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WVS took on work for the
Armed Forces when it became a member of the Council of Volunteer War Workers,
in 1940 and established the Services Welfare Department. Most of the WVS’s work for the Armed forces was domestic including
canteens and darning socks. These services developed further in 1944 by
training WVS members to run clubs for Service Men overseas.
The NAAFI wanted WVS to run clubs for
soldiers in their barracks and the first contingency was sent to the Algiers
after the war ended. Women went to countries and continents such as: North
Africa and Italy; The Middle East; Germany; Austria; The Far East; Japan;
Korea; Cyprus; Kenya; Christmas Island; Singapore; Malaya and Hong Kong. Most of the members who went
out spent their time running the clubs but also had their own experiences which
they recorded in letters and diaries.
A member called Kathleen Thompson went to
India for 18 months to work in Deolali,
Randu and Raiputana. In 2016 the Archive received 93 letters written by
Kathleen about her time in India and this week we would like to share part of one
of those letters with you. An extra handwriting challenge for those who eagerly
await the monthly narrative Report handwriting challenge (though not as
7th March 1946 Letter no.8
Kathleen left India at the end of her contract with the
organisation in August 1947 but many more women went out to other countries as
part of Services Welfare which later included the Falklands and Canada. You can
find out more about WVS and WRVS Services Welfare on the Voices of Volunteering schools resources pages and searching Archive Online.
About a month ago we left Miss Yellowley as the Mauretania entered
the Suez Canal; the ship sailed along the canal for 2 days before reaching the
Gulf of Suez and then the Arabian Sea. The days’ activities and nightly dances
or picture (film) showings continued as did their journey until the Mauretania
arrived in Bombay.
Saturday getting near our sea journeys ending,
feeling very sad at leaving all the friends we’ve made on the ship, still doing
last minute sewing and clothing for the boys. By 5 o’clock we can just see
Bombay. At 6 o’clock the ship anchored and disembarking for the troops begins. We
were supposed to be having a farewell dance and cabaret from 8 to 11 but owing
to changing money and posting orders being read out it didn’t begin until 10:15
so it was rather disappointing.
Sunday 4th 18 of the party including
myself are disembarking in the morning for Calcutta, the other 11 will stay in
Bombay for 1 night. The ship looks bare now most of the troops are off now. We had
a little sing song in the evening.
Monday 5 we were called at 4:30 and breakfast 5:15,
at 6:45 we were put on the tender and as we pulled out looked up at the
Mauretania, she looked beautiful. The journeying had been done in 13 days and 5
hours sailing including the time we stayed at Big Britain Lake and Tewfik [Suez
Port] and they certainly broke the record. When we got to the key side we were
herded into army trucks and taken to the station where we got the 10:10 from Victoria
terminus to Calcutta a distance of 18,000 miles. We’re on a military troop
train and own compartments were very comfortable but not too clean. There was 6
of us in our compartment and heaps of room to move about in, much bigger than
our own trains. There was great exciting times as we got going, we were all
thrilled to bits, native children running alongside the trains … some were
dreadful sights. We stopped at various stations for meals and we had sing songs
on the platform, and it was very amusing when the boys were getting the native
children to sing and dance to us. There was so much to see on the journey we
didn’t get time to be bored and it went over very quickly. We arrived at
Calcutta on Wednesday 7th November about 4:30. We were met by some WVS
members and taken to “Barrackpore” 17 miles out of Calcutta where we had baths,
dinner and off to bed. There was a letter from Sue waiting for me and wasn’t I pleased,
it is grand to get a letter from home when you are so far away …
The Services Welfare Officers spent a few days in Calcutta and then Miss Yellowley and two other women were posted to Rangoon they were very busy and as a result Miss Yellowley was unable to write for a few months.
I’m afraid I have been very lazy in keeping this diary up to date, it is now the 10th march and this is the first time I have looked in my diary since I arrived in Rangoon. I have had a grand time up to now. Spent most of my time with Alec, dancing, on the lake, swimming, tenis, table tennis and trips in a jeep and how I have enjoyed them all, the best I think was to Pegu on 17th February. It is 55 miles from here and Pegu is a very interesting place with the Reclining Buddha. We went swimming in the lake on the way back and then I left Alec and came to our Boat Club dance which I attend every Sunday evening. I have worked at the boat club since I first arrived in Rangoon. Babs and Nora have been posted to Singapore and I heard last week that Nora had broken her leg. I have two very dear pals whom we all share a room Mrs Penman (Penny) and Mrs Joy Rydon. Joy is leaving soon as she has to see a specialist in England, Penny and I will miss her terribly as we have got very attached to each other. Alec went home on 61 days leave. He left by plane on the 22nd February, it is 16 days since he left but it seems like 16 years. I knew I would miss him but I never dreamt I would miss him so much as I do. I haven’t had a letter from him yet but keeping my fingers crossed. It is terribly hot now but my work at the Boat Club is very pleasant and I enjoy every minute of it. NAAFI have taken over this club and very soon our contracts will be transferred to NAAFI if we wish …
In our next instalment Miss Yellowley and two companions continue to have adventures manageing the NAAFI Club where the entertainments
include cinema, bands, whist, concerts, games, table tennis, fishing and hot
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.
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.