Poppy Man tours war zone to launch Remembrance Day appeal

In an act of derring-do, the British legion launched its poppy campaign in a war zone for the first time — with none other than mascot Poppy Man.

In an act of derring-do, the British legion launched its poppy campaign in a war zone for the first time — with none other than its mascot Poppy Man.

The mascot appeared alongside troops at a ceremony Thursday in the southern Iraq city of Basra that included a service of dedication at a memorial wall remembering fallen British soldiers in Iraq. He also toured operating stations in Iraq.

The trip marks the first foray outside the U.K. for Poppy Man, a life-size figure made of wire mesh covered in scores of fake poppies that has grown in popularity since his first appearance in Royal British Legion ads in 2007.

"[Poppy Man is] very, very excited," said legion spokesman Robert Lee. "It's a little bit sad. He's only ever been around the U.K. before."

He says the unconventional launching pad was selected to get Britons thinking about troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan during the two-week Poppy Appeal fundraising campaign culminating in Remembrance Day on Nov. 11.

Poppy Man, the brainchild of advertising agency The Gate, began making appearances across Britain during last year's campaign.

The legion hoped the character would help it connect with young people, whom Lee says are increasingly interested in their efforts because many troops are part of the same generation.

Poppy Man also marks the legion's concentrated move away from the celebrity-heavy campaigns of the past, which have included the likes of the Spice Girls and other pop groups.

"We felt that no one celebrity, however wonderful or well intentioned, could represent what we mean and what we do more than Poppy Man," said Lee.

Poppy Man has a page on Facebook, a blog tracking his travels across the U.K and recently tapped into mobile blogging through Moblog, allowing users to upload cell phone pictures of him to the web.

The mascot and the legion's online efforts helped it raise a record £30 million from its Poppy Appeal last year, an amount it hopes to surpass by £2 million this year.

While reaction from veterans has largely been positive, Lee acknowledges not everyone is enthused about the new addition to their team.

In the end, though, he says, "The remembrance story is a very contemporary one and we have to keep it contemporary."

About 4,500 British Armed Forces personnel are stationed in Iraq and nearly 8,000 others are in Afghanistan, the legion says.