Whittlesey great-grandmother attends WI meetings for 78 years as local branch celebrates 100th birthday

When Ruby Hurst first attended a Women’s Institute meeting the Second World War was ongoing.

Saturday, 6th April 2019, 1:00 pm
Ruby Hurst with Mayor of Whittlesey and Whittlesey WI president Julie Windle. EMN-190304-080550009

Yet, remarkably, today the great-grandmother is even more enthusiastic about the voluntary group than when she went to her first meeting in Helpston alongside her mother 78 years ago, aged just 14.

“In those days you did what your mother and father said,” recalled Ruby (92).

“But I enjoy the WI - it’s just a nice, friendly evening, and I’ve been coming here in Whittlesey for about 46 years.”

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The Whittlesey WI branch over the years

Ruby was speaking at the 100 year celebration for the WI in Whittlesey at the Christian Church in Broad Street.

The evening’s entertainment included the Isle of Ely WI Federation Choir and local magician and hypnotist Ricky Locke, who wowed the women at their Christmas get together and was asked to come back.

There was also a special reading of the minutes of the first ever Whittlesey WI meeting, as well as a buffet supper and some birthday cake.

The WI was formed in 1915 to revitalise rural communities and encourage women to become more involved in producing food during the First World War.

The branch when it celebrated its 90th birthday

Now it is the largest voluntary women’s organisation in the UK with almost 220,000 members. Its aim is to give women the chance to build new skills, take part in a wide variety of activities, and campaign on issues that matter to them and their communities.

Members also get the chance to listen to some interesting speakers. Ruby recalled: “The best speech I ever heard was from the widow of (TV steeplejack) Fred Dibnah. She came to one of our district meetings and did a wonderful speech.

“She said people belittled Fred and said he went to the palace to get his MBE in his cloth cap, but he did not. He had a morning suit.”

More than 50 members attended Tuesday evening’s celebration, including a number of past presidents.One of those was Dena Old, who lives in Eastrea and has been a member at different WI groups for 53 years.

Past and present presidents Su Rowbotham, Mimi Bashford, Ann Quincy, Jan Garner, Dena Old and Julie Windle. EMN-190304-080517009

She said: “Everywhere I have lived I have joined the WI.

“When I joined in Whittlesey it was to make friends. If I had not done that I would not know anybody.

“By coming to the WI in Whittlesey for the first time I met up with one of the past presidents and we had the same interests like crafts. From that time I got into other groups like flower arranging and card making and now I’m in the Isle of Ely WI Federation Choir.

“We get to learn different skills and make a lot of friends. It’s really friendly and we’ve been to theatres to see plays, and we go to stately homes.”

The birthday cake

Lynne Stubbings, chair of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, said: “Congratulations to Ruby Hurst on her incredible 78 years as a WI member. We are delighted to hear that Ruby has enjoyed being part of the WI for so many years, and that she still finds it a source of friendship and fun today.

“Congratulations also to Whittlesey WI on its centenary year and good luck for another 100 years of inspiring women.”

The Whittlesey group meets on the first Tuesday of the month at St Andrew’s Hall in Parkinson Lane.

Members at the church