WHEN Sandra Lambkin first walked into the Tamworth RSL sub-branch to transfer her membership, she was almost laughed out of the joint.
“I got called ‘girlie’, and they told me I was in wrong place, and that the club was downstairs,” she said.
Decades later, Mrs Lambkin is proud of the change that she has helped usher in within the sub-branch.
“I’ve worked very hard to include women ever since – I’m a pretty stubborn person, so I’m use to getting my own way,” she said, laughing.
“The Tamworth RSL sub-branch is one of the most welcoming and progressive sub-branches in the state.
“I haven’t done it all myself by any means, but I’m very proud to have been a part of that.”
Mrs Lambkin, who served in the Navy for four years and rose to the rank of Petty Office, has held a raft of titles at the Tamworth RSL sub-branch, where she is now senior vice president, and also served as the New England RSL District Council president.
She currently sits on the NSW RSL board, where she lobbied for the By The Left campaign, which saw female veterans march up the front of this year's Anzac Day parades.
She’s also been a vocal advocate for all defence force personnel, whether they’ve served overseas or not, with a particular focus on supporting younger veterans by bringing them in to the RSL family.
“I was shocked by the high rate of death and suicide in our young veterans, especially after Afghanistan,” Mrs Lambkin said.
“We need to be looking after those that come back, rather than building bigger and better memorials for the dead.”
Last year, Mrs Lambkin was made a life member of the RSL alongside four of her colleagues. At the time she said biggest thing to happen during the newly-minted life members’ terms was the sale of the branch’s former Kable Avenue site, which is now West Diggers, and establishing its current office at 107 Bridge Street.
While she believes the community needs a bigger focus on returning veterans, she’s done her part to make sure the those who have fallen are not forgotten.
In 2014, she wrote a book titled Not Just Names In Stone, detailing all the soldiers listed on the honour rolls of the Anzac memorial gates.
“At dawn services, I use to look at the memorial and think ‘who are all these people’,” she said.
“That’s where the name of the book came from. I thought ‘surely these are not just names in stone, there has got to be a story behind every one of them;.”
Mrs Lambkin studied Australian and military history as a mature-aged student, but says writing the book was one of the most challenging experiences of her life.
“I’d never written a book before,” she said.
“To get it done in time for the Anzac centenary, I worked seven days a week, sometimes for 18 hours a day.
“I had no idea what I was doing, but it goes to show you never know what you’re capable of until you try.”
She’s in the process of writing another book to celebrate the centenary Tamworth RSL sub-branch.
“I’m not rushing this one,” she laughed.
“I hope to have it finished in the next 12 months.”