Annual Poppy Campaign just one way Veterans spread message of Remembrance

He’s had a long and prolific career in business and politics in the Rimbey area, but every year at around this time Neville Roper and many other veterans of Canada’s conflicts puts their lives on hold for a week or two, and set about raising funds for their fallen friends and families through the annual Poppy Campaign.

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He’s had a long and prolific career in business and politics in the Rimbey area, but every year at around this time Neville Roper and many other veterans of Canada’s conflicts puts their lives on hold for a week or two, and set about raising funds for their fallen friends and families through the annual Poppy Campaign.

As a member of the Royal Canadian Legion for 62 years, Roper has held many positions with the Legion but one of the most important is chairman of the campaign.

“I’ve been involved in all facets of the Legion. Since 2002, I’ve been chairman of the Poppy Campaign and we’ve had very successful campaigns here in Rimbey, particularly with the number of merchants taking part or helping us with it,” he said during an interview last week. “When I took over we were laying approximately 20 wreaths at the cenotaph during the November 11th service, and now we’re up in the mid-40s every year. People are really remembering their fallen family members and comrades and it makes it a real special day with the temporary cenotaph set up and the service at the Community Centre.”

Roper said in a scant few years, revenue from the campaign has grown substantially thanks to the efforts of himself and six teams of Legionnaires who canvass the community with wreaths for sale two weeks prior to Remembrance Day. He added that many local businesses participate with several setting up memorial displays in their windows.

“As for the Poppy Campaign, when I first started in 2002 we had a successful thing, but as it’s been built up, our gross receipts now during the period of the campaign are near $10,000 where before, they used to be half of that,” Roper said.

He added that when local merchants erect such displays, it brings the sadness and meaning of war to light for younger generations while allowing older residents the opportunity of looking back and remembering what has happened over the years.

While the Poppy Campaign may be the most visible and impacting volunteer work the Legion does each year, it certainly isn’t the only task they’re involved in, especially when it comes to school children.

“For the Poster, Poem and Essay contest, we take the information up to the schools in the latter part of September and early October, and the posters, poems or essays have to be returned back into us by December the first,” Roper said. “We usually get over 300 entries from the schools here. In particular, the elementary school is very active. We’ve had several area and district prizes come to Rimbey over the years but have never won anything Dominion-wise, but it brings the thought home to the children.”

He said a number of former local art entrants in the contests have gone on to study their craft at the collegiate level, possibly becoming professional artists, however their work with the schools involves much more than the contests.

“This past Friday we took part in three memorial services at the schools. With the help this year of Barbara Patey, we had several veterans attending each of the services and the teachers read a short biography of each veteran attending, so the children will know that these are people that helped secure freedom for their futures, and the veterans will be recognized,” he said.

As for the interaction between the students and the veterans, Roper said in many cases it comes down to the teachers.

“It depends an awful lot on who the teachers are. Some years we’ll have a lot of interest from the students, and in another year if there’s been a change with a teacher that doesn’t bring the subject up at all, the students won’t ask hardly any questions,” he said.

“On occasion, some students have been asked to go up individually and address the classes, and there’s more questions asked then than there is at these services and things like that.”

Among the questions asked of the Veterans by the students, Roper said they do their best to provide answers but he was quick to add that every year there are less and less Veterans who saw combat duty.

As for the increased attention paid to Veterans on Remembrance Day and throughout the year, Roper said events currently taking place in other parts of the world might have something to do with it.

“Most of the students want to know what we did. In a lot of cases now, the Veterans who saw combat are so few and far between. There are still Veterans around and because of the Canadian Commonwealth Training Program, a lot of them never got out of Canada,” he said. “They were in training positions here and put in four or five years and never left Canadian soil. They weren’t actually combat Veterans but they still contributed to the war just as much as those on the front line, except their lives were not at risk like the other people.”

In terms of this year’s Poppy Campaign, Roper said he was happy with the results however he also said he would have liked to see more time given for the public to pause and remember the fallen and the sacrifices they made.

“I’m quite pleased with the Poppy Campaign. Every year the Veterans come out and help. This year we’re a little miffed at the fact that it’s a shorter period of time for the people to have the wreaths out for Remembrance Day,” Roper said. “Our campaign only started a week or so ago, and we’re going to be picking up the wreaths again to place them at the cenotaph. To my mind, it doesn’t give the people enough time to be able to express their remembrance.”

As for the increased attention paid to Veterans on Remembrance Day and throughout the year, Roper said events currently taking place in other parts of the world might have something to do with it.

“I think the fact that our people are in Afghanistan now brings the Veterans and the soldiers and what they’re doing to the forefront,” he said. “If you read the news reports, you’re not sure exactly how much rebuilding is going on – there’s lots of money going into there, but there seems to be so much graft behind the scenes. But I know that the soldiers themselves, if you talk to any them, they really feel that they are making a worthwhile contribution.”