By Joyce Reid

It slips so easily off the tongue. It's the 100th birthday of Padanaram WRI.

But just stop for a moment and think about that first meeting in December 1919 in the small village just outside Forfar. How on earth did it happen? How did these women find out about this new venture? And how did they get to the meeting? Well, they managed it somehow.

The first WRI, known affectionately as "the rural" was set up in Longniddry in 1917, with Padanaram, often referred to as 'the Paddie Rural' following two years later. At a party held 100 years to the day of the first Padanaram WRI meeting, the President of the Angus Federation of the WRI, Maureen McLeod, paid tribute to those pioneers. She said: "It was just after the first world war. It must have been a worrying time, maybe a hopeful time, with people thinking about the future."

She encouraged those attending to think about their predecessors in 1919. They were quite socially isolated and they were busy all day looking after the home and their children with no mod cons. There is little doubt that they would have spent much of their time at home on their own, so to come together once a month with like-minded women must have been fantastic.

Soon there were rurals all over Angus and large numbers of women were enjoying fun and friendship and learning together.

Maureen went on to say: "A lot is changing for women now, but in many ways our needs are the same. We still enjoy learning new things and having fun and friendship. We must cherish what we have and keep it going."

Kay Forsyth, Padanaram's current president joined the WRI around seven years ago. She explained that this year they have tried to go back to their roots a little by learning new skills as well as inviting speakers to their meetings. "The ladies like the crafts because you can chat while you do them," she said.

The birthday cake was cut by the longest-serving member, 95-year-old Mary Mitchell. She was invited to join when she married in 1955 by her sister-in-law and founding member, Margaret Robbie.

Mary's daughter-in-law, in turn, joined the Paddie rural when she married Mary's son, Andrew, in 1988 and is now the treasurer. Joyce Mitchell laughs when she remembers her children asking her why she was going along to the "auld wifies' club". She told them: "I like it because it is traditional. I am not old-fashioned, but I am traditional."

The WRI is certainly not old-fashioned. The members get involved in all sorts of activities - a choir, a drama group, bowling, golf. There's even the Angus Rural Olympics when the wonderful women have fun dribbling a ball between cones or netball shooting. They also have their own facebook page.

Auld wifies' club? This is an outward-looking, vibrant group of women who are constantly learning new things from their various speakers and from each other.

Wilma Burnett has been a member for 45 years and has made so many friends there. She said: "Age is no barrier, young and old all enjoy being together." This year Wilma won second place in the annual Glamis Babbington Trophy for her 12-line poem on the theme of friendship.

The Rural is probably best known for its competitions. Each month Padanaram has two, one baking and one craft and most of the ladies ‘have a go’. Mary Mitchell has done herself proud. When a Jubilee Cup was made for the group's 50th birthday she won it three times in a row having amassed the most points, at which point she decided to stop entering. It says a lot about the WRI that while four points are awarded for the winner each month, three for second place and two for third place, one point is given to everyone who takes part.

Padanaram's first meeting was held in Padanaram old school but they were soon gifted their own hall, donated by David Maxwell of Ballindarg, in memory of his two sons who fell in the Great War. There is a plaque on the north side of the hall in remembrance of them, Captain David Maxwell MC (Bar) and Corporal John Rennie Maxwell. Unfortunately, the upkeep of the hall became too much for the rural so it was passed on to the district community council in the 1970s.

There will be other centenaries to celebrate in the coming few years. There are now 31 WRI Federations throughout Scotland and 663 individual institutes, with women from all walks of life coming together keeping up the tradition of meeting, learning, sharing, and, most of all, having fun.