A DEDICATED volunteer for the Royal British Legion, George Platt has been selling poppies for more than 60 years – helping provide life-long support for the British Armed Forces community.

Mr Platt has experience of life in the armed forces – and of the consequences of war. The former Parachute Regiment Corporal, now 79, served for more than three years, and his father was a veteran of World War II, who suffered shocking deprivation as a prisoner of war in Burma.

“It’s an important cause to support, and I know that all the money collected goes directly to help the people who need it,” he explained. “I get a very, very good response from people when I am selling poppies and people are very generous.

“I have one old lady who every year puts in £52. She told me that when the lottery started she used to buy a ticket, but now she puts the money in a tin and for the last eight or nine years, she has given it to the poppy appeal.

“I don’t know her name, she won’t tell me, I just call her Mrs.”

Although he first helped carry collecting boxes at age 12, he remembers his first serious volunteering for the cause was at the age of 16.

“Some fellow comes in with a poppy tin to leave at the pub. He was riding a motorbike and sidecar, and taking tins into the pub. I went with him to help – just like that. And that’s how I got involved with the Stratton British Legion,” he said.

“After that I collected every year – except the years I was doing National Service. Even when I was in Australia, I collected for the RSL (Returned and Services League), the Australian equivalent.”

Mr Platt, who has collected for the Poppy Appeal for 62 years, has a service badge commemorating his 30 years’ service, and a whole series of ceremonial bars celebrating each additional five years.

He has also experienced terrible loss in his own family life, as his little daughter Tracy-Ann was knocked down and killed by a drink driver, when she was just five-and-a-half years old.

The family was living in Australia at that time and Mr Platt, from Penhill, remembers the day vividly. He was employed by a company constructing electricity pylons.

“I was working out on a site, and a detective arrived while I was working. I was 60 miles from home, and the detective wouldn’t tell me what had happened until we got back,” he said. They drove all the way to his home, where he learnt the devastating news. His daughter, who was taking toys to show a friend, had been killed.

He keeps a large photo of the little girl on the wall of his living room, among the many other pictures of his family. The driver was tried and sentenced to eight years, but Mr Platt’s loss has lasted a lifetime.

His father, Reginald, was a Swindon man, but his mother, Caroline, was Irish, and it happened that George was born in Ireland, when his parents were visiting County Cork. Reginald was a wheelwright, making wheels for horse-drawn carts, and later a light haulier.

During World War II the family moved to the Vale of Evesham. Reginald Platt served in the British Army and his mother worked on the land. They lived in a tied cottage and George recalls it was hard at times. While still a very young boy, he had to get up at five in the morning to help with the milking.

“The young boys of five or six years old did what we called the stripping – that meant getting the last bit of milk from the cows after the adults had finished. It was all done by hand,” he said.

When the war ended, George’s father returned, having been a prisoner of war of the Japanese. “When he left he was 14 stone, and when he was released, he was six stone,” George recalled.

But he knows nothing more of his father’s experiences. He said his father never talked about it. Reginald Platt died of cancer in 1959, aged just 57.

While still living in the Vale of Evesham, George joined the Boys Army Cadets, and aged 12, began his first volunteer work for the Royal British Legion, when he helped some local women collectors by carrying the collecting boxes.

He left school at 15, and when he was 16 the family returned to the Swindon area and set up home in Haydon Wick. George became an apprentice in painting and decorating for local company Beard’s, until he was called up for National Service.

“I served for three years, ten months and 21 days,” he says. “When I was called up, I didn’t really think about it. You just got on with it.”

He is reticent about that time of his life, however, and declines to talk about his experiences, though he says he saw active service in Cyprus.

In 1969, he moved to Australia with his wife and two children, Shaun and Theresa, where they lived for ten years, and had three more children, Darren, Shannon and Tracy-Ann. After the death of Tracy-Ann, and their return to Swindon, the couple’s marriage ended.

Mr Platt worked in building maintenance, painting and decorating until his retirement, when he was 72. These days he enjoys gardening and making walking sticks.

He will be back in his spot at the Haydon Wick Asda Walmart this year, devoting his time to the Poppy Appeal and he is optimistic he will be collecting another five-year ceremonial bar when he reaches 65 years of volunteering.

“I’ve met some really lovely people, and I have my regulars who come back every year,” he said. “Of course I will carry on. They call me George the Poppy Man.”