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Early days on Christmas Island

Billie and Mary Burgess give news of their first impressions and activities on arrival, prior to the opening of the NAAFI Club on December 3rd, 1956

THE great day had at last arrived and in a few minutes the R.A.F. plane in which we were travelling would be touching down on the new runway of Christmas Island. There below us lay the now famous Coral Island about which everyone is talking. Basking there in the brilliant tropical sunshine, looking every bit like the tropical isles one reads about in fairy tales.

At last, travel-stained and a little weary, and covered in the inevitable dust, we reached the small green bungalow which was to be our home for as long as we were on the island. It had been constructed from disused huts left behind by the American Forces and is an absolute model of ingenuity. A large lounge, bedroom, small kitchen and toilet (including a shower—another memory of the Americans) are all decorated in a cool shade of cream and pale marina green. So hurried were the preparations for our arrival that the painters were literally leaving by the back door as we were coming in by the front.

Bright and early the next morning we made our way to the NAAFI compound and to the large Romney hut where our club-room facilities were supposed to be situated. Alas, we were a little disappointed. Not only was our Centre not completed, but the NAAFI end of it was only in its primary stages. We cautiously asked when it was likely to be finished. They could not give us a definite date, but as soon as the canteen was finished they would be starting on our room. Here we were with all our boxes and packing cases simply crying to be opened up. What were we to do? In the end we decided to open them one at a time and to take (when transport was available) all the more valuable articles back to our bungalow and store them on our verandah. Soon there came to light all the various treasures which W.V.S. members had contributed. The sewing machine was the first to emerge, followed closely by the delightful kitchen utensils, some of which, unfortunately, we shall not be able to put to full use until our tiny kitchen is equipped with the small stove we are hoping will be installed.

We had already approached the Army personnel with regard to a pantomime and, having found out that they were in the throes of producing a Christmas concert, we were determined to unpack next the boxes of costumes in order to help them. That afternoon we discussed with their producer what costumes would be required. They were putting on a little panto of The Christmas Carol as one of their acts in the show, and among the costumes mentioned was a long pair of lace edged pantaloons for Mrs. Cratchett and a frock coat for old Scrooge. Imagine our great surprise and delight when the first article out of the costume box was indeed a pair of unmentionables for Mrs. C. and not long after a frock coat was discovered for the old miser.

A couple of days later we made an impromptu visit to the small but adequate Military Hospital, taking with us a supply of magazines and periodicals. We had a long natter with all the patients and they seemed very cheerful and quite delighted to see both us and the reading material. The chess sets and other games were also a great success. We shall make this one of our regular ports of call in the future.

As soon as our Club room is ready, we hope to start the Scots dancing- classes. In fact we have already enrolled the services of an instructor (a plumber who repaired our leaking tap, which, incidentally, is supplied with water from a converted petrol drum on the roof). A gold-medallist waiter is also among our ardent ballroom followers and he has volunteered to help us with these classes once they are under way.

Most evenings we visit the NAAFI canteen to take orders for ‘ Say it with Flowers’, chocolate orders and Christmas gifts. These schemes are more than welcomed by the boys and we have taken a considerable number of orders.

Posted by Matthew McMurray, Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 00:00 Monday, 01 February 2016.

Labels: NAAFI, Club, Service Welfare, Christmas island, Soldiers, WVS, Coral island