This Volunteers’ Week The Royal British Legion are celebrating our fantastic volunteers whose dedication and commitment enables us to further support the Armed Forces community.
To mark the occasion, we went back to the beginning and spoke to one of our longest serving volunteers, Rosemary Powell, who was just six years old when she sold poppies for the first appeal in 1921 - three years after the First World War ended – and is still going 97 years later.
Rosemary's been collecting since the age of 6
Selling her first poppies on Twickenham Bridge with her mother, Rosemary’s efforts to help the military and support the Legion have never wavered, and even included making her own poppies one year, when living in Africa as a missionary.
“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 Twickenham Bridge with my mother. They were so popular I remember that we ran out in no time.
“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 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."
After witnessing the impact of war on her own family Rosemary felt compelled to raise funds for those in need.
"We lost a lot of family during World War One and World War Two"
“Ever since I was born there have been soldiers around me,” Rosemary added.
“Whether it be family members, friends or even strangers. Sadly war has had a significant impact on my life.
“We lost a lot of family during World War One and World War Two, and various other family members were wounded. 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."
Rosemary in uniform at the Voluntary Aid Detachment Red Cross camp in Scotland
“We did it in memory of those who were killed, for their sacrifice.“
However, Rosemary, who now lives in a nursing home in Chiswick, London, is planning to retire from collecting after this year’s appeal.
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.
“It has always been a very important cause for me… collecting has kept me going all these years”.
Rosemary has undoubtedly had an eventful and inspirational life and she credits volunteering for the Legion as a consistent driver in her life. Demonstrating first-hand the valuable impact that volunteering can have for all involved.
Sadly just a few months after this story was published Rosemary passed away at the age of 103, just nine days after she received an MBE for her outstanding service to the Legion.
Inspired by Rosemary's story?
We couldn’t do what we do at The Royal British Legion without the support and dedication of all our volunteers, like Rosemary, who selflessly dedicate hours, weeks and years of their life to our cause.
Find out how can get involved and volunteer your time to make a difference to the lives of those in need.