An artillery shell from the battlefield in Port Stanley and a signed copy of the Falklands War report are two of the highlights of a new display that’s opened at the Poppy Factory in Richmond, southwest London.
The Poppy Factory has been around for a century, originally formed after WWI to provide meaningful work for injured soldiers making remembrance poppies, and is still doing that while also offering support to former service personnel.
As part of its centenary events, the public exhibition area was recently substantially improved with a much larger space, and it’s now been expanded again with a new display to mark the 40th anniversary of the Falklands War.
The artillery shell was donated by former soldier Paul Clayton, who picked it up after the battle for Port Stanley in the Falklands. He’s kept it ever since, but about a decade ago he started to struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder. He hadn’t in earlier years as his work kept him busy, but when a break in the work allowed the suppressed memories to come back, he turned to the Poppy Factory for support.
Paul, who was recently supported back into employment, donated the artillery shell for the display. His story is a reminder that the commitment to support former service personnel needs to remain available for a lifetime as you can never be sure when it might be called upon.
It sits next to a rather different item, the official government report into the Falklands War that was published after the conflict ended. This was donated by Lord Lee of Trafford, who was an MP at the time of the conflict, and later a Defence Minister.
When the report was published, he went to the Commons Library to collect a copy, and for some reason, he ended up with three copies, which is a bit unusual. Thinking it might be nice for a charity auction, he asked Margaret Thatcher’s parliamentary private secretary, Ian Gow to see if she would sign them, along with the Defence Secretary, John Nott. They’ve been in a safe ever since, and it was a conversation with Baroness Goldie DL that lead to them being brought back out of storage. One copy has just been sent to the Falklands Islands museum, and one copy has been donated to the Poppy Factory.
The display also includes contributions from Sara Jones CBE, whose husband H Jones was killed in action during the Battle of Goose Green. Sara went on to become President of the Poppy Factory charity.
The expanded exhibition also includes personal stories and objects donated by veterans who have been supported into all kinds of employment by The Poppy Factory. Another new cabinet highlights the story of the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey, which commemorates the many British dead of the First World War who have no known grave. Its poppy-studded frame is refreshed each year by The Poppy Factory’s production team, who also produce by hand the many wreaths that are laid there each year.
Tours are usually for groups, but individuals can visit on select open days – the current dates for 2022 are:
- Monday 27th June (3pm)
- Monday 11th July (3pm)
- Wednesday 20th July (11am)
- Monday 25th July (11am)
- Tuesday 2nd August (11am and 2:30pm)
- Friday 12th August (11am)
- Thursday 18th August (3pm)
- Monday 22nd Aug (3pm)
- Tuesday 13th September (3pm)
- Monday 19th Sept (11am and 3pm)
You can book a visit here, and tickets cost £12 per person.
As a place to visit, it’s both utterly fascinating and yet at the same time deeply sobering to know that a century after it was founded, the Poppy Factory is still needed.
All funds raised through visitor centre bookings go towards employment support for veterans with health conditions in England and Wales.