Morrisons' Veteran Blunder

29 October 2014 | Lloyd Hughes

One thing that seems to earn public ire like no other is the mistreatment of war veterans. Whatever people’s opinion on our foreign policy, the fact remains that the majority of Brits support the Armed Forces and the work that they do.

Naysayers might not agree with the reasons behind a conflict and lament the decisions of politicians and the top brass, but even they can appreciate the courage displayed by troops involved at the sharp end. Risking life and limb in the course of the working day is, thankfully, something that most of us don’t have to live with.

Public appreciation for veterans is particularly felt when it comes to those that were involved in the Second World War. The scale of the conflict means that most British families have a relative, be it distant or immediate, that ‘did their bit’ during its six-year course.

The inevitability of time means that these brave men and women are sadly becoming fewer and fewer in number, with the remainder now mostly well into their 80’s and 90’s, which means we should cherish their presence and appreciate their sacrifice all the more whilst we can still demonstrate the sentiment to those that are still amongst us.

But it seems that not all of us are so inclined.

Morrisons discovered this week that the mistreatment of elderly war veterans earns an immediate dose of public fury.

Every year the British Legion’s Poppy Appeal sees survivors of past conflicts standing outside shops in a bid to raise funds for the care of ex-military personnel.

In its favour, Morrisons is one of the chains that allows charity fundraisers to stand in its entrance to sell poppies. However the extent of its charitable accommodation came into question this week at its store in Taunton, Somerset.

A shopper claimed to come across 89-year-old Burma veteran, Bill Daw, selling poppies outside in the cold. When she asked why he was ‘freezing’ outside the doors rather than stood inside the entrance, the veteran told her that the manager had told him that he ‘couldn’t come in here’ and would have to stand outside, as there was no room inside due to a large Morrisons promotional display.

Upon approaching the manager to remonstrate with him, the shopper was told that the veteran should ‘wear a warmer coat tomorrow’ if he wanted to stay warm and that they were ‘trying to run a business’.

The shopper turned out to be an ex-member of the Women’s Royal Air Force, who decided to post a description of the incident on Facebook. The post went ‘viral’ as social media users expressed their indignation and disgust at Mr Daw’s shoddy treatment. Several mainstream media outlets picked up on the story, which saw Morrisons called to account.

In a bid to combat the negative publicity Morrisons claimed that there was a ‘misunderstanding’ (PR speak for balls up), and has since made a contribution to the Poppy Appeal, as well as giving gifts as a gesture of goodwill to both the outraged shopper and Mr Daw.

The reaction of Morrisons’ corporate PR machine has been smooth, swift and well managed but the incident has cast an unwelcome shadow during a particularly poignant Remembrance period that sees the country mark the centenary of the First World War.

The court of public opinion can often be a minefield, but one thing’s for certain, poorly treating an octogenarian war veteran is certain to generate unwanted headlines.