Heritage Bulletin blog
Keep up to date with the latest news and happenings at the Archive and Heritage Collection. Send us your email address to receive notifications of new posts to your inbox, or follow us on twitter.com/RVSarchives
Showing 11-20 results
November 24th will be the last Thursday in the month which in
America means its Thanksgiving. If you don’t know much about this holiday,
apart from what you’ve seen in episodes of Friends and The Big Bang Theory,
don’t worry Issue No.37 of the Bulletin from November 1942 is here to help,
complete with Mock Duck and Mock Goose. If you were looking for a Mock Turkey go
to Issue No.49 November 1943 …
"As we have so many of our American Allies in this country,
many of us are likely to celebrate a festival we have never shared in before.
The first Thanksgiving Day was held by the Pilgrim Fathers to give thanks for
their first harvest, and ever since that time the last Thursday in November has
been celebrated in the United States as a national festival and day of
thanksgiving. Here is a typical Thanksgiving Day menu:
Soup- Tomato and Croutons. Turkey or Chicken or Goose, Mock
Goose, Mock Duck. Cranberry sauce or jelly. Vegetables - Mashed Potatoes;
sprouts; chestnut puree or chestnut stuffing; celery (raw); carrot strips (raw);
salted nuts. Sweet- Pumpkin pie; mince pie; apple pie; biscuits.
Cream of Tomato Soup or Mock Bisque-2 cups raw, canned or
bottled tomatoes; 2 teaspoons sugar; 1/3 tea-spoon bicarbonate of soda ; 1/2
onion, stuck with 6 cloves ; sprig of parsley; bit of bay leaf; 1/2 cup stale
bread-crumbs ; 4 cups milk (household); 1/2 tablespoon salt; 1/8 teaspoon
pepper ; 1/3 cup margarine. Scald milk with bread crumbs, onion, parsley and
bay leaf. Remove seasonings and rub through sieve. Cook tomatoes with sugar 15
minutes (shorter time if canned tomatoes are used). Add soda and rub through
sieve. Reheat bread and milk to boiling-point, add tomatoes, butter, salt and
pepper. Serve 6 to 8.
Mock Goose (Ministry of Food).-1 lb. liver; 2 lb. potatoes;
2 onions or leeks; 1 apple; 3 oz. fat bacon; 1 dessertspoon chopped parsley;
1/2 teaspoon dried sage ; 1/2 pint water; seasoning. Wash liver and cut into
slices. Cut potatoes, onions and apple into slices. Arrange ingredients in
layers in a pie-dish or hot-pot dish. Cover with pieces of bacon. Add water.
Cover with a greased paper and cook in a moderate oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Mock Duck (Ministry of Food) - Cooking time, 1 hour.
Ingredients-14lb. potatoes; 2 large cooking apples; 3/4 pint vegetable stock ;
1 tablespoon flour; pepper and salt; 4 oz. grated cheese ; 1/2 teaspoon dried
sage. Quantity- 4 helpings.
Method.-Scrub and slice potatoes thinly, slice apples, grate
cheese. Grease a fireproof dish, place a layer of potatoes in it, cover with
apple and a little sage, season lightly and sprinkle with cheese, repeat
layers, leaving potatoes and cheese to cover. Pour in 1/2 pint of the stock,
cook in a moderate oven for 3/4 hour. Blend flour with remainder of stock, pour
into dish and cook for another 1/4 hour. Serve as a main dish with a green
The American “biscuit” is more like a small muffin and is
used at breakfast, dinner or supper. A biscuit like our own is known in America
as a "cracker." American muffins are like our queen cakes in
American Emergency Biscuits (Ministry of Food)-3/4 lb flour;
2 teaspoons baking powder; 2 oz. margarine; 1/2 teaspoon salt; 3/4 cup milk.
Method-Mix flour, baking powder and salt together, cut in margarine;
add milk gradually until a soft dough is formed. Turn out on a floured board
and pat out with the hand to about 1 inch thick. Cut into rounds and bake in
quick oven for 15 minutes."
I haven’t included all the recipes just a selection if you
want to know more visit our online catalogue.
