A VETERAN soldier whose grandfathers both fought in the First World War has helped launch a pop-up poppy shop at a busy Ipswich shopping centre in what is the centenary year of the end of the great conflict.
Martin Combes, who is vice-chair of the Ipswich branch of the Royal British Legion, is part of the team who set up the two-week unit at Sailmakers Shopping Centre along with his wife Liz.
The 67-year-old, who lives in the town, says that given the significant milestone this year it’s important that we show our appreciation to the First World War generation and the sacrifices they made.
Mr Combes, who served in the army from 1967-1975 before becoming an HGV driver, has a strong military family background and has been involved with the Poppy Appeal for more than 25 years.
He says every penny raised from the pop-up shop at Sailmakers Shopping Centre, which is run by volunteers, will go directly to the legion who provide vital support for the Armed Forces community.
Mr Combes, who during his army career was stationed in Germany and Hong Kong as well as completing five tours of Northern Ireland, said: “Each year the pop-up shop has got better and better. The Centre manager Mike Sorhaindo has been absolutely brilliant with us.
“We’re so grateful to Sailmakers for letting us have the unit for two weeks – it’s fabulous that they do this.
“Every penny that goes into the shop goes straight to the legion and the Poppy Appeal. The help we provide is not just for ex-servicemen and women, we cover those serving and families as well.”
Both of Mr Combes’ grandfathers fought in the First World War and his dad played a significant part in the final stages of the Second World War.
He said: “Both myself and my wife are from very large ex-military families. My mum’s dad George Jacob Gover was in the Royal Field Artillery, like myself.
“My dad’s dad Christopher Combes was part of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. They both served in the First World War and both came back.
“From what I can remember they never spoke about it. They both went to war and both came back, that’s all I really know.
“With it being the centenary I will be thinking of them. It’s such a long time ago now but it’s important that it’s remembered.
“I hope people will always remember the sacrifices they made.”
Mr Combes’ dad enjoyed an eventful 24-year naval career which saw him serve with Prince Philip aboard HMS Magpie.
He explained: “My dad passed out in 1943 and was immediately sent out to cover the D-Day landings from the start of the operation.
“He was helping cover the North Sea making sure German submarines didn’t come down into the Channel to intercept the landings.
“They didn’t and then the ship was diverted down to the French coast. It was a big ship with big guns which were fired from the Channel into France to cover the troops as they made their way into the country to push the Germans back.
“His claim to fame was being part of the first boarding party on the first German sub to surrender two weeks before the end of the war.
“My dad also served on the same ship as Prince Philip who was the executive officer escorting merchant ships between Britain and America.”
Mandi Cox-Osborne, Suffolk Community Fundraiser for the Royal British Legion, says the pop-up shop at Sailmakers is becoming more and more successful.
She said: “My organisers in Ipswich set up the shop every year and are brilliant. The shop gives us a real focal point in the town.
“Not all counties have a pop-up shop so we are very lucky that Sailmakers support us like this.
“Having the shop gives us an opportunity to drive up more volunteers and it does generate quite a lot of funds.
“During our last financial year the appeal raised around £91,000 and the year before that it was £80,000.
“It is massively increasing and some of that is because of the shop. The funds we raise are vital to ensure our services are available for the Armed Forces community.
“We have a wide range of brilliant services and it’s not just about helping veterans but also those who are still serving.”
Mike Sorhaindo, Manager of Sailmakers Shopping Centre, said: “We are always pleased to support the Poppy Appeal and to acknowledge the sacrifices made by so many for all of us.
“It’s particularly poignant this year as we mark the centenary of the end of World War One and say ‘Thank You’ to that generation, who will never be forgotten.”
He added: “The help that the Royal British Legion continues to provide is vital for those who have served or are still serving their country.”
For more on what’s happening at Sailmakers Shopping Centre go to www.sailmakersshopping.co.uk and to https://www.facebook.com/sailmakers
Pictured top: Martin and Liz Combes with their grandson. (Pics by Simon Lee)