Security is being provided for young poppy sellers in Bradford this year after some were attacked last year – the first such incidents in the British Legion’s history.
Young Army cadets will have chaperones to protect them from repeats of the abuse some suffered while collecting for the charity.
The volunteers who fundraise tirelessly for the Legion’s annual appeal were sickened by the abuse and assaults suffered by some of their sellers.
Last year the Telegraph & Argus reported how Bethany Holmes, then 13, of the Allerton Army Cadet Force, was one of three teenagers selling remembrance poppies outside The Range store in Girlington, Bradford, when a group of youths began giving the sellers “abuse”.
Her mum Christine said one of them took a poppy from the box, spat on it and tried to give it to her daughter, before spitting at her three times, twice on her jacket and once on her cheek.
“It’s just awful,” said Mrs Holmes, “especially when it touches your skin. She just said to me ‘I need to go home, it feels awful, I feel dirty’.
“They are disgusting, it’s just the lowest of the low.”
Two Asian girl cadets were also verbally abused for selling poppies and two other sellers were set upon in the city centre. One young poppy seller had her tin snatched from her shoulder.
Barbara Allsopp, Poppy Appeal organiser for the Bradford Royal British Legion branch for 13 years, said it was the first time the charity had experienced anything like it.
Concerned the young collectors, who range in ages from ten to 17, could be put off from helping out this year, the Bradford branch has taken up an offer by the Royal British Legion’s Riders branch, the former services motorcycle club, to shadow the youngsters during their collections.
Mrs Allsop said: “It is something we need and it’s ideal because it would keep the cadets safe.”
Rod Walker, West Yorkshire representative for the Legion’s Riders Branch, said: “We are doing this as I was reminded of what happened last year and thought our job is to support the branches, so who would not turn up and do exactly that?
“You have to remember also that the people who were affected by this, the cadets, are youngsters and are very impressionable and in some cases they will turn out to be our future Armed Forces.”
Mr Walker stressed it was not a case of turning up and being ‘hamfisted’.
“We have to educate the public why we are doing these collections,” said Mr Walker.
On Wednesday, Mrs Allsopp will present the first poppy to the Lord Mayor of Bradford, Councillor Dale Smith at City Hall and on Friday the city will host the county-wide Poppy Appeal launch for the first time in nine years.