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Rosemary Powell, Britain’s longest-serving poppy seller, dies aged 103

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Britain’s longest-serving poppy seller has died aged 103, just nine days after receiving an MBE.

Rosemary Powell began selling poppies at the age of six with her mother on Richmond Bridge for the Royal British Legion’s first Poppy Appeal in 1921.

The former Second World War nurse retired in June after 97 years of collecting for the appeal.

On 6 August, she sat in a wheelchair draped in a poppy-printed blanket and was handed the MBE on behalf of the Queen by the Vice Lord-Lieutenant of Greater London, Colonel Jane Davies.

She died on 15 August.

Ms Powell, who was a great-grandmother, was included in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List for her remarkable service to the region.

“She had known the cost of war,” her family said in her obituary.

Undated photo issued by the Royal British Legion of Rosemary Powell in her nurse's uniform
Image:
Undated photo issued by the Royal British Legion of Rosemary Powell in her nurse’s uniform

They said that many of her loved ones died as a result of war, including four of her uncles in 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.

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

“From her prodigious memory she could recall the London bombing raid on 28 November 1916, and her first meeting with her father when she was four, when he finally returned from active service,” her family added.

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.

While living in France for 20 years with her Royal Navy officer husband Selwyn, the couple sold blue cornflowers – the equivalent to UK poppies.

Rosemary Powell retires from poppy selling at 103
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Rosemary Powell retired from poppy selling in June

Ms Powell is survived by three sons, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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

A spokesman for the Royal British Legion described Rosemary 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,” he said.

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

“The presentation of her MBE was a fitting tribute to a woman whose volunteering and fundraising efforts will be spoken about for generations to come.

“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.”

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