One Fife veteran recounts how the annual poppy appeal helped him

A place to call home...after falling on hard times in 2016, Alex Watson was given a hand to get back on his feet by Poppyscotland, almost 50 years after his service.
A place to call home...after falling on hard times in 2016, Alex Watson was given a hand to get back on his feet by Poppyscotland, almost 50 years after his service.

Thousands of poppies and tins were delivered to some 29 different locations around Fife for the annual poppy campaign.

But when you popped your donation into a tin, did you consider how Poppyscotland uses the money?

A sense of adventure...saw Alex join the Black Watch in 1961 before moving to the Royal Engineers a year later.

A sense of adventure...saw Alex join the Black Watch in 1961 before moving to the Royal Engineers a year later.

This year, as the Royal British Legion asked people to Remember Together, Poppyscotland also shared poignant stories of veterans it helped thanks to the Poppy Appeal.

And among their number was Alexander Watson who is Kirkcaldy, born and bred.

For many veterans, it’s often the whirlwind period immediately after leaving the Armed Forces and making the adjustment back into civilian life that can create problems.

However, in the case of Corporal Alex Watson, help from Poppyscotland came nearly five decades after he left the Army, when eviction, betrayal and family angst left him struggling and wondering where to turn.

After seven years of military service, true love prompted Alex to leave the army but it is a time he looks back on with pride.

After seven years of military service, true love prompted Alex to leave the army but it is a time he looks back on with pride.

It had all started so well for the 76-year-old, as he explained: “I joined up at 18. I had been working as an apprentice but got bored.

“My gran wanted me to join the RAF: she thought the uniform was better and that the Army was too common!

“But I knew I wanted to join the Army and that’s exactly what I did. I missed National Service by one year and initially I joined the Black Watch in 1961 before moving to the Royal Engineers a year later.”

Cpl Watson’s desire to widen his horizons was a factor in his decision.

He said: “It was good for my life experience. Who wants to stay in the one place all their life? I wanted to see more of the world; that’s what the adverts at the time were all about. I wanted to get some life experience.

“You’ve got to break out and see the world and I had a sense of adventure.

“I was issued with a train ticket and off I went for my training.”

After seven years of military service, true love prompted Alex to leave.

He said: “I met the girl who would become my first wife and I wanted us to start our lives together. And, before I knew it, I was demobbed in 1968.”

Life after the Armed Forces was hard-working for Alex, but, fortunately, he was able to adapt to civilian life easier than some.

“Jobs were ten-a-penny back then – if you were prepared to work,” he said. “I got married in Kirkcaldy as soon as I came out and that made the transition better.”

Alex and his new wife Samantha, a telephonist from Elgin, later moved to Wales where he managed a caravan site in Pembrokeshire for 17 years.

“There were 180 caravans,” recalled Alex. “I taught myself everything to keep the site going – and made my boss a very rich man in the process!”

Sadly, Samantha died in 2000 during an operation and Alex decided to return home to Scotland, initially working as a security guard at Napier University before moving to Aberdeen with his second wife.

He spent several years working as a security guard, overseeing the two job centres in the Granite City for Securitas.

Nine years ago, after he split up with his second wife, Alex returned to his home town of Kirkcaldy.

But things took a dark turn for Alex in 2016. He was evicted from his home, fell out with family and suffered a betrayal that left him thousands of pounds out of pocket; savings that had taken decades to accrue.

“I had no money and I was homeless for a while,” he said. “It was a struggle to afford food but I just had to keep going – I felt that it was survival of the fittest.”

Living in hostels for a short time, Fife Council’s housing team quickly identified that Alex was an ex-serviceman and, in November 2016, he moved into a new flat in Kirkcaldy.

He said: “The housing officer was incredible and put me in touch with different groups, including Poppyscotland.”

That resulted in Alex, who had no possessions other than what he could carry on his back, geting a grant of £371 to buy everyday items for his new home which most of us take for granted.

“I was flat broke but the grant money kept my head above water and I now have a place to call home,” he said.

Alex is grateful for the organisation’s support and is now encouraging others to seek out their help.

He added: “I served from 1961 to 1968 but I still got support when I needed and it was very much appreciated.

“So I’d say to other veterans don’t let pride get in your way – ask for help.

“Poppyscotland knows what it’s about and will help get you back on your feet.”

Stars supported Poppy Appeal - but have you?

The Scottish Poppy Appeal is the country’s largest annual street collection and helps to raise millions of pounds each year which Poppyscotland uses to support the country’s Armed Forces community.

More than five million poppies and 60,000 collecting tins were distributed around Scotland to help encourage the public to wear a poppy with pride – including 29 different locations across the Kingdom.

Scottish stars also came out in force to launch this year’s appeal, among them Game of Thrones actor James Cosmo, celebrity chef Nick Nairn and athlete Eilidh Doyle.

Dumbarton-born James Cosmo said: “I’m proud to lend my support to this year’s Poppy Appeal and to do my little bit to encourage us all to contribute to Poppyscotland as they continue their ongoing work to support the Armed Forces community.”

Nick Nairn (60), who is from Stirling and was the first Scottish chef to be awarded a Michelin star, said: “I will certainly be putting on my poppy with pride to remember all of those who selflessly served our country.

“It really does feel like a time when the country comes together to support a common cause; we need that more than ever in these chaotic times.”

And Perth-born Eilidh Doyle, 32, who represented Great Britain at the 2012 Olympic Games in London and won an Olympic bronze medal at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, said: “I’ve always worn a poppy but not really been sure about where the money goes. When I learned more about the work of Poppyscotland and the life-changing difference it makes to veterans and their families it made me realise just how vital the Scottish Poppy Appeal is.”

To donate online visit www.poppyscotland.org.uk.