SUPPORTING the men and woman of the armed forces has become the life work of one woman who has been selling poppies for almost 75 years. Gavin Havery spoke to the veteran charity appeal co-ordinator who has raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for the Royal British Legion

SO strong is Vera Parnaby’s devotion to remembering the fallen that her house is almost a shrine to the poppy.

She drinks tea from a china poppy cup, she has poppy ornaments in a glass display cabinet, she has poppies on display around the fire place and her visitors wipe their feet on a poppy doormat.

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Even the wallpaper pattern looks like poppies.

“I do like poppies,” she smiles, “and people keep buying me things.”

The exact figure she has raised for servicemen and women and their families is unknown, but in the last 23 years, since she took over as the co-ordinator for the Consett and District Poppy Appeal and Festival of Remembrance, she has raised £369,067.20.

When you consider she has been helping sell poppies every autumn for the last 73 years, the figure she has raised cannot be far short of £1m.

Mrs Parnaby says: “I have collected a canny bit, but I don’t know how much. I wouldn’t like to put a figure on it.”

Mrs Parnaby, now 79, was born in January 1939, months before the outbreak of the Second World War, to George and Annie Richardson, and was the second of four children.

Her father was a grocer who worked in Annfield Plain and was called up to serve in the fight against Hitler’s Germany.

Tragically, he died after a road accident during active service on a British Army base in 1942.

After the war, Mrs Parnaby’s mother sold poppies with the help of her four children in the village of Annfield Plain, before they moved back to Leadgate.

The young war widow, still in her 20s, took the six-year-old Vera to the Royal British Legion’s Christmas party in 1945 and the following May she helped form the women's section in Consett.

Mrs Parnaby, who lives in Blackhill, Consett, says: “It is just something I grew up with.

“In those days, they did not have babysitters so my brothers and sisters and I went to all of the meetings with the other children.

“We heard what was going on and I joined in and have taken part ever since.

“I can remember standing in Consett in Garden of Remembrance and the Market Place offering the poppy crosses for a donation.”

When she was 14, Mrs Parnaby no longer just helped her mother but became a poppy seller in her own right.

She grew up and married Alan Parnaby, who served with the British Army in the Royal Army Pay Corps based in Scotland, and the couple have three children, two granddaughters and a great-grandson.

Mrs Parnaby is now a widow, but her lifelong commitment to the charity continues.

In 2013 she was awarded the chairman’s medal for her years of devoted service.

She says: “The money we raise goes to personnel who are in hardship or are injured, for anything they might need to make their lives easier.

“I keep going for the good it is doing for the ex-service people, those who need help, those in need.”