Poppy seller Rosemary Powell, 103, hails 'wonderful' MBE honour


Britain's longest-serving poppy seller has described her MBE for decades of charity service as "wonderful".

Rosemary Powell, aged 103, was surrounded by family and celebrated with a glass of champagne after she was presented with the honour.

The great-grandmother, from London, was included in this year's Queen's Birthday Honours List for voluntary service to the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal, having spent 97 years collecting for the charity.

Inspecting the medal during a short ceremony at her west London nursing home, she said: "Isn't it wonderful?"

Mrs Powell, who sat in a wheelchair draped in a poppy-patterned blanket, was handed the MBE on behalf of the Queen by the Vice Lord-Lieutenant of Greater London, Colonel Jane Davis.

Rosemary Powell Investiture ceremony
Rosemary Powell Investiture ceremony

Her sons Antony, Giles and Nicolas as well as granddaughters Emma and Rachel Powell and Celia Speller attended the ceremony at St Mary's Convent and Nursing Home in Chiswick on Monday.

Giles, speaking on behalf of his mother and the family, said: "The presentation of the MBE has been one of the biggest moments in her life - and mum has lived a very full life.

"It's significant in what it represents in terms of both her loyalty and her commitment. She raised money for all those years due to the impact war had on her own family.

"She lost so many family members it really had an impact on her - it really was the catalyst for her volunteering work for the Royal British Legion.

"It's a really special day for us as a family and we're so proud of her."

Mrs Powell, whose first fiance died in the Second World War, plans to sell poppies in her care home this November for the centenary year of the end of the First World War, before hanging up her collection tin, the Royal British Legion said.

She helped her mother Evelyn sell poppies on Richmond Bridge for the Royal British Legion's first Poppy Appeal in 1921 at the age of six.

They ran out in "no time", she has previously recalled, and so her mother fashioned new poppies out of red crepe paper bought from a nearby flower shop.

Rosemary Powell Investiture ceremony
Rosemary Powell Investiture ceremony

Her 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.

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

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

Rosemary Powell Investiture ceremony
Rosemary Powell Investiture ceremony

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, Mrs Powell and her Royal Navy officer husband Selwyn sold 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.

Charles Byrne, director general of the Royal British Legion, said: "Rosemary is truly inspirational and she is most deserving of this honour.

"Our volunteers go to extraordinary lengths to raise funds to support our Armed Forces community, those who are serving, those who have served, and their families. Rosemary is a shining example of that extraordinary commitment.

"Over the decades Rosemary has helped to change the lives of thousands of Armed Forces personnel, veterans, and their families, and that is a legacy to be truly proud of.

"Rosemary is most deserving of this honour, and everyone at the Legion wishes her a very happy retirement."

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