A 101-year-old World War Two veteran has laid claim to be Britain’s oldest poppy seller.
Walter ‘Wally’ Randall was hailed as the country’s oldest fundraiser for the Royal British Legion after news broke that Ron Jones, 99, retired as a poppy seller last week.
Wally, born in the village of Wing, Bucks., on September 8, 1915, has been selling poppies for the Royal British Legion in Leighton Buzzard, Beds since the early 1950s.
He served in the service corps during World War Two before he later held the positions of both branch chairman and club chairman for the Leighton Buzzard Royal British Legion.
Wally is the proud recipient of a lifetime certificate for services to the local branch and has showed no signs of hanging up his collection tin yet.
He said: “I’m going to keep on selling poppies while I’ve still got the energy to do it. I’m lucky because I get to sit inside the entrance of Wilkos in the warm.
“I don’t know whether I’m the oldest poppy seller or not – it all came about when someone put me on Facebook and said, ‘no, here’s the oldest one.'”He added: “My favourite thing about selling poppies is people’s generosity – when someone puts money in but says ‘I’ve already got a poppy’. It’s very gratifying.”
Wally lived in Wing until he was three years old when his father, Daniel, 23, a gunner in the Royal Field Artillery, died in World War One on November 10, 1918 – a day before the end of the war.
His family then moved to Leighton Buzzard to live with his grandparents, until they moved to Billington, Beds., when his mother, Ethel, remarried.
Wally would return to live with his grandparents and attend Beaudesert Boys’ School in the town.
Speaking of his war record Wally said: “In 1942 I was kitted out to go to the Far East but then Singapore fell to the Japanese. I was then sent to North Africa and the Nazis drove us back into Egypt.
“I befriended an old World War One veteran while we were in Cairo and on our two days off we visited Alexandria and climbed the pyramids.
“I was a motor mechanic and was sent to the front line when we started pushing enemy troops back at El Alamein.
“I was with a platoon of ten lorries that took the Fourth Indian Division up to the front line – mine was a breakdown lorry.”
Wally was serving in Italy when the war ended in 1945, briefly returning home before his unit went to Vienna and he was demobbed in 1946.
He returned home to his wife Margaret, whom he had married in 1940, and got a flat above a clothing shop in Leighton Buzzard where his wife worked until she had their son, Nicholas, in 1947.
The family then moved to another home in the town where the great-granddad-of-two still lives now, enjoying his large garden.
Sadly Margaret passed away six years ago after battling dementia, but luckily for Wally his son Nicholas, 69, and daughter-in-law Linda, 66, live just minutes away.
His son Nicholas, said: “We are all so proud of him, he was just marvelous when he looked after my mother all on his own, he had a little help but he nursed her at home by himself, she never had to go to a home.
“I think that was the most marvelous thing he has done, he did it all in his 90s.
“He is still fit as a fiddle, he is on no medication at all, I’m on more than he is.”
Wally’s daughter-in-law said he would be devastated by recent reports that a thief was caught on CCTV stealing a poppy appeal collection box from a restaurant in Essex.
She added: “I think he would think that was dreadful, he has spent his life collecting for the poppy appeal but it is just typical of today I’m afraid but he would take it on the chin and deal with it the best way he can by carrying on.”
Nicholas said his dad Wally is still a keen gardener, much loved by his family and is a bit of a local celebrity.
His dad worked for over 40 years for Vauxhall in Luton, Beds., performing roles including material handler and production setter, retiring aged 64.
He continues to have an active role in community life, delivering local magazines and being involved with the masons and he served as a councilor.
Derek Mitchell, Leighton Buzzard Royal British Legion Club Secretary, said: “Wally had his 100th birthday party last year and was first to say, ‘well, when are we going to get on with the dancing then?’
“He just keeps active, and doesn’t smoke or drink to excess. He recently stopped cycling but before then I had to tell him to wear a helmet.
He flies about like a man half his age.”
Dedicated Wally can be found selling poppies in his local Wilko store on the High Street from around 11.30am-1pm and 3pm-4pm between Mondays and Saturdays.