THE Gwent Poppy Appeal was launched yesterday with a memorial and balloon launch at the Newport Transporter Bridge.

Poppy Appeal organisers, veterans, friends, family, and Newport Mayor John Guy attended the ceremony at 10.30am yesterday.

An ex-Royal Marine from Gwent who lost friends in the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan helped to launch the appeal.

Matthew Adams, 21, from Undy, was a member of 42 Commando for nearly four years.

He said: “I am helping the Legion with the Poppy Appeal out of respect for two mates who have died in Afghanistan.

“Nigel ‘Deano’ Mead (from Carmarthen) died in May 2011 in a bomb blast in Helmand. He was a close mate of mine, and we trained together. Connor was killed on operations since I’ve come back. We went to college together.”

His friend Sapper Connor Ray, 21, from Caerleon, was a member of the 33 Regiment Royal Engineers, and died in April 2012, after suffering fatal wounds in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) strike.

Mr Adams said: “I just want to do what I can to help all of those injured in service, not just those in Afghanistan, but all the wars and conflicts.

“I did a tour of duty in Afghanistan last April for eight months, and once I had done that I wanted to move on. So I’ve just started at Newport University doing an art and design foundation course.”

The Transporter Bridge gondola was sent out to the middle of the river, and during a two-minute silence 433 poppy balloons were released to remember the 433 servicemen and women killed in Afghanistan since the conflict began.

Mike Jones, the county Poppy Appeal co-ordinator said: “The legion’s fundraising target is a recordbreaking £42 million this year, so this is going to be the biggest Poppy Appeal ever. Today we have honoured all war veterans, past and present, and our thoughts and tributes go to those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country.”

Mr Jones added: “Today we are using this magnificent structure to help all war veterans, especially those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country in all conflicts.”

The Gwent Poppy Appeal is aiming to raise £300,000 this year for the Armed Forces, their families and veterans.

COMMENT: Remember our heroes

GWENT’S Poppy Appeal launch yesterday coincided with the deaths of two more British soldiers in Afghanistan.

There could be no more stark reminder of why the Royal British Legion remains as relevant today as ever.

Also, on the same day the mother of the 200th British serviceman to die in the Afghan war told MPs that not enough was being done for soldiers returning from the conflict.

Hazel Hunt, whose son Richard died aged 21, did not hold back in her criticism of the Ministry of Defence when she appeared before a select committee.

The timing of the debate and the latest news from Afghanistan added poignancy to yesterday’s release of hundreds of balloons in Newport to mark all those killed in this hugely controversial conflict.

As we have said before, we believe this is a conflict which we should no longer be part of. But we very much want to support the Royal British Legion in both their work and their fundraising.

And it is perhaps a reminder that although the poppy will always be associated the First WorldWar the money raised through the annual appeal is still helping our modern day soldiers and their families who are often in need of support.

The target for this year’s appeal is a staggering £42 million.

Let’s all help the Royal British Legion achieve that by supporting the Poppy Appeal.