Lee Green WI 2012 – 2022: favourite memories from our members

To celebrate our 10th birthday in 2022, we invited ten members – one member a month – to share their favourite or standout Lee Green WI memory with us. The first member to do this was Liz Murphy at our February meeting. Check out Liz’s memory below, and watch this space for more memories throughout the year.

FEBRUARY MEETING – Liz Murphy

I was honoured to be invited to attend the garden party held at Buckingham Palace to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the WI. It truly was a priviledge to represent Lee Green WI, together with one of our current presidents Caroline, as well as a once in a lifetime opportunity to walk through, unchallenged, those familiar gates on the right of the palace, and through the stone archway where on TV we have seen so many dazzling horse-drawn coaches enter, into the courtyard where royal brides in gorgeous glittering gowns have alighted from their carriages after their fairytale wedding ceremonies.

The queue to get in was massive and I’m ashamed to say that we sneaked in behind a group from Wales by pretending to be with their party! Once inside the palace, the hallways and rooms we walked through were of course vast and splendid – I remember a lot of cabinets filled to the brim with crockery! – and led us to the back of the palace and onto the lawns, where there were hundreds of our fellow WI members from all over the country- I’ve never seen as many fascinators gathered in one place!

We had a stroll around the huge garden, where there was music from a small orchestra and a line of tea tents run with military precision, dispensing small but perfectly delicious cakes.

Caroline and I were surprised and delighted to be selected to be presented to Princess Alexandra, who as many of you know is a first cousin to the Queen, and an ardent WI-er. We each managed a pretty good curtsey, and Princess Alexandra was warm and chatty and very interested in us and our WI, and of course Caroline invited her to attend one of our meetings, an invitation she hasn’t yet taken up but perhaps one day…

But wonderful and exciting as all of that was, it’s not the prime reason this day sticks in my memory. I remember it most of all because of the wonderful women that I met there and the stories they told – Mary who’s president of her tiny WI in Wales, a group that was started by her great aunt, of which her mother was also president, and which she’s desperately trying to keep going despite falling numbers, in honour of her relatives and because she knows how important it is for the elderly women who currently attend. Without it they’d have very little social contact.

‘Women feeling and showing loyalty to others; women using their strength and encouraging courage in other women. To me THAT is the importance of the WI, and the memories of those women will stay with me always.’

Then there was Gillian, who told us about her terrible first marriage, where she suffered emotional bullying at the hands of her husband, lost self-esteem and the ability to see how she could go on. She told us it was the support of the friends she met through the WI that helped her to see she deserved and could have a happier life, and that gave her the courage to leave that toxic relationship, and rebuild her life, and she’s now happily remarried.

It was hearing those stories, and more, that changed my view of what the WI is. Not just cakes and Jerusalem, not resolutions and campaigns, but women being great friends to other women;

Women feeling and showing loyalty to others; women using their strength and encouraging courage in other women. To me THAT is the importance of the WI, and the memories of those women will stay with me always.

Thank you for allowing me to share my memory with you.

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MARCH MEETING – Kay Hart

…. happened on Tuesday 14th April 2020.  

To set the scene.  I joined the WI shortly after I retired, at Ann’s suggestion.  I had mentioned to her that I wanted to do more locally and get to know more people in the area. I went to my first meeting with Ann to hold my hand, was made to feel very welcome as you would expect and then continued over the next couple of years, going to meetings, having a stint on the coffee rota, baking a cake or two.

Fast forward to April 2020.  Lockdown 1 had been announced on Monday 23rd March and our inboxes and diaries were chock a block with cancellations. Scheduled for shortly before the start of Lockdown, our March meeting had also been cancelled.  I think we were all probably feeling very worried and scared at that time, concerned for the health of our friends and loved ones, for our own health and well-being.  Like many of you, I had elderly and vulnerable parents as well as a daughter working on the frontline for the NHS.  No one knew how long it would all go on for, but I don’t think any of us anticipated that it would go on for quite so long … 

Then on Tuesday 14th April a somewhat familiar email popped into our inbox… it looked pretty similar to previous ones but it had a very different message and it was getting this particular email that is my highlight.  

‘April meeting on zoom’ it said in the subject line! You have to remember that three weeks into Lockdown 1, zoom was new to all of us.  (Little did we know how much many of us would come to rely on it!)

