Poppy sellers clock up more than 200 years’ service on retirement

Cynthia Abraham, Barbara Webster, Margaret Thompstone, Mary Halton and Beryl Percival celebrate years of service to the Royal British Legion.

By Betsy Everett

With more than 200 years’ service between them, they have walked the streets of Askrigg and Bainbridge every autumn, selling the symbolic red poppies door-to-door on behalf of the Royal British Legion.

Now, as age takes its toll, five of the stalwarts of the tradition have finally hung up their trays and tins, having raised thousands of pounds over the years for members of the armed forces.

Four of them are pictured here with local organiser, Margaret Thompstone, receiving special certificates in recognition of their long and dedicated service.
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Mary Halton, longest serving poppy seller with 65 years’ service, says she started collecting “because I was asked.” But could she not have refused?

“I most certainly could not,” says Mary. “If it hadn’t been for those brave men who fought, we wouldn’t be here today.”

Poppy seller extraordinaire – Mary Halton’s medal with bars showing 65 years of service.

Barbara Webster, with eleven years’ service in the local area, has been an active member of the Legion’s women’s section since she was 15: she is now 80.  She started selling poppies in Woolworth’s in Lancaster, where her mother was chairwoman of the British Legion, and has hardly stopped since. Barbara’s father was in the Royal Navy for 41 years and her brother died on active service.

Cynthia Abraham has been selling poppies door-to-door for 52 years. Her late husband, James, was also a British Legion member and served in the army, as did Fred Lambert, father of Beryl Percival of Bainbridge, who has 26 years’ service.

The fifth retiree, who has 36 years’ service and could not be present for the photograph, is Mrs Pat Daykin of Worton.

When they started, doorstep collection was the norm, but not now, says Mrs Thompstone.

“This is one of the very few places it continues, because of security, especially in more built-up areas. But on behalf of the British Legion I would like to thank the ladies who are retiring after giving so many years service, and also our collectors and local businesses for their continued support.” There are around 14 doorstep poppy sellers in the area, and pubs, clubs, shops and restaurants also take tins. Between them the small parishes of Askrigg and Bainbridge have, in the last five years, raised £7,945.67.