Obituary: Iris Strange

Christopher Whitehouse
Sunday 02 August 1992 23:02
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Iris Branch, campaigner for war widows, born 13 July 1918, married 1936 Robert Strange (deceased, missing in action 1942; one son deceased), died Poole 24 July 1992.

AS THE driving force behind the British War Widows and Associates, its founding president and secretary, Iris Strange made a great impact on the lives of tens of thousands of war widows.

It was through her tenacity that the government was forced in December 1989 to announce that the pensions of First and Second World War widows would effectively be doubled and brought into line with those of their younger counterparts from the Falklands War - a humiliating political U-turn for a government which had refused for a decade to admit the seriousness of the plight of these women.

For half a century war widows had survived on the most meagre of incomes, and, deprived of the opportunity to share in the years of prosperity which followed the Second World War, were not able to provide adequately for their later years.

A meeting 10 years ago between Iris Strange and the Conservative MP Nicholas Winterton led to the inauguration of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Pre-1973 War Widows which went on to become the vehicle for parliamentary action on their behalf.

Strange had severed her links with the more established War Widows Association slightly earlier. This made her unpopular with many ex-service organisations, who never forgave her for a step which ultimately embarrassed them into supporting her cause.

Through the all-party group, Strange established links with politicians from both Houses of Parliament. She channelled her considerable energies into a dogged attempt to persuade them to take up her cause. The more successful she was, the more she was isolated by other organisations, and it was not until victory was in sight that they finally gave her the support she deserved.

The campaign for a fair deal for war widows had its price. It cost the government pounds 100m per year, once the cause had been won, and led to an attack by the government whips upon Winterton's integrity. It even saw Strange stand accused by the Government Chief Whip of having forged a letter from Margaret Thatcher's office in 1974 which purported to commit the Conservative Party to tackling this problem.

Time has passed and Iris Strange's name has been cleared of this calumny, but she still paid dearly. The campaign cost her all her time, energy and resources for over 15 years. It became her life.

(Photograph omitted)

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