Monday, 5 November 2018

A Guest Post from Ruth Cherrington - THE POPPY SELLER

In the weeks before Remembrance Day, November 11th, the poppy seller becomes noticeable on our streets. Those shaking the collection tins and handing out the poppies range from quite young people ‘doing their bit’ to much older people who’ve been doing it for so many years they can’t remember how many.  

Coventry station
I saw one veteran on November 1st who probably fell in the latter category. Derrick had a table laid out quite nicely with a variety of poppies on offer and the tin there for donations. This was at Coventry rail station, a place I’ve spent a lot of time at over the decades (believe me, a lot!) as I’ve waited for trains up and down that line visiting parents and family in my home town whilst living and working in London.  It’s always been a cold station and Derrick looked freezing that day as he stood there doing his job. But he clearly didn’t mind. He is a dedicated collector for the Royal British Legion, the organisation that began the poppy campaign back in 1921.   

I already had a poppy but I had to have one from Derrick’s table. And I very much wanted to shake his hand. He had an impressive display of medals on his jacket and I asked where they all came from. One half of them were his father’s, he told me, earned during the First World War, the rest were his from the Second World War plus some other commemorative badges. I told him he was doing a grand job, had done a grand job. When I asked for his photo, he didn’t hesitate for a minute and stood to attention.

Courtesy of BBC News
Then he was back to collecting and distributing poppies. Trade was brisk! It’s a busy station. During the wars, it was also busy with troops going off to fight, some coming back on leave to see loved ones briefly, or to recover from injuries. After the blitz, the King came to visit the city that suffered so badly from enemy bombing that a new word was invented- to Coventrate. The devastation of the city’s ancient cathedral became an icon of suffering yet also of reconciliation.    

It’s all very different now, this chilly 1960s station, about to undergo a revamp as the city itself changes around it. I imagine Derrick raised quite a lot of money that chilly November day in the year we mark 100 years since the end of the First World War.
Thank you, Derrick, not just for the poppies!

Ruth Cherrington

Ruth Cherrington can be found on
twitter @CHistorians and at 
Author of
Not Just Beer and Bingo! A social history of working men's clubs,
The Dirty Stop Outs Guide to 1970s Coventry and
The Dirty Stop Outs Guide to 1980s Coventry 

Photo of Coventry station courtesy: By Snowmanradio [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 4.0  (], from Wikimedia Commons

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