My Week: General Sir John Kiszely

The president of the Royal British Legion on the biggest week of his year – and a demand for poppies that saw some areas run out
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The Independent Online


I am at the annual ceremony at St Paul's Cathedral, where the Lord Mayor of London and members of the City of London Corporation and livery companies lay wreaths and plant poppies, as their tribute to the Royal British Legion and the armed forces. The City is one of the armed forces' greatest supporters, so it's a great pleasure to thank them on behalf of the British Legion, of which I am national president. We are also lucky with the weather! Afterwards, I go to see how work was progressing on the Field of Remembrance.


Back to RBL headquarters in Southwark to hear how our poppy appeal is getting on. This year's appeal is for the Afghan generation of the armed forces and their families, so we are supporting the heroes of today as well as yesterday. I hear that we are running out of poppies in some areas, so there has to be some frantic redeployment. It's extra work, but it's a good sign. I also learn that the legion has just made its 10,000th direct payment to those in need who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, or their families.


A terrible morning, as we hear of the deaths of five soldiers in Afghanistan, made worse when I learn that one was the regimental sergeant major. This is a hell of a blow for a battalion. The RSM is somebody normally thought of as indestructible. I go to the unveiling in Trafalgar Square of the memorial to Air Chief Marshal Keith Park. It is great to see a long overdue tribute to one of the greatest heroes of the Battle of Britain. In the evening I go to a conference dinner on stabilising operations in Afghanistan. The experts include Paddy Ashdown, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, previously our man in Kabul, and General Sir David Richards, who commanded the mission in Afghanistan in 2006/07. Discussion is intense.


I am at Westminster Abbey at 9am to discover that the Field of Remembrance, despite my earlier fears, is immaculately organised. The public is already arriving, though it doesn't start until 11am. Sarah Jones and I host the Duke of Edinburgh, who talks to everybody, including two widows of soldiers killed this year in Afghanistan. He seems oblivious to the cold and very sharp. If I'm that good at 88, I'll be happy indeed. Later we do rehearsals for Sunday's Cenotaph parade. The man in charge is Garrison Sergeant Major Mott of the Welsh Guards, an imposing figure in charge of hundreds of participants. It's some time since I've been told to step more sharply on parade.


To City Hall for a remembrance service hosted by the London Mayor Boris Johnson. At the end, the organisers ask those members of the armed forces in the audience to stand. They are given a long and loud round of applause, an indication of the support the country is giving its armed forces.

Interview by Andy McSmith