BETSY Burton Chambers has lost count of the number of poppies she has sold or the number of poppy wreaths she has carefully laid.
But the solemnity of it all does not diminish as the years pass - in fact if anything she grows prouder.
Betsy will celebrate her 91st birthday on VJ (Victory over Japan) Day, August 15 but as far as her work with the Royal British Legion is concerned, she has no intention of slowing down or taking a back seat.
During the Legion’s special 90th anniversary year she will be fully involved in events organised by the Halifax Central Branch, where she is chairman, including travelling to the National Conference in Telford later this month, as branch delegate.
“I was once filmed at Whitehall laying a wreath on Remembrance Day because I had broken my leg and it was in a pot. I was determined I’d attend the ceremony though and I walked. I was very proud of that,” she says.
Betsy’s association with the Royal British Legion began in the early 1970s.
“I joined the Halifax branch because I wanted to be involved with the work of the legion. I knew what a great job it did and what it stood for. I took a bit of a back pew at first and then I just got more and more involved as I volunteered for various jobs,” she laughs.
As an ex-member of the Armed Forces, she reveals she was well aware of the important work of the Legion, which was formed just a few months after Betsy was born. Betsy had been living with her parents, seven brothers and two sisters in Southowram, when, at the age of 21, she volunteered with the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS.) The year was 1941.
She had been nursing at the former Halifax General Hospital and it had been suggested to her that she join the Queen Alexandra nursing service but instead she opted to be a “plotter.”
“We were given data from the RAF of approaching enemy aircraft and we had to pass it on to the gun sights. There was me and three other girls.”
Her initial training was at Pontefract but she was soon on the move, based at camps on the Norfolk coast, Guildford in Surrey and Port Sunlight on the Wirrall.
When her mother became ill she put in a transfer for nearer home.
“Well there was a bit of a muddle at HQ in London,” she recalls. So I got sent off to Wythenshaw, where Manchester Airport is today and then Almondbury, which was heavy Ack-Ack. Eventually I arrived back home in Halifax and was attached to No 2 and No 3 Holding Battalion, Royal Engineers, which was based at Range Bank Mills, and then at the Duke of Wellington’s Barracks.
Betsy was eventually de-mobbed in February 1946 and met and married John who had served with the Royal Engineers. The couple had nine children - five girls and four boys. Betsy, a widow since 1971, now has 13 grand-children and four great-grand-children.
A member of the Combined Ex-Service Association and an honorary member of the Korean Veterans’ Association, her dedication and devotion to the Royal British Legion has been recognised several times.
In her Lightcliffe home, are proudly displayed two certificates - one dated 2002 in appreciation of her hard work and support, and one dated 2008 which pronounces her a life member and praises her “meritorious service.”
“That was such an honour when that arrived. It was completely out of the blue and I was very touched,” she says. “I’m honoured to be a member of the Legion though, it does such great work. I don’t think people realise just what it achieves. People know all about Poppy Days and Remembrance Sundays but I don’t think they always know about how it works today with our present serving servicemen and women and their families.”
Over the decades she has taken part in countless parades and always wears her uniform - now highly decorated with various medals and badges - with pride.
“I’ve paraded all over the world, taken part in D-Day celebrations and met such wonderful people. I have some marvellous memories from my travels,” she recalls.
“I’ve visited King Leopold’s garden in Belgium and seen the trenches. The handles are still there and you can climb in and out. It’s heart-rending.”
Betsy, who is a holder of the International Legion of Europe Badge (“I treasure it”), is thrilled that the Halifax central branch is thriving but she adds she would love to encourage new members.
“It’s a marvellous group and anyone joining us would see that. They would be among friends. But we need some young people to join as us older folks can’t go on forever,” she laughs.
“The work of the British Legion has to be supported though. It’s a wonderful organisation and it’s work must never stop.”