The national media may have heralded Newport-based Ron Jones, 100, as Britain’s oldest poppy seller, but Leighton Buzzard staking a claim to the title... with a volunteer aged a remarkable 102.
Walter ‘Wally’ Randall, born in Wing on September 8, 1915, sells poppies for the Royal British Legion in the town.
Wally, who was in the service corps during the Second World War, has been selling poppies since the early 1950s and has been both branch chairman and club chairman for the Leighton Buzzard Royal British Legion.
Wally has a lifetime certificate for services to the local branch, with no signs of hanging up his collection tin yet even at the ripe old age of 102.
Speaking last year Wally 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!’”
Wally lived in Wing until he was three years old when his father, Daniel, died in World War One. His family then moved to Leighton Buzzard to live with his grandparents, until they moved to Billington when his mother, Ethel, remarried.
But Wally moved back to Union Street (now Grovebury Road) to be with his grandparents and attend Beaudesert Boys’ School. But his life was to take him further than the home counties.
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 and 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 in Bridge Street, living above a clothing shop where Margaret worked until she had their son, Nicholas, in 1947. The family then uprooted to Heath Road, where Wally still lives now, enjoying his large garden.
Margaret passed away seven years ago after battling dementia, but luckily for Wally his son Nicholas, 69, and daughter-in-law Linda, 66, live just across an orchard on Plantation Road.
Wally said: “My granddaughter, Emma, 36, helps me up and gets my breakfast. She’s a keen gardener and very fussy - she’s a vegetarian!
“My other granddaughter, Sarah, 41, lives in Aylesbury with my two great granddaughters, Lara, 15, and Hetty, 11.”
Wally worked for over 40 years at Vauxhall, Luton, performing roles including material handler and production setter, retiring aged 64. He still takes an active role in community life, delivering local magazines and being involved with the masons.
Derek Mitchell, LB 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!
“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.”