A Second World War hero who helped liberate Brussels in 1944 is on a new mission – urging people to support this year’s Poppy Appeal.
According to Bill Evans, 92, a resident of Gwern Alyn care home which is part of the Pendine Park care organisation in Wrexham, the work of the Royal British Legion in supporting ex-servicemen and women is “absolutely vital”.
Bill, who moved into Gwern Alyn a year ago, joined the army in 1943 and fought across Europe seeing action in France, Holland, Belgium and Germany.
He went to the town’s Eagles Meadow shopping centre with his favourite care practitioner, Mandy Williams, to launch the local Poppy Appeal.
Collectors will be out in force at Eagles Meadow and elsewhere in Wrexham on November 4, 5, 11 and 12.
It’s already been a big year for Bill, a native of Kerry, near Newtown, in Powys.
Back in May he was honoured to receive an invite to a Buckingham palace garden party in celebration of Her Majesty the Queen’s 90th birthday.
He also met the First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones when he visited Gwern Alyn with Wrexham AM Lesley Griffiths, who is also the Welsh Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs.
The VIP treatment is a far cry from the haunting sights Bill witnessed during the war.
He recalled: “I was still a very young man barely out of my teens but saw some terrible, terrible sights, things that still haunt me today.
“We went through Belgium, we helped liberate Brussels and went back after the war for a parade and were given the freedom of the city. That was marvellous.
“I lost so many friends, good young men, It just wasn’t right. I still remember my number, 14635666.
“Everyone said I’d get killed having three sixes at the end of my number and there were many times I came close but I survived. I was one of the lucky ones.
“It was a case of kill or be killed, I never thought too much about it when I was younger but I think about it a lot now. It is very difficult and I get very upset sometimes when the memories come back.”
“I’d just ask people to support the Poppy Appeal it means a lot to people who need help and the Royal British Legion does help a lot of people.”
After the war and his military service ended Bill returned to mid Wales before working on a farm at Eardiston, Shropshire.
He said: “I married my first wife, Doris, and we had two sons. John, 55, and lives in Birmingham and Robert, 50, who lives in Ludlow. John has three children, but Robert has never married.
“I lived with my second wife, Violet, for 30 years until she died four years ago. I miss her so much.”
Senior care practitioner Mandy Williams, who escorted Bill to the garden party at Buckingham Palace, is backing the Poppy Appeal as a way of remembering the sacrifices people like Bill made.
She said: “The Appeal is so important. Bill has told me so much about his experiences during the war and he saw some terrible things and was involved in some awful fighting.
“As Bill says, we also have to help those who have come back from Iraq and Afghanistan and the other places where British armed forces have been involved and support them and the way to do that is through the Poppy Appeal.”
Kevin Forbes, the Royal British Legion’s North Wales Community Fundraiser who runs the Poppy Appeal across North Wales, was grateful to Bill.
He said: “We get fantastic support from Eagles Meadow Shopping Centre and last year, for example, that helped us raise £72,000 in the town toward the appeal. That was up £7,000 on the year before.
“The money we raise supports serving and ex-servicemen and women and their families so they can live on their homes.”
“Live On is now our motto, we want to remember the fallen but support the living and that’s what the Poppy Appeal is really all about.”
Eagles Meadow manager Kevin Critchley said: “We want to support the Appeal in Wrexham and we always welcome the poppy sellers into Eagles Meadow. It is a very important appeal and one we wholeheartedly support.
“It’s important we support the servicemen and women and their families after they gave so much in so many conflicts for our freedom. I hope people support the Appeal and we see another increase on what was a fantastic sum raised last year.”