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Last on

Wed 9 Nov 2011 11:00 BBC Radio 4

Duration:
30 minutes
First broadcast:
Wednesday 09 November 2011

Chris Ledgard explores the story of The Poppy Factory in Surrey where, for nearly ninety years, former members of the armed forces have made millions of poppies and wreaths for Remembrance Sunday.

In 1922, Major George Howson, the founder of the Disabled Society, wrote to his parents: "I have been given a cheque for £2,000 to make poppies with. It is a large responsibility and will be very difficult. If the experiment is successful it will be the start of an industry to employ 150 men. I do not think it can be a great success, but it is worth doing."

Major Howson's pessimism was short-lived. His workforce grew rapidly and, a few years later, The Poppy Factory had to move from the Old Kent Road in London to bigger premises in Richmond, Surrey. Soon, more than 350 men had jobs there.

The factory is still in the same place and still staffed by former servicemen and women and their dependants, some of whom are coping with stress disorders. We meet them and hear about the history of this remarkable institution. Millions of poppies are now made by home workers in the surrounding area, like Mr and Mrs King, all of whom have a connection with the armed services. We go out in the Poppy Van to meet the Kings who, between them, put together five thousand remembrance poppies a week, every week of the year.

We'll hear how the charity is coping with a dwindling workforce and a shift to mechanised production. Flats on the large Richmond site are now let out to provide money which is being used all over the country to help members of the armed forces find civilian work. Chris discovers how the money helped Caroline Plank, a Territorial Army Signaller with 8 months' service in Afghanistan who now lives on a houseboat on the River Avon.

Producer: Chris Ledgard.

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