Membership in the Women’s Section of the Royal British Legion has collapsed by half in a dispute over integrating them with the rest of the organisation.
This time last year there were 32,000 war widows and wives raising millions for the Armed Forces charity through baking, craft sales, organising events and selling poppies.
But this has been slashed to just over 16,000 after stalwarts quit in droves at the prospect of losing their independence and being ‘governed’ by the men in a cost-cutting move.
Row: Membership in the Women’s Section of the Royal British Legion (pictured in a parade) has collapsed by half in a dispute over integrating them with the rest of the organisation
The sexism storm has led senior members to warn the charity faces a financial crisis by losing the key source of its fundraising.
Sandra Saban, 74, eastern area representative of the Women’s Section, said: ‘It’s been handled wrong.
They should have put it on the table and spoken to us. Then we could have come up with a working solution.
‘They are now trying to compromise with us and work with us. But we’ve lost half our members and I don’t think we can recover.’
Rita Orange, 69, a member of the Heston branch in west London for more than three decades, accused Legion management of acting in a ‘dictatorial’ fashion.
She said: ‘It is definitely like the pre-Suffragette era. Men are ordering the women around. People are so upset. I think the branch I’m in will close next year.’
The Women’s Section has operated as a separate body to the British Legion since its formation in 1921.
Its purpose was to safeguard the interests of the widows, wives and children of men who served in the First World War.
Separate: The Women’s Section has operated as a separate body to the British Legion since its formation in 1921
But in February the Legion announced it would close and become a ‘district’ of the main organisation.
This threatened their independence in administering welfare schemes and deciding who benefits.
Anger at the diktat caused membership to fall to 29,500 in April and then 24,000 by June, with scores of branches closing altogether.
A further dramatic slump was revealed at a meeting of the women’s central committee earlier this month, when it emerged numbers had fallen to 20,971.
Other branches have confirmed they are closing and, once the process is finalised early next year, just 16,429 members will be left.
‘Once branches have closed there’s no coming back,’ Mrs Saban added.
A joint team representing the Legion and the Women’s Section was formed in June to smooth things over and the integration was put back 12 months to November 2017.
But more are expected to quit in advance of the Legion bringing Women’s Section affiliation fees of £8.50 into line with its £17 fee for individual members by 2019.
The Legion said the reform was needed to maximise charitable funds for beneficiaries by reducing duplication between two arms of the organisation.
A spokesman added: ‘We worked closely with the Women’s Section, taking on board feedback from Women’s Section and Legion membership annual conferences this spring.’