For over 40 years the late Winifred Joan Firth (Joan to her friends and family) devoted part of her life to organising the Remembrance Day parade and Poppy Appeal collections in Pontefract.
Now, almost six years on from her death, her daughter Sue Garnham has paid tribute to her mother and revealed the lengths she went to to ensure the town she Came to Call home had a fitting memorial celebration each November.
Born in Leicester in 1919, she was one of 12 and had a twin sister, Margaret. She met her future husband Lionel Firth while he was billeted in the area before being shipped overseas during the Second World War.
Daughter Sue recalls how her father had tried to marry her mother before leaving but that she had refused him, preferring to wait until his return.
During their separation Joan joined the Land Army and after the war, when Lionel returned she took him up on his offer of marriage, living first in Whitley Bridge and later Pontefract, Where she joined the Royal British Legion.
Sue, who still lives in the area, said: “She came from a family of 12 children, I don’t think people today realise how hard times were but to her it was normal. When Dad came out of the war he had a job in Whitley Bridge and every Thursday he would bring home his brown envelope and mum would divide it up so it was all committed to, apart from a little bit for savings. Whilst living in Whitley Bridge Mum continued to work on the land for local farmers and land owners.’
Joan and Lionel had their children Paul and Sue in Whitley Bridge and when they moved to Pontefract Joan even she found time to work part time in local shops and as a cashier at the local Crescent Cinema in the evening. It was just how people were back then. Joan was also a former post lady in Pontefract which in those days meant two deliveries and after that found time to take her dogs down to Pontefract park for a walk.
Sue said of her mother: “People did not realise the organisation of the Remembrance Day parade in Pontefract in November each year was organised and carried out by the women’s section of the Royal British Legion.
‘My mum, along with the other ladies, contacted the armed forces, band and local children’s organisations such as scouts, Brownies, booked the church and somewhere to have refreshments afterwards and of course to notify the local police with regard to the roads.
‘My mum became a very well known lady in the town... and as she became the only surviving member as the other ladies passed away. I became a member to help keep it going.”
Joan laboured in earnest as the years rolled by, annually delivering out and collecting the Poppy Appeal collection tins and taking the proceeds to the bank to be counted.
When husband Lionel retired aged 65 in 1979 having worked at the Midland Bank, Ropergate, Pontefract, the couple expected to spend sometime travelling and going on holiday but sadly, Lionel died less than a year later in 1980. Joan herself retired in 1979 aged 60.
Joan continued to devote her full efforts to the cause until her health prevented her when, aged 77, she was forced to have a knee replacement operation but even this could not stop her and, indeed, she remained an active member of the Royal British Legion right up to her death on Christmas Day 2008.
Sue said: “There’s nothing in Pontefract which records the great efforts my mother went to I think there would be nothing finer than if something were done and if there were some kind of permanent reminder of the effort she put in.
Sue wrote to the Royal British Legion seeking recognition for her mother and was successful in receiving two certificates, a merit badge, and a 20 year service badge with further medals for 30, 35 and 40 years’ service.
Sue said: “I am glad they acknowledged what she did. It was important to me.”
In a letter to Sue, the Royal British Legion said: “We very much value the efforts made by our Poppy Appeal organisers and volunteers, Without which we could not continue to provide the valuable service to our armed forces, veterans and their families.
“Mrs Firth should have received certificates of appreciation and medals for the years of service she has given to the Royal British Legion, which I enclose and hope that these go some way to assure you how much we appreciate how much we appreciate what your mother has done for the Legion.”