The Royal Legion Branch 4 may be dwindling in membership, but not in spirit.
George Smith, Sgt. at Arms for the Mary Street veteran’s hub, was out selling poppies several times this November, at the downtown Save-on Foods location.
He’s been a part of the Legion’s Poppy Campaign for the past 52 years, and it’s an annual tradition the 83-year-old veteran has no plans on stopping anytime soon. Smith is happy to give back to the organization he’s so very proud of.
“I haven’t needed help from them, yet,” he says. “But they’ve been very good to me.”
There are only six members at Branch 4 left who are able to get out and sell poppies. Those numbers are reinforced though, by both 147 Airwolf Air Cadets and the Chilliwack Sea Cadets.
When the numbers of Legion members dwindle right down, Smith supposes, it will be these youth organizations that keep the Poppy Campaign alive and well.
Smith appreciates the commitment from the cadets, who spend those cold November days outside in the wind and rain, raising money for veterans. His own family has a long connection to the Airwolf Squadron. His stepson, Michael Presseau, got his first taste of the military there, back when he was a teenager. He grew up to join the Navy’s Search and Rescue team, and married a girl in the American Navy.
Smith’s father was also an army man. Eugene Smith, born in 1898 served in the First World War.
Smith himself never left Canada, but drove truck in the army in both Quebec and Ontario.
“I had too big a family,” he said, adding he had seven biological children, and four adopted stepchildren. “They wouldn’t send me away.”
He’s devoted his time to helping the Legion stay in operation. He still volunteers as a barkeep three times a week, and was heading there on Tuesday after his shift selling poppies.
He’s a life member, and he has seen the Legion shift over the years.
“We’re losing members,” he said, and they’re losing them quickly. This week, they’ll hold a funeral service for yet another lost member.
The drop in membership, and the lack of younger vets joining the ranks, means their volunteer base is dwindling. But they still manage to keep many of their well-loved activities going strong, such as the meat draws and Friday night dinners. They continue to visit schools, and get out into the community.
Anyone can become a member of the Royal Canadian Legion now, and application information is available on the Legion’s national website.
For more than 90 years, the poppy has been a symbol of honour and sacrifice, inspired by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae’s poem In Flanders Fields, written in May 1915. The money raised from the sale of poppies goes directly back to veterans in need, and their families.