It was perhaps no coincidence that Wayne 'Buck' Shelford was feared as a tough warrior on the rugby field.

The former All Blacks captain and Maori All Blacks legend, credited with reinvigorating the All Blacks' traditional 'Ka Mate' haka, has fighting in his blood.

His great-great grandfather came to New Zealand in 1854 as a soldier in the British Army.

He fought in the New Zealand Wars in southern Taranaki and Waikato. After 11 years of service, he paid his way out, and settled here.

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Shelford's father, Nathan Edward Shelford served during the Second World War and with J Force as part of the US-led occupation after Japan's surrender in August 1945.

Typical of returned soldiers, he never spoke of his experiences.

"You don't hear much about what they did, or what they saw," Shelford says.

He also had an uncle serve in Korea and Malaya, while his son was a chef in the Navy and served in Afghanistan.

Shelford himself left school in 1975, aged 17, to join the Navy.

"My Dad was pretty happy with that decision, it didn't matter whether it was the army, navy or air force," he says.

Like many youngsters before him, the prospects of travel and high seas adventure lured him in.

He signed up with 200 others and enjoyed the lifestyle and camaraderie.

"You always had a lot of mates around you, you were always playing sport, which was part and parcel of building teamwork, motivating the troops, fighting for your ship and all that sort of stuff."

He left the Navy in 1986 to pursue his rugby career, joining the unauthorised Cavaliers tour of South Africa.

He then made his test debut later that year against France. In his second test, the infamous 'Battle of Nantes', Shelford played on with a torn scrotum and having had four teeth knocked out.

The friendships built up over his 22-test career are similar to the strong bonds forged during his Navy days.

He just missed a reunion in Australia at the weekend - the first he's missed in 12 years.

"I catch up with the guys all the time and go to different RSAs and have a beer with the old boys," the 59-year-old Poppy Ambassador says.

The link between rugby and the services is strong.

It began with the First World War where 13 former All Blacks were killed, including Sergeant Dave Gallaher, who captained the All Black Originals on their celebrated 1905-06 tour of Britain, France and North America.

In recent years, All Blacks squads on end-of-year northern tours have made special trips to the WWI battlefields of the Western Front to pay their respects, and draw inspiration.

"It's so important that our young people never forget," Shelford says.

"We talk about the Great War, the Second World War, but a lot of people have forgotten about Korea, Malaya, Vietnam, which is quite sad. We must remember all of those who have fallen, in whatever conflict, as well as those current service men and women who represent our country at home and around the world."

Shelford is buoyed by the rising interest young New Zealanders have in paying respects at Anzac Day services and during the Poppy Appeal.

"They might think it's just for old people, but it's not now," he says.

"It's so important that our young people never forget."

And lest we forget the children of our fallen heroes too.

How you can help

NZME, publisher of the Herald is asking for your help for Kiwi children like Jemma and Jaden Grant.

In the run-up to Anzac Day, we'll publish a series of stories highlighting the work of the RSA and the benefits of Camp Legacy.

And we'll ask for donations to the RSA-Herald Poppy Appeal. All proceeds will help send children to Camp Legacy.

There are three ways to donate.

Our Pin A Poppy appeal gives you the chance to get a virtual poppy so you can show you remember to care. In return for a small donation via text or GrabOne, NZME's daily deals site, you can download a digital poppy to use as your profile image or share on your social media accounts.

Alternatively, you can make a donation by using the coupon from the newspaper, although you won't get a digital poppy.

The appeal is separate from, but complementary to, the RSA's national poppy appeal.