poppy field

Brussels Branch

Spotlight on Poppy Appeal super-collector Jackie Farbridge

I’ve been living in Belgium for 42 years and married into an Italian family, but I’m British through and through.

I was born in Enfield in what was the county of Middlesex and now a London borough. My dad grew up in London and lived there throughout his childhood during the Second World War. I remember him telling my brother Gary and I about what it was like during the Blitz and subsequent years. London was frequently bombed by the Luftwaffe and the family had to move many times after their homes were destroyed.

Both my parents (John Farbridge and Irene, née Harding) had elder brothers who were away fighting. They would tell us stories about their wartime experiences at family reunions. Everyone in our family always participated in Remembrance Day and bought poppies. Since a very young age, I always remember wearing one.

I came to Belgium when I was 22 to get a job and learn French. I enjoyed living here so I decided to stay longer. Then I met my husband, Jean-Louis (Ponté), whose family were originally from Italy. They’d come to Belgium after the war to work in the mines when there was a manpower shortage. After marrying, I decided to stay in Belgium for good.

In 1996, I took up a teaching position at the Ecole Fondamentale Léonie de Waha in Liège, the first English immersion school in Belgium. Initially I taught in the kindergarten and later in the primary section, mainly teaching years 1 and 2.

I used to belong to the Anglican Church in Liège and we always had a Remembrance service in November.

One year I decided that it would be good to talk to the children at school about the poppy. I contacted the RBL in Brussels who put me in touch with Ann Morley, the Poppy Appeal organiser.

At first, I wasn't sure that it would work but, from the start, the children were really interested in the topic. In years 5 and 6, they were already learning about the First and Second World Wars, so their teachers were pleased for them to learn about the poppy and its significance. It was more difficult to explain it to the younger children, especially as all the teaching was in English!

I started putting collection boxes in the classrooms in 2012 and had a stand in the entrance hall. 

In 2014 we made a display to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. This really encouraged everyone to understand what had happened and why. The children made 1,000 poppies which we displayed in the school. We calculated that one poppy was equivalent to 40 Belgian soldiers killed during the war.

The older years really got into the subject and we had great group discussions about it at lunchtime. 

Then, I thought, why don't we try to do a street collection for the Poppy Appeal?

I asked the teachers from years 4, 5 and 6 if they would be interested and they spoke to the kids. Everyone was really motivated. We went out collecting in Liège on three different days in 2018 and the children, who had learnt the story of the poppy in English, explained to people incredibly well in French what it was all about. They did a great job and we collected €542. Last year, we raised an even bigger sum, €825. (The in-school collection also raised €322 in 2017).

It’s a project that I aim to continue, even though I recently retired. Seeing how the children have responded has been amazing and I feel we are giving them extra knowledge about what happened in the past. They are learning history in a hands-on way.

I was planning to go into school the week before the most recent Remembrance Day but the schools were closed and, unfortunately, I caught the Covid virus. The children were very disappointed but hopefully we can go out again in 2021.

I have been very lucky to have such great headteachers and colleagues who were always pleased to support my poppy project over the years and who are eager to participate again.

I’m pleased that it’s not just my old school taking part now.

My daughter Jessica and son-in-law Anthony both work at schools in Liège (Jessica at the Ecole Fondamentale Fétinne, also an immersion school, and Anthony at Ecole Fondamentale Chénée - Grand Prés), and each is now also collecting for the Poppy Appeal.

So, hopefully, the Poppy Appeal will continue to be a great success in Liège.

Pictures all from Ecole Fondamentale Léonie de Waha