TOUGH Yorkshireman Ben Taylor is an Arctic-trained Royal Navy engineer who has served all over the world.
But he’s now going into battle to help save this year’s Poppy Appeal – with an emotional Remembrance Day poem which has moved millions to tears.
Ben, 30, has built up a huge following online for his poetry, written in Yorkshire dialect and laced with down-to-earth northern humour.
He writes verses about subjects such as childhood memories growing up in the White Rose County and his love of Yorkshire Puddings.
But his biggest hit has been his spine-tingling Armistice Day poem which has been viewed an incredible 15 million times by fans from as far afield as Australia, America and Brazil.
He is helping to plug the feared hole in this year’s appeal caused by the pandemic – which threatens to halve the amount of donations – by selling prints of the poem for a tenner.
Modest Ben set himself an initial target of £1,000 but said: “We smashed that in a few hours. I only printed 100 to begin with and they all went on day one.
“I printed another 1,000 and they are going like hot cakes. I am chuffed to bits that my poem is helping to bring in some much needed brass for the appeal because the Royal British Legion does amazing work.”
Ben, a Petty Officer with 847 Naval Air Squadron, is also backing The Sun’s Poppy Stars campaign to help the Legion’s fundraising.
And he gave it a boost this week by writing a new poem called Every Poppy Counts which he performed exclusively for Sun readers among war graves of fallen comrades in St Bartholomew, the Fleet Air Arm memorial church next to his base, RNAS Yeovilton, in Somerset.
Reading among graves
A poignant silence had descended on the churchyard until his strong Yorkshire voice floated over the graves of those who made the ultimate sacrifice: “This year, everything’s different; Vulnerable folk need us now more than ever; But British Legion, they’ll still be theeare (sic); To support ’em, whatever the weather.
“And that’s why it’s still important; To back it, there’s lots to be done!; Whether move for remembrance or poems; Or posing for pictures wi’ poppies int Sun!”
As he came to the end, silence once more enveloped the churchyard, interrupted only by the cawing of crows overhead.
Every Poppy Counts – by Ben Taylor
Nah, Poppy Appeal’s important to me,
And that’s why, every November,
I do what I can to support it,
And why I’ll always remember.
Remember them sacrificed all,
And remember them struggling now.
It’s why I write these bits to spread message,
Int best way this lad knows ‘ow.
This year, Remembrance Day’s different,
No rows o’ veterans proud ont parade,
They’ll be at ‘ome, wi’ their chests still puffed art,
Too aware of the price some ‘ave paid.
This year, everything’s different,
Vulnerable folk need us now more than ever,
But British Legion, they’ll still be theeare,
To support ’em, whatever the weather.
And that’s why it’s still important,
To back it, there’s lots to be done!
Whether move for remembrance or poems,
Or posing for pictures wi’ poppies int Sun!
Owt we can do to spread t’ message,
Every poppy counts, aye it’s true what they say.
Folk need us now more than ever,
How will you remember, this Armistice Day?
Legion is a lifesaver
Ben revealed the words for his original Remembrance Day poem – which went viral after he posted it online in 2016 – came easily because it is a subject close to his heart.
He said: “I just thought about what it means to me and which parts of it made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.
“It’s those images of the old boys with the medals pinned on their chests, still standing tall and proud despite their advancing years and still representing their regiments.
“That gets me every year and when I thought about that the poem just sort of spilled out.
“This year those old boys haven’t been able to sell poppies because of the virus so there is a worry that the fundraising will be affected.
“That’s why we all need to make as big an effort as possible to make sure the Legion can continue to do its excellent work.
“The Legion is a lifesaver for some people – sometimes literally so. It’s not just the old boys in the Chelsea hospital they look after.
“There are all the recent conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan. A lot of people depend on the Poppy Appeal and we all need to make sure this year’s is as successful as ever despite the pandemic.”
Pooch ode led to ‘accidental’ fame
Ben told how he became a poet “by accident” while out walking his dog one day.
He grew up in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, the middle of three sons to train driver dad John and nurse mum Fiona, both 56.
At school he excelled on the sports field rather than in the classroom with rugby league being his main passion.
He had a chance to turn pro with Wakefield Trinity but decided to join up instead.
At 17 he became an aviation engineer with 847 squadron, part of the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm, and now maintains Commando Wildcat helicopters, the Navy’s recon chopper.
Although he didn’t excel academically at school and didn’t read classic poetry, he always had an interest in Yorkshire dialect verse.
And one day around five years ago, while walking Barbara, his Dachshund-Jack Russell cross, a line popped into his head.
He said: “It was about Barbara. I then thought up another line, made them rhyme and threw in some humour, all done in Yorkshire dialect.
“I recorded it on my phone and then did another one for a mate’s birthday. Then another pal emigrated to Australia and had a son over there so I did one for him comparing Yorkshire slang and Aussie slang.
“After a while I had quite a few in my phone and our lass suggested I should post them on Facebook.”
First baby due on Remembrance day
‘Our lass’ is childhood sweetheart Steph, 29, a psychiatric nurse. The couple tied the knot in 2016 and are expecting their first baby – which was initially due on November 11, although the due date is now three days later.
Ben, who is an ambassador for the Legion, already had a decent following online when he posted his Remembrance Day poem but he was staggered when it proved such a hit.
It includes the verse: “To them ‘at we’ve lost, I’m forever in debt, But I’ll promise ya summat, I’ll never forget” and it struck a chord with millions.
He said: “The reaction was unbelievable.
“The number of times it has been viewed by people is just staggering. And they are from all over the world.
“It’s quite humbling to be honest.
“People have been asking for a while if they can get a print of it. I’ve never done any actual fundraising before, I’ve just shared things online to help raise the profile of the Legion.
“But I thought this year, with all the challenges of the pandemic, it would be a good idea to finally do the prints and raise some brass for the Poppy Appeal.
“People have sent me pictures of them with their prints at war memorials and things like that. It’s really moving.
It’s impossible not to be moved when you see the stories each year about the heroism that people showed and the sacrifices they made for our freedom
“Remembrance Day has always meant a lot to me, even before I joined the Navy.
“We were brought up by my mum and dad to really appreciate the sacrifices these people made for us.
“It’s impossible not to be moved when you see the stories each year about the heroism that people showed and the sacrifices they made for our freedom.
“I wanted to pay my own tribute in the best way I know how – with one of my Yorkshire poems.
“All of the poems I do are in my Yorkshire dialect. I can’t read in any other voice and it wouldn’t come from the heart if I didn’t do it in my own voice.
“I even text in Yorkshire – it’s the only language I know.
“I get a lot of reaction from people who were born in Yorkshire but have moved away. It’s lovely to hear them say that my poems remind them of home.
“I obviously get a bit of trolling from people from Lancashire as well – but it’s all in good spirit.”
Ben is still a keen rugby league player and captains the UK’s armed forces team. He writes poems about the sport which has opened several doors – he has met the England team and in 2018 he performed a poem before the test match against New Zealand at Anfield.
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He is considering publishing a book of his poems but for now hasn’t got the time to fit it in between fixing helicopters, preparing for his first child – and fundraising for the Poppy Appeal.
He urged Sun readers to help out with the latter and said: “Dig deep folks – it’s a reet good cause.”
To buy a print of Ben’s Remembrance Day poem go to www.yorkshireprose.com. All proceeds go to the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal.