I have had the enjoyable task of reading past minute and accounting books of the Melita Legion Ladies from the past 85 years and wanted to pass on some of the information that I have gleaned.
On September 14, 1939, a meeting was called and 42 women organized to become the Melita and District Ladies Auxiliary Branch of the Canadian League to the British Empire Service League. Queen Elizabeth II gave the consent for the prefix of “Royal” in 1960 to the Canadian Legion. In 2019, ladies are still meeting and are known as the Melita Legion Ladies Branch #127 to the Royal Canadian Legion.
The first executive of the B.E.S.L. were: President Mrs. C. Kennedy, 1st Vice Mrs. J. Wilson, 2nd Vice Mrs. G. Brough, Treasurer Mrs. H. Ross and Secretary Mrs. E. Parham. Memberships were 50 cents per year. They met monthly.
Their first project was the canvassing of selling poppies door to door in Melita. Next was the knitting of socks for the Red Cross after purchasing 25 lbs of wool. Two of the first recipients of these socks were Mr. G. Coulter of the Grenadier Guards and Mr. H.G. Foreman of the Air Force. The ladies were very pleased to read out loud their thank you letters at a meeting. The knitting of socks continued throughout the war and in looking at some of the accounts books I saw that from 1940-1945 there were 882 parcels mailed. Parcels contained items such as letters, socks, sweaters, cigarettes, playing cards, candy, chocolate, gum and Christmas cake. In 1943 I found that almost $100 was spent on postage and over $200 spent on wool! This was a great cost but these parcels brought a measure of home and joy to the boys overseas.
Whenever thank you letters were received from overseas, they were read aloud at the meetings. At one meeting in 1943, there were 37 letters read. How that must have pulled on the heart strings!
To raise funds the ladies held teas, dances, bazaars, banquets, Bingos, sold Christmas cards and more. They raised funds with a “Galloping Tea” but I did not find out just what that was from the minutes. Every penny counted so they had a bottle at meetings for coppers (pennies) that helped to pay for safety pins and dry cleaning for Victory Bundles which were sent overseas to Britain. Donations boxes were set up in the local stores to help with the funding. Members contributed 25 cents each at each meeting to help with the cost of the parcels. The ladies were very thrifty and saved box tops and labels from their groceries and received money for them.
Some of the early funded projects were: March of Dimes, Lady Tweedsmuir Fund (promoting literacy), Bible Society (so that each soldier would receive a bible), Red Shield Appeal, St. John’s Ambulance, Red Cross, National Institute for the Blind, furnishing a Ward Room for the new Wilson Memorial Hospital, layettes for babies and showers for War Brides. They also donated to the veterans at Deer Lodge Hospital and the Ninette Sanitarium for patients from this area.
The ladies established a $100 scholarship fund in 1959 and some of the early recipients were: Linda Lindsay, Verta Quane, Shirley Melvin, Bev Brown, and Resby Coutts. We now call this a Citizenship Award. In 1960 they donated toward the Peace Garden Athletic Sports Training Camp and still do so today.
Jumping ahead a few years to 1950 - 1976 the ladies put their efforts into helping the Branch with funds for the building and furnishing for the new Legion Memorial Hall. This included the installation of a sanitary septic tank and later installation of water. It was interesting to read that the first water disposal was a hole dug at the back of the kitchen and piped out. The ladies cupboard committee were responsible for the maintaining of the kitchen and many spirited discussions ensued over the purchasing of dishes, cutlery, bowls, etc. Many counts were made when items went missing or were broken to maintain their 12 dozen place setting of dishes. They also helped to purchase stoves, cupboards, tables and asbestos tile flooring for the kitchen floor. Lots of catering was done by the ladies to help pay for the hall. In 1956 they joined with the Branch to celebrate the burning of the mortgage. In 1970 the ladies once again put their funding efforts toward the Branch with the building and maintaining of the Legion Lounge.
In 1977 the Branch sold the Legion Hall to the Town of Melita for $1.00 and it has since been added on to and improved. At this time the ladies cut way back on the amount of catering done.
Much more could be told, but due to space and time I jump ahead again – to 2019 – the Melita Legion Ladies have a much smaller membership and no longer cater banquets, but still continue to raise funds with their annual Poppy Tea and help out the Branch when possible.
85 years of service is certainly something to be proud of and the community is invited to help with the celebration at the Poppy Tea and Bake Sale on Friday, November 1, 2019, at the Melita Legion Hall from 2-4 p.m. Past minute and accounting books and roll call books will be on display. This should bring about many more interesting stories to be told.