First the men – now the women’s section of British Legion is to close

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The Women’s Section of the Tonbridge Royal British Legion, which has been in existence for 80 years, is to close its doors for good next week.

President June Edwards says she feels dismayed and saddened by a national decision to absorb the charity’s female group into the organisation’s main body, despite it having run independently since its creation in the 1930s.

The town has already seen the demise of the Tonbridge men’s group last year, which experienced a problem of dwindling numbers from its largely elderly membership.

However, Mrs Edwards said she feels the changes being imposed upon the Women’s Section are being rushed through ‘like a bull in a china shop’ and this has left many members distraught.

She believes future fundraising activities, including the annual Poppy Appeal, could be affected by a lack of volunteers as the club winds up within the next week.

“There’s been a women’s section of the Legion in Tonbridge since 1936, and I’ve been here for around 20 years, including being the branch’s Standard Bearer up until three years ago when I was 81 years old, so this makes me very sad,” explained Mrs Edwards, who said she had been proud to take over as the Women’s President last year.

The branch’s HQ at Priory Road is set to revert to its former use as a pub from October, with its official standard being donated to the parish church of St Peter and St Paul, where it will be displayed after the group has been wound up.

Membership of the Women’s Section of the Tonbridge Royal British Legion had been around 100 women at its peak, but that had fallen to just 12 to 14 members this summer in the wake of news that their group would effectively cease to exist.

But according to the Royal British Legion, the decision to amalgamate the Women’s Section into the main charity would enable it to make savings on administration costs and comply with UK charity legislation.

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Mrs Edwards said: “We have also found that people didn’t want to be administrative members, with them being elderly, but we did a lot of social things together.

“Our members have always been great workers, supporting the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal through being collectors as well as holding special fundraising events,” added Mrs Edwards.

The group has created many special memories over the years, including when a former wartime Chairman and the town’s Station Master’s wife, supported by a team of assistants, served refreshments to troops who had been evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk in France during World War Two.

Anne Hill, Kent’s Royal British Legion Women’s Section Chair, is equally concerned by the situation.

She anticipates that of the 22 Royal British Legion ladies groups across the county, more than half will completely disband as a result of the national decision to reorganise the charity as one entity.

The Women’s Section presently has around 29,000 members nationally, with around 700 branches being overseen by a small office in central London. These are due to be rolled into the main charity by October 2017.

Mrs Hill, who also organises the county’s Poppy Appeal, said: “I feel absolutely gutted that the Women’s Section is closing and have had many tears over it. Every time I think of it, it chokes me up. I just can’t believe it.

“The ladies have done so much for the Royal British Legion, organising and running coffee mornings, fetes and many other events that have brought in thousands of pounds.

“This has been my life, and I’ve met so many lovely ladies through doing this, they have become like my family,” added the 74-year-old Whitstable-based organiser, who says there has been plenty of work behind the scenes such as its support for armed forces widows and their children, which she believed had been particularly valuable and could now also be under threat due to the women’s sections closing across the county.

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