The Centenary celebrations began for us on Tuesday 11th November, when we were invited by the trustees of Norfolk Federation for afternoon tea at the United Reform Church in Thetford for the handover of the baton.
Eleven trustees attended this enjoyable afternoon, where we heard of the travels of the baton around Norfolk by public transport.
|Handover from Norfolk to Suffolk West Federation|
The baton then made its way to Coney Weston, where the Blackbourne Group hosted our first SWFWI event. A delicious soup and pud supper was served and we had the opportunity to look at scrap books and memorabilia which the WIs displayed, covering the decades from 1915. Some ladies had also ‘dressed for the occasion’ in clothing from those different decades. The evening was a wonderful start to our baton week.
The following morning, Wednesday 12th November, started with a coffee morning in Great Barton where three suffragettes attended. It was then taken by trike motorcycle to Charlie Fellowes training stables in Newmarket, where photographs were taken with a racehorse. That afternoon it was entertained to afternoon tea at Barton Mills, courtesy of Forest Heath Group, again a lovely afternoon of delicious food and chat. That same evening the Gallops Group held a ‘Newmarket’ sausage bake when members got together at Wickhambrook for supper and were entertained by Chevington WI.
|Charlie Fellowes stables, Newmarket|
After all the food the previous day, the baton started day three, Thursday 13th November, early with a workout at Haverhill Leisure Centre, where Chris Thompson, took it on an exercise bike. Then everyone went along to Sturmer Village Hall where bacon butties were served. How nice it was to see members from the Stour Group of WIs and a lady who had come along just to check out the hall for her child's birthday party. I think she was quite impressed with the warm welcome she was given. The baton was then taken in a 1953 Morris Minor 1000 named Alice from Sturmer to Clare, where it was met at the village sign again by three ladies dressed in costumes of the early 20th century, carrying Clare WI’s two banners. These ladies then led a procession through the streets of Clare until it reached the Old School, where warm soup was waiting. After a bowl or two of very tasty soup, the baton left on its next journey, by Rolls Royce to Glemsford and the Gainsborough Group. In Glemsford it appeared as though the whole village was out to greet the baton.
|Sturmer WI bacon breakfast|
On the green in Glemsford, the baton transferred to an amphibious vehicle called a DUKW, colloquially known as a Duck. With a group from Glemsford WI waving the baton from on high, the Duck led a convoy of cars, including the Rolls Royce, through the village where the whole school came out to wave flags they had made, and the children chanted “the WI, the WI, the WI’, then along the narrow lanes of Suffolk, until it reached the green in Long Melford where it was met by a 1913 vintage Ford; a very elegant car in contrast to the big bulky military DUKW!
Having transferred the baton into the capable hands of two ladies from Long Melford, it was driven in this vintage car into the grounds of Melford Hall, where suddenly lots of elegant ladies appeared to meet the baton and the occasion was captured in a photograph outside the entrance to the Hall.
|Melford Hall, Long Melford|
From there, the baton continued its tour of the Suffolk countryside, with the convoy now led by the 1913 Ford, to Great Waldingfield; by this time the sun was going down and it was getting a little chilly. Despite that, a group of hardy ladies came out to receive the baton, where it was handed over to the driver of a large modern tractor. The tractor driver then headed up a convoy of cars, including the vintage ford, which then drove into the centre of Sudbury handing over the baton to a group of WI members at the Friends Meeting House, where afternoon tea was being served. Here again, the WI showed how well it can bake with lovely sandwiches and cakes. This was yet another occasion when we had the opportunity to chat to members and strengthen friendships. Four members then prepared to head off to the railway station to catch the train to Bures, but before leaving, a tap broke in the ladies toilets and all had to be put on hold whilst a search was started to locate the stop cock and to mop up the hot water that was gushing into a very small vanity sink and over on to the newly renovated floors. Trains as we know wait for no one, so a group remained behind to wait for a plumber and mop up the water. Thankfully, Rachel Thomas located the stop cock under a shelving unit and managed with aid of a walking stick to move it into an ‘off’ position and the plumber arrived shortly afterwards.
The baton was taken with a free ticket on the train, courtesy of Greater Anglia Railways, to Bures, where it was met by four ladies dressed in 1915 costume. They then took the baton on to their WI meeting where they had cancelled their booked speaker and arranged an open meeting for other WIs in the group. Members were entertained with a quiz and then with a musical session of early 20th century songs by a delightful and accomplished young singer and her accompanist. Supper just added the icing to the cake that day.
|Train from Sudbury to Bures|
The baton started the day, Friday 14th November, in Bures and was taken by motorcycle from there to Hadleigh, where the Three Valleys Group had arranged a coffee morning in the Guildhall. Yet again, many ladies were dressed in costume or wearing hats and gloves. The Guildhall is a beautiful building, and with views out over the well-tended gardens, was a beautiful venue for yet another quiz, and delicious cakes.
From there it was taken to Hartest, where the High Suffolk Group had arranged for a 1943 jeep to meet the baton. Here again, the school came out to wave to the baton as it passed the school on its way to the Hartest Institute, where it was met by women dressed in WW1 nursing uniforms and other members from the group. Each WI had prepared displays showing highlights from both the past and present; a nice way to share ideas and experiences. Yet another quiz accompanied by more delicious cakes rounded off yet another wonderful event.
A change of pace for the baton on the Saturday when it was displayed on a market stall on Bury market. We had a promotional stand with information about the WI along with centenary balloons and a bran tub for the children. The stall was (wo)maned by members from several WIs who spoke to many women who showed interest in our organization.
A day of rest – a duvet day, and we do have the photos to prove it!
Monday morning, 17th November, Lark Valley Group arranged a coffee morning at the Odd Fellows Hall to which the mayor of St Edmundsbury, Robert Everett, had been invited. Each WI in the group dressed in clothes from the different decades since the start of the WI, so many colourful and outlandish outfits were being worn. After coffee, the members took the baton to the Magistrates Court, the venue for the first Suffolk West Federation meeting. Photographs were taken before the baton was given a send off from the Elizabeth Frink statue of St Edmund.
Ladies from several WIs cycled with the baton from Bury to Thurston Church. Members from the Thedwastre Group had arranged refreshments in the hall behind the church for the cyclist and supporters. After more delicious cakes the baton was taken in yet another vintage car to Pakenham, where warm punch and sausage rolls awaited everyone. Here the baton was handed over to a rider on horseback, who then rode through the green lanes to Norton where the ladies from Norton WI were waiting. A pleasant time was then spent in the pub enjoying a cup of tea and a chat.
That evening, the baton was taken to the Blackbourne Hall at Elmswell, where the Thedwastre group had arranged a 1915 themed party, with visitors from other local organizations. Many members wore 1915 style outfits and the baton was brought in by the ‘baton-mobile’, a ‘vintage Rolls Royce’, driven by one of Elmswells senior members who had been to her first WI meeting at the age of four with her mother on a visit to Canada. The guides brought in banners and flags of the guiding movement and the WI parading through the hall to music. Entertainment was provided by a group of young people who sang songs and read poetry from the early 20th century and of course delicious refreshments were served on arrival.
The final day of our baton week - the sun was shining as the baton left Elmswell in another vintage car, with a vintage tractor and various cars making a procession through the village. The baton then went on to Woolpit, where again more members of Thedwastre Group were awaiting its arrival. After photographs were taken in front of the village sign, everyone headed into the church for a warm cup of coffee and yet more wonderful cakes. After an opportunity to chat, the baton was taken on for lunch with the trustees.
Our trustees and WI Advisers had invited their counterparts from Suffolk East Federation for a lunch in the Woolpit Institute. Over a lovely lunch, provided by members of the catering team, everyone chatted and discussed the adventures the baton had experienced over the previous week. It was handed over to Jane Collier, Chairman of Suffolk East, to continue its travels around the country before reaching the Royal Albert Hall in June 2015.
I have to say that I am very proud to have been involved in so many wonderful events, where the strong spirit of the WI was evident. We talked, ate and enjoyed one another’s company - it was a wonderful opportunity to get to know each other better, and to see the WI at its very best. It will be a week I shall remember for many years.
By Elizabeth Lansman, Chairman of Suffolk West Federation