Community hero Jim steps down as Poppy Appeal organiser

Jim Shelton, pictured recently

Jim Shelton, pictured recently

First published in Beyond the Headlines

A tea party was held in Burley-in-Wharfedale to mark the retirement of the village’s Poppy Appeal organiser.

It was the end of a chapter in the life of former Royal Navy telegraphist Jim Shelton who has run the appeal in the village for almost 60 years.

For 85-year-old Jim it has been a lifetime of service to the community in which he grew up and it has seen him work not only for the Royal British Legion but also the Lions International and give service as a former Ilkley Urban District Councillor – serving twice as chairman – and as a magistrate on the old Otley bench.

People involved in the Poppy Appeal in the village gathered to pay tribute to a man who took up the reins of the Poppy Appeal after 11 years service in the Royal Navy, joining up at the age of 17 and serving in the last two years of the Second World War. When the war ended he remained in the service and served in Malaya and Korea.

The Vicar of Burley, the Reverend Michael Burley, paid tribute to Jim’s work throughout the community but in particular with regard to the Poppy Appeal and the organising of the Remembrance Service in the village.

He said that it was fitting that Jim was bowing out as Poppy Appeal organiser with a record total of £2,774 having been raised in the 2011 appeal in the village.

Among those attending was Anne Leslie who said that when she became a councillor Jim was her mentor and she was grateful for all he had taught her about the role.

Richard and Pauline Stead, the parents of Flt Lt David Stead who was killed in the Iraq war, were also in attendance along with people who had sold poppies in the village over many years.

These included Mrs Evelyn Firth who had only come out of hospital the night before. She said: “I was determined to be here to pay tribute to Jim and all the work he has put into the Poppy Appeal over so many years.”

Before he had a car Jim took the poppy boxes and collecting tins round the village in a wheelbarrow and he has continued that work for nigh on 60 years having received the British Legion’s 50-year award some years ago. He was helped and encouraged in that work by his late wife Hazel, who had served in the WRNS.

Born in Otley and raised in Burley Woodhead before moving to Burley, Jim started work at the age of 14 and as it was wartime he ended up working nights and doing fire watch at Garnetts Paper Mill in Otley where he was to work for the rest of his working life.

Shortly before he turned 15 he joined the Otley ATC and became its drum major proudly leading their parades and gaining something of a reputation as a dare devil when it came to throwing the mace high above the telephone wires that crossed Otley’s Kirkgate.

He carried on his drum major role in the Royal Navy after volunteering to join up at 17.

Primarily based at Portsmouth he found himself back in Yorkshire and not too far from home for his basic training at Wetherby – although he was not allowed home.

They trained to row boats in static rowing contraptions built into the camp’s water tanks but when asked if he had ever had to row he smiled and said ‘no not really but it was good training’.

As he chose to be a telegraphist Jim was sent for further training to Scotland and it was here that he became familiar with the game of hockey – a game he went on to play for many years at Ben Rhydding Hockey Club.

“I was in a wagon with my navy mates going off to this hockey game that I thought I was going to watch. A quick count of heads showed that there were only 11 of us in the lorry and I was told I was playing.

“That was my introduction to hockey. I had never played the game before in my life. I must have done quite well as I then got picked for the team on a regular basis and at one time when based near The Admiralty in London I played with Lord Louis Mountbatten.

“We were in fact invited to watch the Mountbatten wedding but being young sailors we decided we had better things to do with our spare time and passed up the chance,” said Jim.

It was not to be Jim’s only brush with royalty for twice during his service as chairman of Ilkley Urban District Council he attended royal garden parties at Buckingham Palace. He served the Burley ward for many years and was chairman of the council at the time of its twinning with Coutances, in Normandy, France.

His public service saw him become a magistrate on the Otley bench and when Local Government Reform saw the end of the urban district councils he decided to put his energies into community service with the Lions and he was secretary of Wharfedale Lions for many years. He twice won the Bob Jones International Lions Award for service and for 34 years he organised the massive bonfire and fireworks display in Ilkley which raised thousands of pounds for charities.

A life which has been full of service to his local community has also seen him rewarded with the Shipley Area Committee Community Hero award.

Jim hopes to continue helping with the Poppy Appeal but has handed over the official role of Poppy Appeal organiser in the village to his cousin, Rachel O’Connor.

Rachel, 61, who started selling poppies in the village at the age of six alongside her father, the late George Pickard, said: “I have served quite a long apprenticeship having been involved with selling poppies in the village since I was a youngster. When I was only 18 I was secretary of the village’s Women’s Section of the British Legion and every year of my life I have attended the Remem-brance Service in the village and helped with the coffee mornings. My brother, Tom, and I used to take part in the Remembrance Day parades when we were in the Guides and Scouts. It has been a family tradition and one I am keen to continue.”

She added: “We have a core of very loyal helpers in the village and we hope to expand that in the coming years as it has dwindled over a matter of time. I feel there is a renewed interest in the Poppy Appeal and I look forward to continuing the excellent work that Jim has done over so many years.

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