Ashford’s Poppy Tribute – a collection of 3,000 sculptured metal poppies planted in North Park on Sunday 11 November in honour of the 100th anniversary of the Armistice – has raised almost £5,000 for the Ashford branch of the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA).
The poppies, which went on sale in September, were used in a stunning and poignant display on Remembrance Day as part of the Battle’s Over: A Nation’s Tribute commemorative event, which saw 1,000 Beacons of Light lit at 7pm throughout the UK and UK Overseas Territories.
Sunday’s event included a traditional Drumhead Service with music by The Band of the Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment, who delivered a repertoire of famous tunes enhanced by synchronised lighting and poetry recitals, and saw close to 3,000 members of the public attend.
The ceremony culminated in the first ever lighting of Ashford’s new Memorial Civic Beacon.
The beacon was installed in October, and is the first of its kind for Ashford town. It is inscribed with the poem ‘Lucasta. Going to the Warres’, by Richard Lovelace, which is where inspiration for the council’s motto ‘With Stronger Faith’ is taken from. Richard Lovelace (1617-1657) was a cavalier soldier, Oxford poet and lord of the manor at Lovelace Place, Bethersden from 1629 until 1649.
Ashford’s Poppy Tribute – inspired by the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red poppy installation at the Tower of London in 2014 - was installed underneath and surrounding the beacon, under the watch of a specially commissioned structure of the Silent Soldier.
Similar tributes were installed in the town’s Memorial Gardens this summer, as part the ongoing commemorations throughout 2018 for the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice at the end of the First World War.
Residents of the borough have been given the opportunity to purchase the poppies in the weeks leading up to the event, with a percentage of each sale donated to the local branch of SSAFA, The Armed Forces Charity. SSAFA provides lifelong support to men and women in the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines, the British Army and the Royal Air Force, and their families.
Of the amount raised, Simon Sanderson, Chair of SSAFA Kent branch said: "SSAFA Kent and its local Division would like to thank Ashford Borough Council for organising and running the sale of Poppies to raise funds for SSAFA, its nominated charity. It was a tremendous achievement to raise such a sum of money for those Service personnel, veterans, their families and dependents. SSAFA Ashford will ensure that the donation will be used locally to support those from the military community in real need or hardship."
Speaking about Ashford’s Poppy Tribute and the first ever lighting of the new Memorial Civic Beacon, Leader of Ashford Borough Council, Cllr Gerry Clarkson CBE, said: “After many months of hard work in designing, planning and the construction, it was extremely pleasing to see the Memorial Civic Beacon taking pride of place in North Park on Remembrance Sunday, surrounded by the beautiful poppy display.
“This was a fitting and poignant tribute, to all of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedoms, in what has been an ongoing year of Armistice commemorations, and another part of us all putting the civic heartbeat back into Ashford.”