing.”
City of Newcastle RSL Sub-Branch president Ken Fayle said it was “nice recognition” to have the Poppy Appeal launched in Newcastle.
“Memorial Walk is a lovely place to launch the appeal,” he said. “It has a strong connection with this area and all WWI diggers.”
The sub-branch will be active this week selling poppies ahead of the November 11 Remembrance Day service.
Newcastle Jets CEO Lawrie McKinna announced the A-League would be participating in a Remembrance Round in support of the appeal this weekend.
Poppies will be sold at all five A-League games on the weekend, and each team would wear a poppy on their shirts which would be auctioned.
“It was a no-brainer when we were asked to be involved,” Mr McKinna said.