Duchess of Cornwall officially opens New Forest Poppy Pod village

Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall officially opened Hampshire County Council’s Poppy Pod village for the Armed Forces at Tile Barn Outdoor Centre on Tuesday afternoon, 26 July.

The Military Wives Choir, which inspired the idea for the Poppy Pod village, entertained VIP guests at the official launch.

The Duchess toured the Poppy Pod Village and was introduced to military families currently staying in the wooden camping pods.

Among those who met the Duchess was Navy chef, LCH Darren Hatfield from Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) his wife, Lisa, and their four daughters; who were sharing one of the miniature holiday chalets while on holiday in the New Forest.  

I’d like to say a very big thank you for providing these facilities for our important family time together.

Lisa Hatfield

Each Poppy pod is named after a significant battle during the First World War.

LCH Hatfield declared the Pod facilities to be “Amazing - thank you!

“We need more  please, ideally at beauty spots around the country and one in the Caribbean Islands would be ideal too!”

Lisa added: The Pods are really very well designed, homely and comfortable. I’d like to say a very big thank you for providing these facilities for our important family time together.”

During the tour, the Military Wives Choir sang a number of their tracks developed during the TV series “The Choir”.

The Duchess subsequently unveiled a poppy-shaped plaque at the reception attended by local authority leaders, including New Zealand Defence Attaché Brigadier Evan Williams and representatives from the Royal British Legion in Brockenhurst.

The Royal British Legion branch raised £50,000 to add to the £250,000 donated from the Armed Forces Community Covenant Grant Scheme for the project.

Naval Reservist Officer, Lt Martin Heighway from HMS King Alfred was among those presented to HRH the Duchess of Cornwall, along with the Unit’s Commanding Officer, Cdr Chris Webb RNR. 

Lt Heighway produced the information boards linking the Poppy Pod site to the First World War Gallipoli Campaign.

Lt Heighway’s grandfather was amongst those who fought in that campaign. 

A military historian and lecturer at HMS Sultan in Gosport, Martin has organised many military battlefield tours for Naval personnel and he had donated Aleppo pine tree seedlings to the poppy Pod village.

Soldiers and their families from 4 Rifles based at Aldershot were also presented to the Duchess.

County Council Chairman, Councillor Keith Chapman MBE, said: “The Poppy Pods village continues Tile Barn’s historic legacy of offering respite for the military, now in a unique and modern way.

“The Tile Barn Outdoor Centre was previously No.1 General Hospital where traumatised and wounded ANZAC troops were treated and recuperated during the First World War.”

An immaculately tended Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery with many headstones bearing the names of New Zealand’s soldiers were buried in the grounds of the nearby 11th Century St Nicholas’ Church. 

The Duchess of Cornwall joined New Zealand’s Defence Attaché Brigadier Evan Williams at the Church to see the recently installed commemorative stained glass window inspired by the military hospital.

The inspiration for the Pod Village came from County Council Outdoor facilities manager Mr Enda Ryan who had been moved by the challenges facing military families as revealed in the TV show The Choir and was determined to find a way to offer support. 

Mr Ian Parker, Hampshire County Council’s Military Liaison officer explained that the Poppy Pod village project has been supported by many individuals and organisations.

He thanked those that had worked on the project together, explaining that significant funding was made available from the Armed Forces Community Covenant grant.

The Royal British Legion and County Council received generous cash concessions from several companies linked to the construction of the Poppy Pod Village.