Photo: members of the WVS are providing wartime services for the welfare of American service personnel at a flat in Buckingham Gate, London. In the flat, a number of American service personnel, WVS members and ladies are being entertained by a recital of classical music that is being performed in the flat for them. WRVS/HQ/P/SWH/AMER002 1939-1945.
The Archive & Heritage
collection was formed in 1958, the year before WVS’s 21st
Anniversary as the Archives and Central Records Department. The members of this
department’s first purpose was to search through files for important original
reports, letters, etc. to find those of historical interest and importance. I
truly sympathise with having to assess twenty years’ worth of material and
having to take key decisions which would affect future generations
understanding of the WVS.
The department started out with a
number of part-time works all with different tasks to complete and a Head of Department
to oversee them. It is funny how very little changes in 60 years, although a
little different with a full time Deputy Archivist and Archives Assistant
(working on the Hidden History of a Million Women Project), there is still an
Archivist and a team of volunteers who help out with the collection anywhere
from two hours to a whole day every week.
We don’t know very much about the
thoughts of the women first involved in bringing this invaluable collection
together, even though they knew there was ‘a real need for such a department’
in 1958, apart from what is written in the Annual Reports. However occasionally
when sorting through the collection something catches your eye; though it wasn’t
shinny and it didn’t look particularly interesting while repackaging the
collection of General Publications on Friday afternoon I came across WVS/WRVS Archives Notes for Guidance
1973 (there are also copies for 1975 and 1981).
This small booklet with a Green
front cover shows how over 15 years the thinking in the Archive was developing
and they were getting to grips with the records they held. They were there to
collate a complete library of papers concerning policy, operational works and
records of WVS/WRVS from 1938 onwards. At the end of the booklet they list all
the documents being kept in the Archive including Annual Reports,
Bulletin/Magazine, Miscellaneous Memoranda and Narrative Reports which with
many more documents, photographs, publications and objects still reside in the
collection today. What interested me most about this booklet was what it said
about Narrative Reports:
“A complete set of Narrative
Reports form all Regions is held in WRVS Headquarters Archives.
No Narrative Reports should be
destroyed without consultation, as arrangements for keeping them vary from
Region to Region”
This might explain why the number
of reports in today’s collection varies so much from region to region.
Devizes is home to the Royal Voluntary Service Archive and Heritage Collection, it is also home to me, Ezra Bigland. I have recently started volunteering here at the Archive during my gap year and have been given use of the archive to research the local activities of Royal Voluntary Service (then known as the Women’s Voluntary Services for Civil Defence) during the 1950s in my hometown of Devizes.
The Narrative Reports – monthly records of each branch’s activities – available here at the archive demonstrate the breadth of services WVS provided, from visiting the elderly and doing their shopping to giving lessons in First Aid and holding the 1-in-5 lectures throughout Devizes and its surrounding villages. Mrs Elsie Proudman, Centre Organiser for Devizes, and Mrs Patricia Forbes, Centre Organiser for the surrounding rural communities, were the women responsible for writing these monthly reports. Mrs Proudman focused on the social activities of the centre, pouring tea and visiting the elderly, whilst in those submitted by Mrs Forbes we see her priority shift from these social aspects to a more educative campaign on issues of Civil Defence.
The 1950s represented an important and uneasy decade. On the one hand the Allies had prevailed over the Axis powers and World War Two was over, on the other, a bipolar prism of East and West had very quickly emerged with the start of the Cold War in 1949. The prospect of peace had been dashed and the immediate post-war sentiments of hope and optimism slowly gave way to new fears as a sinister new threat emerged; Communism and its aggressively expansive incarnation – the Soviet Union.
WVS played an important part in responding to these threats, with the support of the Home Office the WVS began an educational campaign teaching ordinary women basic First Aid and practical skills required to best face the unique threats that the nuclear age presented. The Narrative Reports of Mrs Forbes, specify the number of women who had witnessed the ‘One-in-Five’ talks, lectures designed to provide at least one-in-five British women with the basic skills of Civil Defence.
It may seem a strange juxtaposition to associate Royal Voluntary Service – an organisation known best today for its work with older people - with the broad international political landscape of the 1950s, yet as the monthly Narrative Reports for Devizes show, the Women’s Voluntary Services for Civil Defence played an important educative role in equipping the women of Devizes, and those around the rest of the country, with the basic skills of Civil Defence, a programme which was approved and funded by the Home Office.
