Woman Retires After 97 Years as a Poppy Collector

Rosemary Powell believed to be longest serving fundraiser for the Royal British Legion

Rosemary Collecting in Kings Mall Hammersmith
Rosemary collecting in Kings Mall Hammersmith

A woman, who is believed to be the longest serving Poppy collector in Britain, is finally hanging up her collecting tin aged 103.

After supporting the Royal British Legion for over 97 years, the 2018 appeal will be her last when she sells poppies to her friends in her Chiswick care home. Before moving to the home Rosemary sold poppies at Kings Mall shopping centre in Hammersmith in 2015 and 2016 and other areas of London prior to that.

Rosemary Powell has vivid memories of collecting as a six-year-old girl alongside her mother, Evelyn James, on Richmond Bridge, during the first ever Poppy Appeal in 1921.

Announcing her retirement, Rosemary 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. It just so happened that we lived down the road from where the poppies were made [in Petersham, Richmond]. We became aware that that was happening locally. It was easy to get them.

“I remember collecting on Richmond Bridge with my mother. They were so popular I remember that we ran out in no time.”


Rosemary aged six

Her husband Selwyn who passed away in 1994 served in both world wars with the Royal Navy. She has three sons, four grandchildren and one great grandchild.

Rosemary on the day of her marriage to Selwyn

Her first fiancé, Robin Ellis died in 1944 when the Lancaster bomber he was travelling in crashed near Inverness the day before their engagement was due to be announced in a national newspaper. Robin was a Commander in the Royal Navy (at the time the youngest Commander in the RN).

This was not the first loss on military service of someone close to her she experienced. She lost her two godfathers (both of whom served in the Army) and three uncles during WW1. Her father (also in the Army – 126 Balluchi and Indian Army Regiment) was badly injured in the Battle of the Somme (he was shot in the head and treated in a field hospital). He later went on to serve in Afghanistan. Her younger brother, Peter, a Major in the Army, died during WW2. He contracted malaria and died in hospital. He had previously been awarded the Military Cross saving his troops from being pinned down from a machine gun post.

Rosemary Powell with Nick Fleming a beneficiary of her efforts. Picture: PA/Royal British Legion

Rosemary was a nurse during WW2. She trained up as a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment – providing civilian nursing to the military – trained by The Red Cross) nurse and went on to train at St Thomas’ Hospital, becoming a ‘Nightingale’ nurse

The impact of war on her own family meant that she felt compelled to raise funds for those in need. She said, “Ever since I was born there have been soldiers around me. Whether it be family members, friends or even strangers. Sadly war has had a significant impact on my life.”

Even when she moved to France for two decades in the seventies she continued to sell blue cornflowers which are the French equivalent of the red poppy.

Speaking of his mother’s collecting over the decades, Giles Powell, said, “It is a token thing now rather than selling mass volume but it’s important none the less. The impact was significant for her immediate family. The logic of the poppy appeal was very close to home because so many friends and family had been impacted. I am incredibly proud of her achievements over the years. It really is quite staggering.”

Former Royal Marine Nick Fleming who was medically discharged from the Armed Forces in 2017 after injuring his leg and benefitted from the funds raised by Poppy collectors described meeting Rosemary as a “real honour and privilege”. He said, “I struggle to even comprehend just how many years Rosemary has dedicated to the charity and I am sure she has seen many changes over the years.”

Emma Cannings, The Royal British Legion’s Director of Membership and Volunteers, said, “Rosemary is an incredible woman who has given so many years of her life in support of the Legion, and the Armed Forces community.

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

“We are always looking for volunteers of all ages and backgrounds. People don’t have to be associated with the Armed Forces, they just need to be passionate about the cause. We’d love all who want to volunteer with us to get in contact.”

June 1, 2018