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I said that we would return to the British Welcome Clubs, and here we are with the continuing story of the WVS’s entertainment of our American cousins in Leamington Spa.
After the slightly disastrous opening night of the welcome club, the situation did not seem to get much better; in fact the club lurched from one disappointment to the next.
The biggest issue at the beginning seems to have been the very poor attendance at the club by the American forces, which inevitably left the local girls who had turned up rather disappointed! The club was open two nights per week, and had a varied programme of games, dancing and other entertainments. It soon became clear that the preferred entertainment was dancing and much of the programme came to reflect this, but obtaining a suitable Master of Ceremonies (MC) was a continual issue.
Engaging bands to play was also a challenge and on many occasions, a gramophone had to be hired in. The majority of the records seem to have been loaned from the private collections of the committee members, but there seems to have been a preponderance of classical music discs, and so funds had to be spent on procuring new dance records. When a band was engaged the fee was usually three Guineas!
After about six months things started to get better, attendance was up and they had to start refusing new members (a subscription was payable), though inevitably there were some members who were late with their subscriptions and were being chased for payment.
As with all clubs involving young soldiers some trouble was inevitable. The club hall was next to the NAAFI Bar and there were problems later in the evenings with some men being a little worse for wear trying to get into the club. The military Police were asked to ‘give the club a once over’ each evening.
By far the biggest problem seems to have been finding committee members to take on responsibility. Inevitably it was left to a few individuals to carry the majority of the burden, which at one point led to mass resignations and the disbandment and reforming of the managing committee, and the regular WVS being asked to fill the gaps in helping to organise club nights.
This is not the end of the story. We shall return for the end of the war and the winding up of the club another week.
Posted by Matthew McMurray, Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 09:00
Monday, 23 November 2015.
A new arrival at the archive yesterday has prompted this little look at British Welcome Clubs. The arrival was a very nice minute book, which a member of the public found in a junk shop, bought and donated to us via Warwickshire County Record Office. It is for the Leamington Spa British Welcome Club and dates from July 1944 until April 1946 when the club closed. ‘What is a welcome club!’ I heart you cry [not all at once please!].
The first British Welcome Club was set up by the WVS in Sunbury on Thames in 1942 as an experiment after the first American troops began to arrive on these shores. The idea was that it was a way of helping to smooth relations between local residents and the new arrivals, and give a ‘safe’ environment for local girls to meet GI’s, with ample supervision! The line ‘oversexed and over here’ was not unfounded!
WVS ended up running over 200 of these clubs, the Ministry of Information giving a grant of £30 to each one opened. Some would be opened for a short period as troops arrived and then moved on from areas, others stayed open for the remainder of the war, with most closed by 1946 as the troops returned home and the need for the clubs evaporated.
They had been trying unsuccessfully to start a Welcome Club in Leamington since February 1944, but they could not find suitable premises. It was not until 8th July 1944 that they succeeded, but their efforts were somewhat hampered by a huge influx of evacuees to the town that month which took up all their efforts. That coupled with what is described as an ‘un co-operative town committee’ and the resignation almost immediately of the Honorary Secretary of the club due to the administration load, meant an inauspicious start.
The opening night, programme started at 7:30pm, with dancing to a band from Stoneleigh from 7:30-8:45pm, followed by speeches, refreshments (which included home baked cakes ) from 9:00-9:30pm and then more dancing ‘till 10:30pm.
All though was not a total success, with the Master of Ceremonies not turning up due to his family being bombed out, the band had to leave early and the Mayor did not turn up! But all in all it had been ‘an encouraging start’.
This is just the start of the story, and hopefully we can return to Leamington in a few weeks time …