WVS also maintained an important social role; working with the elderly, visiting hospitals, arranging flowers and pouring an ever-welcome cup of tea. Whilst the Narrative Reports of Mrs Forbes extensively detail the organisation’s political role, those kept by the long serving Mrs Proudman – a pillar of charitable and civic life in Devizes, after whom a street has been named –detail the social responsibilities of the WVS. Both Mrs Proudman and Mrs Forbes gave great service to the town of Devizes, the fact that Mrs Proudman focused her time on social duties and Mrs Forbes on issues of Civil Defence demonstrates the breadth of service the WVS performed in 1950s Devizes. This variety of focus demonstrates how the WVS was personally shaped by the strong leadership of ordinary women up and down the country, women with greatly differing outlooks and priorities.
On another level it seems that the WVS filled a need for a post-war recalibration of the woman’s role, whereas a decade previously the collective effort of war had redefined the working lives of women and provided a true sense of purpose, the 1950s could have easily felt an anti-climax. The work of the WVS in 1950s Devizes can therefore be seen as a continuation of this wartime spirit, the principles of charity, selflessness and service perpetuated on a new and expanding platform. This was the realisation of what Lady Reading the WVS’s founder had envisaged.
The WVS undoubtedly had a strong presence in Devizes in the 1950s, with the matriarchal leadership of Mrs Proudman and Mrs Forbes countless elderly people were visited, innumerable cups of tea were poured and unending library books were distributed. But more than these valuable and unashamedly simple acts of service the WVS brought to Devizes and its surrounding villages an educational campaign designed to equip its people against the political and humanitarian uncertainty that loomed as the century marched on.
Posted by Ezra Bigland, Archive Volunteer at 09:00
Monday, 22 August 2016.
One in Five,
The second line of J R R Tolkin’s Poem All that is gold
both very true when looking at a recent deposit we received.
It’s also true that if you are travelling with WVS you won’t be lost.
In July 1942 the Ministry for Homeland Security set up the Volunteer Car
Pool (VCP) to address the problems of petrol shortages. Private car owners were
encouraged to enrol in the service agreeing to make their car available in an
emergency. WVS was asked to be involved in the running of the scheme; by 1944
they were overseeing 570 VCP schemes across Britain. This was then succeeded by
the Hospital Car Service (HCS) in 1945 where WVS and the WRVS volunteers took
thousands of people to Hospital every year until the Mid1970s when the charity
started to run a more diverse scheme called Country Cars (1974/75).
A short time ago we received a
set of driver’s records including letters, a log book, monthly summaries,
petrol records and journey records for the VCP and HCS. Mrs Bird wandered
around the London and Essex Metropolitan areas between 1944 and
1950 collecting those in need of transport and taking them to hospital and many
other places. Of course these records don’t glitter but they contain hidden
gems such as her records for July and August 1944 when she took evacuees and
their escorts from Chingford to stations in London such as Kings Cross and
Paddington. Most of these journeys were 30 to 40 mile round trips. Moreover one
book shows that WVS’s transport services were not just used for hospital
journeys even before 1974. In 1947 and 1948 Mrs Bird took people to an old
people’s tea entertainment, collected wool from Tothill Street London (WVS Headquarters) and
transported fruit for canning to Portland Place. Occasionally she also delivered
Meals on Wheels and clothing to local clothing depots.
If you would like to find out
more about the VCP and HCS why not explore our Factsheets on Transport
or Hospital Services
This is the kind of story that I don’t write that often. I am not sure why, and perhaps I should write more updates. It is, I suppose a bit like an American President’s State of the Union address, and perhaps it should only come round once a year. We will see.
With an archive as large as ours, the pace of change is necessarily slow, that is especially in relation to projects and tasks most of which are carried out by our fantastic volunteer team. Running the collection day to day is a full time job and can be quite frantic and fraught; answering enquiries from inside the organisation and from the public, monitoring and adjusting the environment in the stores (with electric heaters, hand filled portable humidifiers and dehumidifiers), changing a leaky tap washer (as I did last week), photographing objects, managing computer servers and of course writing this blog. As a lone archivist you have to be a jack of all trades and also a master of quite a few of them too.
