Armistice 100: Bethnal Green ex-army man pays tribute to the Royal British Legion

Ben Poku. Pic: TRBL

Ben Poku. Pic: TRBL - Credit: Archant

The Royal British Legion has been helping veterans and their families for almost 100 years.

Ben Poku Pic: TRBL

Ben Poku Pic: TRBL - Credit: Archant

It was set up on May 15, 1921, to look after those who had suffered as a result of the First World War.

Ben Poku, an ex-army man from Bethnal Green who volunteers for the charity, said: “The Royal British Legion is a fantastic organisation which is very well considered by servicemen and women. It’s such a worthwhile cause.

“In this special, commemorative year it’s vitally important that we remember those who have given their service for our freedoms – whether it’s the soldiers who fought on the frontline, or the communities who kept life going on the home front.” The 36-year-old saw action in Iraq serving in the army for seven years from 2000 to 2007 before joining the medical services reserves.

He now serves as a reservist general nurse with 256 (City of London) Field Hospital and volunteers for the army at a medical rehabilitation centre in Headley Court, Surrey.

Ben Poku. Pic:TRBL

Ben Poku. Pic:TRBL - Credit: Archant

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He also uses his spare time supporting veterans and families as a Legion case worker.

Mr Poku said: “I volunteer because as a nurse and a serving member of the armed forces I feel I can relate to people who find themselves in certain situations.

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“I wanted to offer my assistance to people who needed help. It was just something I felt I needed to do. I love my role and enjoy talking to clients.

“With me being in the military I can appreciate what people go through.”

About 6.7 million people are eligible for help from the Legion, which this year aims to raise £50m in its poppy appeal – an annual campaign, inspired by the war poem In Flanders Fields, which started in 1921 raising £106,000.

Each week the organisation spends about £1.6m supporting and advising veterans and their loved ones.

It was Tom Lister, a lance bombardier, who set up the charity after deciding the government was either unable or unwilling to do anything to improve the lives of ex-servicemen returned from fighting in the First World War.

The suffering was varied and widespread from wounds affecting a man’s ability to earn a living to a war widow struggling to provide for her children.

A drop in employment sparked by the war saw 2 million without work many of whom were men who had served in the armed forces.

A total of 1.75 million returned with some sort of disability, half of whom were permanently disabled.

Lister was so moved by the plight that he took action and the Legion was born.

As the country prepares to commemorate the truce that signalled the end of the First World War’s hostilities, the Legion is taking a lead saying thank you to the generation who served in a national campaign.

It is doing this by encouraging people to take a moment to think of the people who served on the frontline and on the home front including members of the armed forces, nurses, factory workers and conscientious objectors.

The Legion is also reminding people of advances taken as a result of the war ranging from wristwatches – around since the eighteenth century for women but frowned on by men until the 1914-1918 conflict – to zips – about since 1851 but uncommon until the US military adopted them for uniforms.

Its campaign also looks at how the war affected English with words entering the language including cushy – from the Hindi for pleasure – plonk – a term for cheap wine created by soldiers unable to say the French, vin blanc – and blotto – a manufacturer of bikes which were notoriously wobbly.

Mr Poku said: “Everyone has a reason to say thank you. We all have a connection to the First World War and the legion is encouraging everyone in the country to recognise the legacy that generation left us.”

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