Iris Harding MBE

Memories of WVS in Portslade

By Nicola Benge

Photo:Iris in uniform

Iris in uniform

Photo from the WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Photo:Iris meets the queen

Iris meets the queen

Photo from the WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Photo:Iris receives her award

Iris receives her award

Photo from the WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Iris Harding talks about her voluntary 50 years' service with WVS Portslade, East Sussex

The main thing has always been the work down here for the community, via the WVS. I became Deputy Centre organiser at the then new Windlesham Day Centre in Portslade. My second daughter was born in 1961... and the centre was opened in 1960... so they are almost the same age. I used to take her along with me, and the old people used to love seeing a baby.

The Windlesham House Day Club opened in 1960, on Saturday 10th December. It was opened by 'Gert and Daisy', the Misses Elsie and Doris Waters OBE, daughters of the late Jack Warner (Dixon of Dock Green, for those with long memories!)

After fifteen years service everyone gets long service medals, and that's why I got one. Nothing special.

Who gave it me? Ha! The postman! It just came in the post. But we would have a little get-together for a coffee or a tea at the centre, and celebrate.

In 1981 I got the clasp, and I have a bar or two.

I was put forward for a caring award too, nothing to do with the WVS... I don't really know what that was, but I did get a certificate! It is just nice to be appreciated, isn't it?

Remembrance Sunday

One of the best things I have done, if we are talking about memorable events, was being selected to go to the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday in 1992. I was sent a letter by the County organiser, asking me to represent the WVS from the area.

We had to be there the night before, and were put up at a hotel. There were also representatives from the Police, the Fire Service, the prison service, all staying at the hotel. But we all ate separately... the meals were put on by our organisations.

Then on the morning we had to be up, breakfasted and in uniform by 08.00 am. Ready for the coach. We were taken to a place on the embankment behind the Foreign office, where we had drilling in marching! It was an ex-guardsman, a policemen now, who did the coaching. All on cobblestones, too. So no wonder we'd been told to wear flat heels!

We had a tea break and a loo-break... then we marched out onto Whitehall at 10.30 am and took our places, and stood there until 12.45. We'd been told to tense our leg muscles not to faint. But I tell you; to stand there like that you had to have not only good legs and a good back but also a good bladder!

We had a wonderful position though. Right by the cenotaph, front row, apart from a few guardsmen, facing the balcony with the other royals and prime ministers and so on. We had a clear view of the queen and everyone else laying their wreaths.

I was clever... took plastic gloves and shoes in case it rained. No point in spoiling good leather and getting wet!

After it was over we went to one of the police stations where lunch was organised... and then I got the train home.


I was awarded the British Empire Medal in the New Year's Honours List, 1992.

I had been nominated by the WRVS in 1990, but that came to nothing. In the end, the successful nomination came from Hove Council, as I did quite a bit in the community as well as the work I do for the WRVS. PortsladeCommunity College governor, secretary of the PTA, things like that.

At the beginning of the November I had a letter from Downing Street asking of I would accept the award. A lot of people don't apparently. I was asked not to tell anyone, and I didn't even tell my husband Gerald! He was very surprised when it was announced in the papers and the phone calls started coming from The Argus!

Anyway. I then had a letter from the Lord Lieutenant's office saying the ceremony would be in Lewes, and telling me how many people I could invite. Well, I didn't want my family and friends to have the expense of going to Lewes, so I asked if it couldn't be done   nearer... so that's why we ended up in a private ceremony at Hove Town Hall, as there was a mayoral room there them.

I took my husband and two daughters, my sons in law and their parents and friends, including June King.

The Lord Lieutenant was Admiral Sir Lindsay Bryson. He was a lovely man. He said a few words; we had a few piccies done, that sort of thing. The mayor was there too. Then they laid tea on, organised by my friends and colleagues, in the mayor's parlour. A good day.

I still work for the WRVS. Four days a week, I suppose. Not necessarily all day, you know... but there's still a commitment.

Through my involvement with the WRVS I have been to places I wouldn't otherwise have been to. Met people I wouldn't otherwise have met. (For example, I've been to the Police HQ in Lewes...without breaking the law! And been to St. James's Palace, not normally open to the public that one. And cor! The gold plate everywhere...!)

WVS is still very central to my life. And I am proud to say so.

This page was added by Nicola Benge on 16/01/2008.

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