Our stalwart volunteer team plough on with their projects, most have been working on these for years. Pete has been working on his photograph cataloguing project for almost three years now and comes in every Monday for five hours. After sorting and appraising a collection of over 5,000 images from about 1997-2008 he is now cataloguing the 717 that we have selected for permanent preservation. He manages to catalogue about ten images per day and we are both optimistic that he might be finished by the end of the year. Other volunteers are still working on our Narrative Report collection, and are approaching after two years finishing sorting and repackaging those reports from 1965-1980, some have been working on this since 2010. Nora has recently finished sewing identification labels into over 500 unique items of uniform in the collection, a task which took her a year and our newest recruit Sheridan is fast approaching completion of her cataloguing of a collection of five large boxes of material from the NE of England, a task which has taken her just over eight months so far.
The biggest piece of work we are currently just beginning though is our Archive development project, which received support from our trustees in November. This project, which will run for 18 months, will allow us to put together a plan for the future of the archive and discover how we can integrate the archive and our history more into the everyday running of the charity, how we can provide better access for all to use the collections in the future and importantly how we can affordably house our nationally important collection to make sure that it is preserved for future generations. This project properly kicks off in April, but it has, as you can imagine, involved a lot of meetings, engaging people inside and outside the organisation, and writing of plans, which have kept me very busy. To paraphrase the nuns in the Sound of Music “how do you solve a problem like an Archive?” Watch this space …
Posted by Matthew McMurray, Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 00:00
Monday, 15 February 2016.
State of the Union ,
Sound of Music,
Here at the archive much of our time is spent answering enquiries from members of the public and Royal Voluntary Service staff and volunteers, in fact we receive about 200 a year. But like London buses they all seem to come along at once.
This month we have had a small deluge of family and local history enquiries, requests from students and media companies to authors and people looking to donate material to the archive.
One of my favourite requests was from a gentleman who has donated 200 Civil Defence Welfare Section recipe cards to the archive (which as I write this have yet to arrive). Each card with a different recipe for feeding 5,000 people at a time, imagine that, the quantities are mind boggling!
We also had request for information on one of our Regional Administrators during the war, Mrs Vera Dart who looked after Region 10 (Cumberland, Lancashire and Cheshire for the uninitiated!) for an author who is publishing a book about her.
A lady rang up asking us to identify what had come in a small white cardboard box, which had “presented by Lady Reading 1940” written on the back. The answer? It was her WVS membership badge. A lucky lady to be presented with it by the Chairman!
We have also lent out this month our entire stock of wartime loan uniforms for events being held by Royal Voluntary Services around the country, they have been at the Dig for Victory Show in Bristol, as wells as other promotional events around the country from Sheffield to Hampshire, the uniforms always attracting much attention.
Finally in this small selection, we have helped an academic who is looking at how our narrative reports might be able to help track changes in society and policy over time. This may turn out to be an exciting project for the future!
Posted by Matthew McMurray, Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 09:00
Monday, 27 July 2015.
Region 10 ,
Lady Reading ,
I’ve been working here at the archive in Devizes almost since we started four years ago, in that time I’ve done all sorts of jobs from sorting uniform to accessioning new material and now I am putting some old skills to use and cataloguing the library of books we have here.
All of them are related to WVS or WRVS in one way or another, albeit some very tenuously. There are coffee table picture books, history books, instruction manuals, memoirs and poetry amongst others. There are books signed by Lady Reading and other WRVS worthies, authors and other famous people. Some of the books are proof versions of WVS guides, with corrections and comments written in, others are gift copies from authors which have used the archives or reproduced some of our pictures.
To enable me to catalogue them properly I inevitably have to read them all, or at least scan through them. The tales that I have read can be funny or sometimes very sad. I do particularly like the memoirs and poems, getting lost in the stories of evacuees or wartime WVS ladies doing their bit for Blighty. My favourite so far has to be Nella Last and her wonderful diary, a testament to her aspiration to become a writer and her commitment to the WVS both during and after the War. Sometimes she wrote 1,000 words every evening. Her work feeding airmen in her services canteen and working in the centre at Barrow in Furness should be an inspiration to all.
I am about half way through my seemingly never ending task, having catalogued 95 books, with plenty more to go and more fascinating stories to uncover.
