Tributes paid to 'Poppy Man' Eric Atkin after his death at 92
Tributes have been paid to the popular fundraiser and Royal British Legion stalwart, who sold his first poppy at the age of 12.
He went on to help shift more than two million of the little red tributes – and continued his strong support of the RBL right to the end.
Eric and fellow former soldier Barry Theaker helped bring about a new Remembrance bench by the cenotaph in Wath, giving older members of the community a space to sit and reflect.
It ended up being unveiled by MP John Healey in Eric’s memory on November 11, two days before the funeral.
“Dad wanted to be first to sit there, but it wasn’t to be,” said Eric’s son Alan.
“He had put towards the bench, him and Barry. They were in the Legion together and came up with the idea for some benches near the cenotaph because people are getting older and it would allow them to sit there.
“This is the first of three they wanted to do, and Dad and Barry put in most of the money for this one.”
The sides of the bench have the emblems of the two former servicemen’s regiments, with a bugle marking Eric’s time with the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.
Alan said: “Dad didn’t get a chance this year but he was still selling poppies right up to last year, having started when he was 12.
“It meant everything to him. That was Dad through and through. He liked helping people, always has done, and selling poppies was something he was proud of.
“He never missed a chance to sell a poppy. I would end up driving him round as he took boxes to shops and pubs.”
Eric’s parents were founding members of the British Legion, and he went on to win awards for his support of the cause, which also earned him the Poppy Man nickname.
In 2016 he was recognised with a British Red Cross fundraising award, and when he was given a Points of Light title the following year, then Prime Minister Theresa May said: “Your continued work over 75 years has been a tremendous asset to the RBL and has rightfully made you one of their most valued volunteers.
“You should be immensely proud of continuing the legacy of your parents through the millions of poppies that you have distributed.”
Away from his poppy selling prowess, Eric was a big wildlife fan. He took school parties on trips to nature reserves at places like Thorpe Marsh, Denaby and Broomhill.
He also enjoyed birdwatching – and even once ended up featured on TV for his efforts to get more stray cats neutered.
“At one time when he retired he was selling things to raise money for Yorkshire Wildlife Trust,” said Alan. “Nearly every Saturday or Sunday we would be off to some village fete for that.”
Eric’s funeral on November 13 was held at Wath Church, which he attended regularly. His usual seat was marked with a “here but not here” soldier tribute.
There were four standards at the service, along with an ex-army bugler to perform the Last Post and Reveille.
Eric’s family thanked everyone for their support and kind words after his death. Alan added: “I don’t think he had an enemy in the world.”