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Britain’s longest-serving poppy seller to retire aged 103

Poppy collector Rosemary Powell as a child. Photo: Royal British Legion/PA

A former Second World War nurse is planning to retire from selling poppies later this year after a remarkable 97 years of collecting for the appeal.

Rosemary Powell, 103, helped her mother sell poppies on Richmond Bridge for the Royal British Legion’s first Poppy Appeal in 1921 when aged six.

The great-grandmother, from London, is now planning to hang up her collection tin and hand over to a new generation of fundraisers as she is “getting old”.

She is currently believed to be Britain’s longest serving, and oldest, poppy seller.

Rosemary Powell said collecting has kept her going. Credit: PA

Mrs Powell, a widow, said: “I sold poppies last year, maybe not as enthusiastically as previous years, but this year will probably be my last year of selling. I’m getting old now.

“Ever since the age of six, I’ve been selling poppies and I remember it all so well. Collecting has kept me going all these years.”

Mrs Powell lived close to where poppies were made in Richmond, for the first Poppy Appeal and sold them on Richmond Bridge with her mother, Evelyn.

Rosemary Powell aged six, when she began collecting for the Poppy Appeal (Royal British Legion/PA)

“The poppies were so popular I remember that we ran out in no time,” she said.

“My mother was very good at making things with paper and she left me to sell the last few while she nipped over to this sort of general flower shop not far from bridge to buy some red crepe paper to make her own poppies for us to sell.

“She made these very simple little poppies and we soon sold out again.

“It was the very first one so it really caught the public’s attention.”

Rosemary Powell at the Voluntary Aid Detachment Red Cross camp in Scotland (Royal British Legion/PA)

Mrs Powell’s father, Charles Ashton James served with the 126th Baluchistan Infantry and was left wounded after being shot in the head during the Battle of the Somme.

She lost two godfathers and three uncles during the First World War.

Her first fiance, Robin Ellis, a commander in the Royal Navy, died in 1944 when the Lancaster bomber he was flying in crashed near Inverness.

And Mrs Powell’s younger brother Peter, a major in the Army, died during the Second World War.

Rosemary Powell and husband Selwyn on their wedding day in 1952 (Royal British Legion/PA)

“Sadly war has had a significant impact on my life,” she said.

“It’s hard to imagine what they went through but my grandparents lost three of their children – with a fourth wounded – during World War One.

“Right from the beginning, people talked about the Poppy Appeal. It has always been a very important cause for me.

“We did it in memory of those men who were killed, for their sacrifice.”

Rosemary Powell in her nurse's uniform (Royal British Legion/PA)

During the Second World War, Mrs Powell trained as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse providing civilian nursing to the military.

She went on to train at St Thomas’ Hospital in London and later worked as a matron at Powderham Castle, then a finishing school, in Devon in the late 1940s.

In the 1950s, she lived in Africa for a year and made poppies out of paper to give to local people during Remembrance.

From 1975 to the mid-1990s, she lived in France with her Royal Navy officer husband Selwyn and sold the blue cornflowers, the French equivalent to UK poppies.

When she returned to the UK, Mrs Powell sold poppies in London including at the Kings Mall shopping centre in Hammersmith.

Rosemary Powell and former Royal Marine Nick Fleming, who has benefited from her fundraising (Royal British Legion/PA)

In 2015, she moved to a nursing home in Chiswick but continued collecting for the appeal by selling poppies to fellow residents.

Giles Powell, the son of Mrs Powell, said his mother had announced that she was retiring this year to mark national Volunteers Week.

“I am incredibly proud of her achievements over the years. It really is quite staggering,” he said.

“Mum has led a fascinating life and now it’s time, poignantly during national Volunteers Week, for her to hang up her collecting tin and encourage the public to volunteer their time to the Legion which is a fantastic cause.”

The Royal British Legion, which has paid tribute to Mrs Powell, is appealing for people to volunteer for the charity to support the UK’s Armed Forces community.

To mark her retirement, Mrs Powell met former Royal Marine Nick Fleming – who benefited from her fundraising efforts after being medically discharged last year due to a leg injury.

“I struggle to even comprehend just how many years Rosemary has dedicated to the charity,” the 28-year-old from Wimbledon, who now works as an advice and information officer for the Legion, said.

“I know of countless people both from my military career – and recently in my role now with the Legion, who have benefited from the money and support that people like Rosemary have generated.”

Emma Cannings, director of membership and volunteers at the charity, described Mrs Powell as “an incredible woman”.

“Her volunteering effort has been nothing short of phenomenal, and we are incredibly thankful for her support over the generations,” she said.

“Our volunteers are very much the lifeblood of the Poppy Appeal and they contribute enormously to the charity’s year-round through a variety of roles.”