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From 1938-1942, our collection holds 31,401 pages of Narrative Reports. These reports were sent to the headquarters of the WVS at 41 Tothill Street, London. This allowed members at HQ to be able to keep track of all WVS activities in the country.
Due to the unique structure of the WVS, duplicate copies of the monthly diaries were also sent to our county offices, whilst keeping the original reports at the individual centres. This set up allowed each section of the organisation to monitor what was going on. It also meant that a chain of communication could be rapidly established between WVS Headquarters and WVS members throughout the country. Due to the existence of these multiple copies, an identical monthly report will occasionally pop up. Whilst it would be wonderful to have duplicates of every diary, it would rather limit our shelf space.
To handle the massive influx of Narrative Reports each month, members at headquarters tagged specific reports that were considered important enough to be read by the heads of department. By 1942, there were just over 2000 centres across the country. With each centre sending in one report per month, Tothill Street must have had one of the busiest letter boxes in London.
After the introduction of the archive in 1958, the reports were filed in brown card folders with their respective location hand written in blue and red ink. The reports are still in their original files today, but they have been repackaged in acid-free folders and placed into boxes to help maintain their condition. Unfortunately, members of the WVS probably didn’t realise how significant these documents would become so not all of the reports have survived the test of time. This is particularly stark in Region 4 (Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk), as the reports were weeded to save space. As a result, Region 4 has by far the fewest number of reports.
Nevertheless, their survival is testament to the members of the WVS that decided the reports were worth keeping. A member from the WVS centre for Worcester wholeheartedly agreed with the great work happening at headquarters and consequently wrote this excellent poem.
A most exciting place to be,
I’m sure that you will all agree,
is in Headquarters, Tothill Street,
For, there, you’re almost sure to meet
With many famous people who
Are bent in seeing their country through.
The smallish muddles that arise
And cause the gov’ment much surprise;
The minor details that occur,
Apart from battles, as it were.
For instance, take Evacuation;
Who copes with urns at every station?
Who takes the children for a ride
Into the pleasant countryside?
Who kindly helps the I.C.C
To sort out each evacuee
Who has some clothing coupons owing
Because their clothes they are outgrowing?
Who interviews the under-fives
And helps to save their little lives?
And who persuades the very aged
A dang’rous war is now being waged
And they could better serve the nation
By going to some safe situation?
Who manages the Clothing Centres?
And laughs at all such misadventures
As parcels of damp frocks and jackets?
Or books in ladies’ clothing packets?
Or take the case of Demolition!
Who gets the canteens in position?
And helps to feed with buns and tea
The men who labour constantly
To make the place “as safe as houses”?
And who is it the police arouses
Whenever any help is needed
Knowing the always have succeeded?
The noble wears-out very slowly!
And may they be successful wholly
How good they are, p’rhaps you guess!
Our grand H.Q., WVS!
There are two ways the blog could have gone this week instead I thought I would try and cover both elements in the title as we haven’t really looked either of them before. Let’s start with Pies ...
23 January is National Pie Day, why not celebrate by making a ham and egg pie from this wartime recipe.
Ham and Egg Pie
1 good slice chopped raw ham 1/2lb
short crust pastry
2 dried eggs, reconstituted 1
Salt and pepper
Line a plate with pastry, trim
and decorate the edges. Put on the chapped ham. Beat the egg well, season, and
pour over the ham. Decorate with tomato slices. Bake in hot oven 20-20 minutes
(Regulo Mark 7). Reduce the heat when the pastry begins to brown and allow the custard
to cook slowly.
Food Advisory Bureau 1943 , WRVS/HQ/PUB/PUB/F-43-003
WVS did not just suggest recipes for pies while many ingredients were rationed, they also ran the Rural Pie Scheme. Millions of pies and snacks were distributed to agricultural workers during the war to around 2750 villages each month from 1941-1945. The scheme was first introduced in Cambridge by WVS volunteers who wanted to help agricultural workers because they were on rations and in need of a good midday meal, so they started with meat pies. The Scheme was soon picked up by the Ministry of Food and spread all over the country, in some areas the WI was also involved. Often pies were distributed by a WVS driver from a depot or they were homemade by volunteers. Pies were delivered in many different ways, in Frodsham Cheshire for example the WVS trekked across the Marshes to provide pies to farmers; in Kent they were delivered in a mobile canteen to Hop pickers. Though some, as in the image above with two Land Girls, recieved their pies by tricycle. So while you enjoy your pie remember the hard work of the WVS to feed a nation.
If poetry is more your thing you may be partaking in a Burns Super this week; Burns Night on 25th January a celebration of the Life and Poetry of Robert Burns, WVS/WRVS volunteers were very fond of poetry as well as writing their own on the back of Narrative Reports, some were sent in to the Bulletin or even received from those who had benefited from services provided by the organisation. This is one of my favourites about the One-in-Five Scheme, perhaps you will be inspired to write a poem about Royal Voluntary Service.
“Gather your hearers while you may,
Old time is still a-flying
If you don’t get them day by day,
You’ll be forever trying
For you, unless you look alive
And have your talks in plenty,
Will never get your One-in-Five,
Or even one in twenty!
So be not coy, but do your best
Your backlog to diminish,
For if you once should lose your zest
You’ll never, never finish.”
WVS Bulletin, One-In-Five, June 1962, p.14
Today I thought I would share with you all a poem that one of the volunteers found this morning and had them all chuckling away at how true it was. It was written by a member of the WRVS CAMEO. Luncheon Club, Lytham St. Annes for their Christmas party in 1973. The club was run for the physically handicapped and elderly people of the town. Its name means ‘Come And Meet Each Other’
I'M FINE, THANKS!
There is nothing the matter with me,
I'm as healthy as can be,
I have arthritis in both my knees
And when I talk, I talk with a wheeze;
My pulse is weak and my blood is thin
But, I'm awfully good for the shape I'm in.
Arch supports I have for my feet
Or I wouldn't be able to be on the street,
Sleep is denied me every night,
But every morning I find I'm all right.
My memory is failing, my head's in a spin
But I'm awfully well for the shape I'm in.
The moral is this, as this tale I unfold,
That for you and me who are growing old,
It's better to say ''I'm fine" with a grin,
Than to let folks know the shape we are in.
How do I know that my youth is all spent?
Well, my "get up and go" has" got up and went",
But I don't really mind when I think with a grin
Of all the grand places my "get-up" has been.
Old age is golden, I have heard it said,
But sometimes I wonder as I get into bed,
With my ears in a drawer, my teeth in a cup,
My eyes on the table for when I wake up;
Ere sleep comes to me - I say to myself
Is there anything else I should lay on the shelf?
When I was young my slippers were red,
I could kick my heels right over my head,
When I grew older my slippers were blue,
But I still could dance the whole night through.
Now I'm old - my slippers are black,
I walk to the store and puff my way back,
I get up each morning and dust off my wits,
Pick up the papers and read the Obits.,
If my name is still missing, I know I'm not dead
So I get a good breakfast and go back to bed.