Grangemouth-based forces’ servant makes history

Jan Harvey the new vice chairman of RBLS
Jan Harvey the new vice chairman of RBLS

She has served her country, raised her family and followed in her father’s footsteps to lead her local British Legion branch through tough times.

Now Portonian Jan Harvey (70), the first ever female chairman of Grangemouth Royal British Legion, has made history again, becoming the first woman elected to the post of Royal British Legion Scotland vice chairman in the organisation’s 91-year existence.

One of three candidates up for the position – the other two hopefuls were men – Jan won through by quite a margin.

“I was amazed I got such a high number of votes,” Jan admitted.

“You put yourself up for it and you worry –should I have done that, will I end up with egg on my face?”

Instead of wiping away yolk, Jan is now playing a vital role in an organisation looking to wipe away years of public misconceptions over its image and help the RBLS enter a new era with a modern outlook.

She said: “We are looking to make major changes – we need to market the charity a little differently. At the moment we have the image of the old man sitting in the club.

“We have a lot of young veterans now who should be encouraged to take advantage of the help, support and comradeship the Legion can offer.”

Jan believes the Legion is still relevant in today’s society.

“We are about remembrance, but we are also a charity which raises funds to help support organisations like Combat Stress and Erskine Hospital.

“We just need to change the way people perceive us from the outside.”

When you learn about Jan’s life you realise she was destined to hold high office in the RBLS.

Her father, Jerry Differ, served with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and fought in First World War.

Eventually, he became chairman of Grangemouth British Legion.

Jan said: “I’ve had an association with the British Legion for most of my life, but I became closely involved with it after my dad’s death when I was asked to be the chairman.”

That was back in 2002 and after a few years Jan did become the chairman of the branch – a post she has held for the last seven years.

Jan is a veteran herself –she served in the Women’s Royal Army Corp from 1959 to 1962 and was stationed in Cyprus, where she met the dashing young Peter Harvey, who was there serving with the RAF.

The couple have now been married for 50 years, have four children, eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

After leaving the army, Jan was kept busy bringing up her family, until 1970 when she took up a post with HM Customs and Excise.

She started off working locally in Grange-mouth but then moved down to London, working at the city’s port. She retired in 2000.

Jan acknowledges that she will have to donate a lot more time to her new role and she has taken the difficult decision to step down as chairman of the Grangemouth RBLS branch.

Vice chairman John Gibson will take over, but Jan will remain as chairman of the associated Grangemouth club.

Under Jan’s chairmanship, Grangemouth British Legion has embraced change.

While other local clubs have struggled in harsh financial times, Grangemouth has taken the initiative and taken steps to inject some youth into its ranks – including sponsoring the highly successful Grahamston Boy’s Club, who wear the Legion’s name and colours whenever they take to the pitch.

Back in 2010, Jan told The Falkirk Herald about the need for change in the RBLS – a commitment she plans to remain true to and something she will no doubt be repeating at future meetings of the national charity.

She said: “We do have younger people in our membership, but they are not on our committees. We need a lot more younger people to come in.”

Jan and fellow members of the Grangemouth British Legion will be marching from the Legion premises in Dundas Street, Grangemouth, on Saturday, August 25, to mark the local Armed Forces Day. More details to follow nearer the time.