‘April meeting on zoom’ it said in the subject line! You have to remember that three weeks into Lockdown 1, zoom was new to all of us.  (Little did we know how much many of us would come to rely on it!)  Anyway, back to the email.  First of all, it confirmed we would have a meeting in April.  The only thing we had to do was join a rehearsal to practice our zoom skills.  So, that evening I and many others duly clicked the link …. And there was Alison, Caroline and Kay 1 enthusiastically telling us where to click, what the buttons meant, introducing us to the dreaded mute button, juggling the various asides of ‘I can’t see you’, ‘can you hear me?  I can’t hear you!’  We saw each other upside down and met each other’s pets, glimpsed each other’s homes behind our backs, learned each other’s names and most importantly of all, we laughed…  I kept a lockdown diary and wrote ‘Great rehearsal with the WI last night.  Makes such a difference to see people and share laughter again. A real lift. Good to see Ruth – must try mum on zoom. Looking forward to next week’s talk.’  

And the rest as they say, is history. We learned, we tasted, we sang, we quizzed, we got better at muting ourselves! Zoom gets a lot of flak and it obviously isn’t the same as meeting people face to face.  But for me, joining those meetings in the early days of lockdown was a bit of a life saver at a really difficult time.

Back to that email.  The second little nugget in the same email was the opening of the WI Make Do and Mend WhatsApp group.  Like many of you, I joined the group for the first time at that point.  And apart from sharing little gems like Carolyn’s wine recommendations, our local wild life, our garden successes, there’s just one personal thing I’d like to mention for which I’ll always be grateful.  My daughter’s wedding had been postponed twice but eventually, last year, we could go ahead with a small civil ceremony with nearest and dearest in our garden. I had spent a small fortune on the emergency purchase of a very large number of seedlings to provide some much needed colour in the garden … only trouble was they arrived as very small pluglets which needed to be potted on quickly to give them any chance of survival.  POTS!!  Within a couple of hours of putting out my tale of woe (a request for unwanted flowerpots) on the WhatsApp group, I had toured the neighbourhood collecting pot donations at the same time as being able to admire your gardens and save the planet by recycling unwanted pots!  The WI saved the day or rather the plants and my WI garden, as I introduced it in response to the many compliments I received, was full of colourful, living plants for Gen’s wedding, and the WI a part of a very special day for us all.

So, back to that email on the 14th April.  It changed my world at an incredibly difficult time for me and I think it was probably from that point that I truly ‘got’ the WI and what it was about – the amazing support it gives in so many unseen ways. So thank you … to those on the Committee who sent that email and kept us going on zoom, to those of you on those online meetings who made me laugh at a time when I mainly wanted to cry, and for those of you who gave me the pots to save the plants and the planet.  (By the way, the pots then went on to new homes again mainly to one of our neighbours who has an allotment and also to my dad.)

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APRIL MEETING – Mary Petty

Mary’s Maritime Memory

‘My special memory was our visit to the Prince Philip Maritime Collections Centre open day.  We went one Saturday morning in the autumn of 2019, just before the pandemic, and it really was one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been to.

Our visit didn’t get off to the best of starts, because when we got off the bus at Kidbrooke we got lost!  We’d been given conflicting directions and the centre is so well tucked away, we couldn’t find it.  To make matters worse, the staff at the centre were watching us on their CCTV and having a right laugh at us stumbling around trying to find them!

Inside was such a wonderful collection of maritime objects, clothing and paintings, some of which went back to Nelson’s time.

We did eventually get on the right track, and I was just amazed to see this place – a modern building plus a collection of old nissan huts left over from the Second World War – tucked into a mini glade between two motorways, with cars whizzing past on both sides, yet virtually out of sight.

It was even more special for me because the centre is on the site of the old RAF Kidbrooke where my mother-in-law flew barrage balloons in World War 2, so I had a family connection to it.

Inside was such a wonderful collection of maritime objects, clothing and paintings, some of which went back to Nelson’s time. My favourite area was the conservation section, where we saw a painting and some naval uniforms being conserved. That was so interesting.  

I also loved this little sailor doll (above left), which stood about 6 inches tall, which sailors used to send to their loved ones back home,  and a domino set  (above right) , about 12 inches long, which had been made from bone by POWs. Each piece fitted together so intricately.  It was all just magical.

And as I think about it now, I loved it so much not just because it was a museum filled with interesting things, but because of its hidden setting, and the passion of the people who work there.  It’s not often in today’s society that you come across something that’s so special, and I’d urge anyone who hasn’t been to spend the £12 entry fee and visit it…if you can find it!!’