Britain's longest-serving poppy seller dies aged 103 – days after receiving MBE

Rosemary Powell helped as a six-year-old during Royal British Legion’s first appeal in 1921

Tom Barnes
Thursday 23 August 2018 19:06
Rosemary Powell, pictured with granddaughter Celia Speller, helped with the Poppy Appeal for close to a century
Rosemary Powell, pictured with granddaughter Celia Speller, helped with the Poppy Appeal for close to a century

Britain’s longest-serving poppy seller has died aged 103, just days after being presented with an MBE.

Rosemary Powell first helped her mother sell the artificial flowers at the age of just six, during the Royal British Legion’s inaugural Poppy Appeal in 1921.

She would go on to spend the next 97 years collecting for the charity, but said earlier this year she would finally be retiring from her voluntary duties.

The great-grandmother, from London, was honoured in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List for her almost century-long commitment to the legion.

On 6 August, just nine days before her death, Ms Powell was presented with her MBE on behalf of the Queen by the vice lord-lieutenant of Greater London, Colonel Jane Davis.

Her support for the Poppy Appeal will continue even after her death, with a donation from each copy of her memoir going to the charity.

In an obituary, Ms Powell’s family said she had “known the cost of war”, having lost four uncles in the First World War and her fiance in the Second World War.

Her brother, who won the Military Cross for bravery in Egypt, died of cerebral malaria or a possible suicide.

During the Second World War, Ms Powell trained as a voluntary aid detachment (VAD) nurse, providing civilian nursing to the military.

She lived in Africa for a year in the 1950s, but made poppies out of paper to give to local people during remembrance.

During 20 years living in France, Ms Powell and her Royal Navy officer husband Selwyn sold blue cornflowers – the French equivalent to UK poppies.

Her family said the couple’s time in France was mostly spent gardening “which may well have been the key to her healthy longevity”.

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

Her last collection was at her nursing home in the city, where she was presented with her MBE while sitting in a wheelchair draped in a poppy-patterned blanket.

The British Legion described Ms Powell as an “exceptional woman” and a “true role model”.

“Rosemary’s dedication to the Legion, and to the Poppy Appeal, over 97 years was nothing short of remarkable,” a spokesperson for the charity said.

“She was an exceptional role model and her passion and dedication will be missed by us all at the charity.

“We will be forever in debt to Rosemary for her efforts which have literally helped to support thousands of armed forces personnel, veterans and their families over the generations.”

Her funeral will be held later this month, with a special memorial event at St Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge – where she was married in 1952 – to follow in October.

Additional reporting by PA

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