First I think I should apologise for not posting anything in January. It has though been rather a busy month for us, with the inevitable last minute preparations for the launch of the Archive online and the opening of the enquiry service on the 14 January. We have had a minor flood of enquiries come in on subjects ranging from the classic “My grandmother was in the WVS, what can you tell me about her?” to a rather more difficult request from a postgraduate student on very specific aspects of WVS post war Civil Defence work. This has given the volunteers and myself a whole new purpose and we are really enjoying the varied nature of the research and the opportunity to learn more about the many aspects of WRVS’ history.
So over the next couple of months we will be concentrating on continuing to answer enquiries (do please keep them coming) and helping people prepare for the 75th anniversary celebrations which kick off in May.
I thought I would finish off with a little bit about one of five WVS members who received the George medal for Bravery during WWII, something I came across while doing an enquiry the other day. Some of you may already know Grace Rattenbury’s story, but others may not.
Grace was a member of Bermondsey WVS and with little regard for her own safety assisted in the evacuation of women and children from the Surrey commercial docks in Rotherhithe at the beginning of the London Blitz in September 1940. The docks were alight and the fire threatened to cut people off from the mainland. There was only one singles span bridge left, and the road was extremely dangerous because of the growing fire, bomb damage and delayed action bombs. In spite of all this Grace using a WVS van maintained a shuttle service between the docks and the first line Rest and feeding centres, until every woman and child had been evacuated. She not only managed to rescue fleeing families, but also firemen who had been injured fighting the flames. The van on her return was full of steel helmets, blood-soaked bandages and a fireman’s axe, and other marks of a very heavy nights work.
Well, there’s a title I didn’t ever imagine using, and nor did I ever think I would appear as an expert on wartime knitting on television, but here we are! Yesterday (Monday 1 October) I had to travel to London for the day to be interviewed for a forthcoming BBC Four programme titled, ‘The Golden Age of Knitting‘.
The venue was Wilton’s Music Hall in the east end of London, somewhere I had never been before, even though I had seen it plenty of times on the TV, usually in costume dramas. It is the oldest music hall in London and has a very rustic atmosphere, exposed timbers plaster stripped brick walls, you could just imagine yourself in a run down part of London at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
Having trudged through the very soggy streets I met up with the director/producer, camera man and assistant and the questioning commenced.
While I can confess to being an expert on the history of WRVS, or WVS as it was during the war, an expert on knitting I am not; at least I didn’t think I was. It is surprising what you can come up with, and the previous day's in-depth research into WVS’ role in providing comforts for the forces and merchant services during the war was very enlightening.
The questions came thick and fast, what was the role of the WVS with knitting? How much did they knit? Who were they knitting for? To give you an example, in Hastings and St Leonards in Sussex, WVS organized over 1,000 women, a dozen men and a nine year old boy to knit for the forces. In 1941 they produced 7,000 items, from pullovers to socks and balaclavas for our troops and surprisingly for those of the Red Army. In all during the war nationally between 150,000 and 200,000 WVS members were assigned to knitting and sewing work parties, helping and organising probably another 750,000 ‘individual knitters’. Just imagine, a million women knitting their socks off!
I spent a very enjoyable hour answering questions and hopefully at least a couple of minutes worth will turn up in the final edit. The programme should air in early spring next year, so I will keep you posted when we know a broadcast date.
The question was how we could achieve this without having to spend money; thankfully technology has come to our rescue and allowed us to reach the largest possible audience by starting an online blog or diary.
As the Heritage Bulletin is only a bi-annual publication and at current the only way we can show you
the work we do here at the Archive, the blog, which is launching this month, will be a different way for us to keep you up to date with what is happening here in Devizes.
The monthly entries will be based around a day’s work in the Archive and will include accounts from both the volunteers and the Archivist.
It will allow you the chance to see new arrivals into the collection and any new projects we may be involved in. You will also get an insight into the varied items we hold in our collection and the amusing tales of volunteers which have been recorded in the Narrative Reports.
Unfortunately you can't subscribe to our blog just yet, but all our posts will remain on the site permanently so you can catch up with our Archive news at any time. There is also a comments section which will allow you the chance to share your stories or any comments you may have.
We look forward to sharing our experiences of the Archive with you and hope you enjoy reading our entries!