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Mabel Twist: trailblazer in khaki and doyenne of British Legion

Widow Mabel Kathleen Twist, who has died in Omagh three months short of her 100th birthday, was the first volunteer from Northern Ireland to join the Auxiliary Territorial Service – the women's branch of the Army.

 

Kathleen, as she was known to family and friends, joined up in 1939.

She was an assistant at the War Office in the run-up to D-Day, serving as PA to at least one general.

The war kept Kathleen and husband Wesley, an architect with the Ministry of Finance, apart for seven years. They were married at Knock in 1937 and he went into the Army with the 8th Belfast Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment before transferring to the Royal Artillery in France and then the Royal Engineers, with whom he served in Gibraltar.

They were granted seven days' leave in 1940, never realising it would be their last meeting until they returned to Civvy Street in Belfast, where he was a Methodist College old boy.

Kathleen's only child, Dewar, said that in 1939 his mother was described by ATS controller Jean Knox as "the smartest ATS girl in Northern Ireland".

She and Wesley, founder members of the Civil Service branch of the Royal British Legion, were married for 67 years until his death in 2004. They moved to Omagh in the mid-1950s, working tirelessly for the RBL branch there and Kathleen was rewarded with the MBE. She chaired the Royal British Legion women's section, becoming its Northern Ireland president.

Kathleen is survived by Dewar and his wife Sallie, his daughter Froydis, son-law Colin and a grandson, Finnsen.

The service of thanksgiving for her life in Omagh Methodist Church was conducted by the Rev William Newell, who told the congregation that Kathleen had donated her body to medical research at Queen's University.

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