Service Personnel & Veterans Agency Logo

Veterans-UK Logo

Welcome to the Veterans UK website - Free Veterans Helpline 0800 169 22 77

Veterans Issues


Unknown Warrior
The Royal British Legion
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Service casualty branches
Commemorative booklets

The Royal British Legion

The Royal British Legion is dedicated to the care and welfare of those who have served in the Armed Forces and their dependants. '18,000 people leave the Armed Forces annually'. [1] The Legion has more than 600,000 members and more than 4,500 branches in the UK and overseas. Some 13 million people in the UK are eligible to approach it for assistance. The minimum qualification for assistance is to have been in receipt of one days pay. (i.e. to have served in the Armed Forces for a minimum of one day). This eligibility criteria includes dependents. Additionally, there were at the last count some

1,800 veterans' organisations in UK. The poppy is the symbol of the Legion and is universally recognised in Britain as the symbol of remembrance. The appeal is launched every year for the purpose of raising funds for the charitable works of the Legion. These include: pensions advice, home and hospital visits, welfare grants, job retraining, small business guidance, loans and widows' visits to war graves. In the year 2000 £20.1M was raised by 300,000 poppy appeal sellers. In that year the Legion spent £43 million on its charitable works in the ex-Service community. The funds raised from the sale of the 36 million poppies and 98,000 wreaths that are sold by a network of volunteers in the weeks before Remembrance Sunday, go towards the charitable works of the Legion. Poppies are usually sold and worn from 1st November. They are not worn after Remembrance Sunday. In 2002 1,000 people were helped to visit war graves, over 300,000 calls for help were answered, 54,000 people were assisted with war pensions, 100,000 visits were made to the housebound and those in hospital and 5,000 people were helped with a stay in the Legion's homes. [2] The Royal British Legion Poppy Factory at Richmond employs many disabled people making poppies, wreaths and other items associated with the Poppy Appeal. More information can be found at

Some of the bloodiest fighting of the Great War took place in the Flanders and Picardy regions of Northern France. The poppy was the only thing that grew in the aftermath of the complete devastation. Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae a doctor serving on the Western Front with the Canadian Army, wrote the poem In Flanders' Fields in response to his experiences:

'In Flanders' fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders' fields

Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high,
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders' fields'

Moina Michael, an American war secretary with the YMCA and a writer, was touched by McCrae's work. She bought some red poppies, wore one herself and sold the remainder to her friends giving the money raised to ex-Servicemen. And so a tradition began.

Major George Howson, a decorated veteran was deeply moved by the plight of ex-servicemen who had been disabled in the war and founded the Disabled Society. Although the majority of disabled ex-servicemen found employment, 100,000 were still unemployed in 1920. Howson thought that the making of artificial poppies might offer opportunities to the Disabled Society and approached the Legion with this suggestion. And so the British Legion Poppy Factory, originally located off the Old Kent Road in South East London was established. It originally employed five disabled ex-servicemen. Now located at Richmond, it employs many disabled people making poppies, wreaths and other items associated with the Poppy Appeal.

The Royal British Legion is also responsible for organising the Festival of Remembrance, which takes place in the Royal Albert Hall in London, the night before Remembrance Sunday. This event is also attended by the Sovereign, the Royal Family, veterans, the public, In Pensioners of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, massed bands and representatives from all arms of Britain's Armed Forces, both regular and territorial. The Festival concludes with a drumhead service. Website at


Royal British Legion standards on parade at the National Memorial Arboretum
Remembrance Travel, a department of the Legion, organises pilgrimages to war graves and memorials in a wide range of sites in the First and Second World Wars, which are open to anyone who wishes to take part.

The War Widows Grant-in-Aid Scheme, which is administered on behalf of the MOD by Remembrance Travel, was introduced in 1985 to provide financial assistance to any Service widow, whose husband died and was buried overseas between 1914 and 1967, to visit husband's grave, provided they have not done so before at public expense.

Since 1967 the next of kin of those who died whilst serving overseas were given the option to have the remains repatriated if they so wished. The Grant contributes 7/8ths of the cost of a pilgrimage organised by Remembrance Travel. The remaining 1/8th of the cost is contributed by the widows themselves. The visit usually consists of an accompanied tour with The Royal British Legion representatives, guides and medical assistance where required.

Originally, it was intended that the scheme should run for five years ending 31st March 1990, but due to the continuing demand for pilgrimage places from eligible Service widows who had not yet visited their husband's grave, the scheme has been extended on several occasions since then. At the end of January 1998, the Legion approached the MOD for an extension of the scheme, as it had a number of widows registered for pilgrimages to cemeteries not covered by the programme of visits. In light of this, the Legion proposed that the scheme be extended for a further two years in order to allow them sufficient time to organise visits for these widows. Once the Legion's figures had been validated and Treasury approval had been obtained, the then Under Secretary of State announced the extension in the House of Commons on 5th May 1998. Following this announcement, he further stated that MOD would conduct an automatic review of the scheme every two years. He confirmed that, as long as there are Service widows eligible to visit their husband's grave, the Government would continue to renew the scheme. More information can be found at

[1] Improving the Delivery of Cross Departmental Support and Services for Veterans March 2003 para
[2] Advertisement in Royal United Services Institute Journal February 2003 Vol. 148 No. 1.

Top of page