Position of WVS members to Political Work

Recently I have been cataloguing the Circular Notices which were produced by WVS and WRVS between 1938 and 1974. It is interesting what is contained within these files and what they tell us about the inner workings of WVS and WRVS. One such notice I came across was related to the General Election in 1945. Royal Voluntary Service, even when it was a Crown Service, has never been a political organisation and in this week’s blog we will discuss that neutral status as well as the circular notice I discovered.

The origins of the WVS are slightly complicated and it is unclear whose idea it was to start an organisation to recruit and train women in ARP roles in 1938. What we do know is that it was Lady Reading founded an organisation which would continue to grow through the Second World War in number and scope. In the beginning it was suggested that work with the Home Office; it originally operated as a Crown Service with a grant of around £15,000 a year from Government. However WVS was not a political organisation and Lady Reading aimed to keep it as independent as possible from Government.

In its first seven years WVS worked under a coalition Government, the General Election which was due in 1940 was not held because of the Second World War. However in 1945 Churchill called a General Election which he and the Conservatives lost to Clement Atlee and the Labour Party. As mentioned above WVS was not a political organisation and in Circular Notice CN.A.9/45 Position of WVS members to Political Work 14.5.45 Headquarters sent out the following information to members.

The position of WVS members in regard to undertaking work for the political parties was recently considered at a conference at Headquarters at which representatives from all the regions were present. It was the opinion of the conference that members of the WVS playing any part in Party Politics and Local Government Elections must do so in a private capacity and not in uniform and this is the general ruling which has been adopted.

It is, of course, of first importance that the Non-Party character of WVS should be maintained, and the following questions and answers have been framed to give guidance on political points which may arise. Each member is asked to observe the regulations laid down, but, more than that, it will depend on the good judgement and taste, and personal integrity of every member whether Non-party character of the WVS can be preserved in the spirit as well as in the letter, when elections take place in this country.

CN.A.9/45 Position of WVS members to Political Work 14.5.45

The Questions and answers included the following:

Parliamentary Elections

Q.3. Can a Candidate who is elected resume her WVS work?

A. No. It is in the in the interests of the nation that she devotes herself to her Parliamentary duties.

Q.8. Can WVS members who are doing political work during an election wear their uniform or badge?

A. During an election period WVS members may wear their uniform and/or badge when they are doing their WVS work, but neither uniform nor badge must be worn while doing political work or attending meetings.

Other Points

Q.2. What is the position regarding WVS offices etc., in premises belonging to political parties?

A. These offices should be vacated and others found to replace them as soon as possible.

CN.A.9/45 Position of WVS members to Political Work 14.5.45

If you would like to know which other questions were included please contact our enquiry service.

The similar information was produced in the Bulletin in October 1951 another election year.

Over the years WVS and WRVS continued to promote it's non-party status to members. In 1992 WRVS became a Charity it was no longer a Crown Service and began to find ways to fundraise for itself, it also remained politically neutral. Today Royal Voluntary Service as well as providing services for older people also works on a national level to raise awareness of the issues older people face. We do this through our media campaigns and research.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 05 June 2017.

Labels: General Election, Politics, WVS, WRVS, Royal Voluntary Service

Back to list