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With the tragedy over the weekend in Nepal we thought we would bring some good news of how the WVS helped the families of Nepalese Gurkha soldiers , a task that would last for over 40 years and how it all started in an account from 1948.
When the decision was made that a Gurkha Brigade would be recruited by the British to serve in Malaya, those responsible felt very strongly that if this experiment were to succeed a welfare service must be provided for the families.
These families had never been out of Nepal in their lives; had probably never seen the sea; had anything from a five to 14 days’ walk to reach the port of embarkation, and could speak no English. To go overseas to live in a strange country with strange people in unknown and unimagined conditions would be a tremendous step.
Early in 1948 WVS agreed to send members to act in a welfare capacity. There are now Families’ Camps attached to the eight battalions serving in Malaya. The families at present live in tents which are wonderfully well kept, and around which little gardens have been planted.
The work of the WVS member varies in each camp, but everywhere a main concern is the health of the women and children. She issues additional milk and vitamin foods, possibly once a week makes an inspection of the tents, weighs the numerous babies, takes the expectant mothers to ante-natal clinic, goes to hospital with all who need treatment, and generally endeavours to reassure the very nervous Gurkha woman and persuade her there is nothing to fear, either in regard to seeing a doctor or going into hospital.
A sewing machine is often provided which the women are taught to use, and the WVS member buys thin material which, in turn, the women buy from her to make light clothes for the children. When the families first arrived the children wore thick, knitted, woollen garments. In a tropical climate the result was very severe prickly heat and often outbreaks of impetigo and other skin diseases. It was not easy to convince the women at first that light clothes were suitable and would be most comfortable, and it was only by getting one or two of the more enterprising of them to try the experiment, which proved successful, that now practically all the women wear light bright coloured saris.
These Gurkha wives are most of them very young people, many of them only 16, 17 or 18. There are, naturally, some who are considerably older, but for the young ones such a tremendous upheaval must be a startling experience, it is extremely easy to frighten and upset them.
By far the chief occupation is having babies!
Every WVS. member feels a tremendous pride in the number and size of the new arrivals, and there is considerable rivalry between the various battalions !
Another activity is running a little class or school for the younger children. It is, naturally, difficult for the WVS member to teach children to count, read and write in a language of which she knows only comparatively few words herself, but nevertheless she manages extremely well by either pointing or drawing an object, the little Gurkha giving the Gurkhali word, the WVS. member giving the English equivalent, thereby both acquiring knowledge at the same time.
The women are on the whole extremely enterprising, very excited with anything new and most receptive to any fresh experience. An outing was once arranged for the wives and families from one camp, On arrival the smaller children walked straight into the sea and started paddling, many of the women immediately took off their top layer of clothes and plunged in in their underclothes. As our WVS member said: “I never thought I would find myself teaching a Gurkha lady to float, with her sari trailing on the waves behind her.”
It is extremely interesting to go round the tents and see what the different families manage to do with the same equipment. Each family is issued with the basic furniture : beds, chairs, tables, chest of drawers. Some remain rather bare and cheerless but others, from apparently nowhere, very soon have many bright flowers about and extraordinary collections of coloured pictures and photographs, and very often an advertisement cut from an illustrated paper appears next door to a brightly coloured picture of a local god.
There is no shadow of doubt that the WVS members working with the Gurkhas have done a really first class job of welfare in the fullest and best sense of the word. The work is exacting and strenuous, but I am sure that everyone who has worked with the Gurkhas is very glad to have had the experience.
Posted by Matthew McMurray at 00:00
Monday, 27 April 2015.
This month’s extract from the diary of a centre organiser come from July 1950
A “ Bright Young Thing ” called at the office this morning to make enquiries about WVS at the very moment when I had to leave for an appointment at the further end of the town. Remembering my County Organiser’s words: . . . "Encourage younger women to join. We are all of us ten years older . .. ” and so on, I beamed welcomingly, thrust a copy of “How WVS. can serve the community” and a pencil into her hands and told her to mark the forms of service in which she was most interested. She had left by the time I returned and Miss MacFee handed me the marked leaflet. “KKL” was pencilled against a great many paragraphs and my hopes rose. She had initialled, perhaps, the jobs with which she would be prepared to lend a hand? “No,” Miss MacFee told me dourly, her name’s Brown— and she says she’ll help with the ACF Canteen.” “ And 'KKL’?” I enquired, mystified. Miss MacFee looked down her nose. “She told me it stood for“ ‘Kouldn’t Kare Less’,” she said.
Mrs Grouse was holding forth in her usual delightful (?) way at today’s “Make Do and Mend” party. All the vegetables in her garden had failed; her silk sunshade, purchased only last year, had split; a frock, guaranteed “fast” colours, had faded : on and on went the tales of woe. “You’re a pessimist, that’s what you are,” Mrs Bright said at last. “You’re like the farmer who had some chickens. ‘They’re a fine lot,’ somebody told him, but he shook his head‘ The trouble is the old hen hatched out nine, and all of them have died on me but eight,’ he said.” (The rest of us laughed, but Mrs Grouse thought the farmer’s attitude quite natural. “Poor man, I expect the ninth was a pullet and all the others were cockerels,” she commented.)
Matron inculcates politeness to each new orphan very soon after his or her arrival at the Home. It is impossible, therefore, to suspect an ulterior meaning behind the words spoken by a small newcomer after her first visit to her WVS Godmother’s home. “Thank you so very much for having me,” she said fervently to her hostess. “I've been had beautifully.”
With the weather improving and summer coming on we thought we would bring you a salad.
The Salad Clock
Make a French Salad, using cold cooked potatoes cut into rings, cooked peas, carrots and parsnips cooked and diced. Add finely sliced apple and chopped gherkin and mix well with salad cream.
Place on a large serving platter and have layer of dressing on top smoothed over to represent face of a clock. Cut two hard- boiled eggs into twelve slices and place them equally round the face of the clock. Cut Roman numerical figures out of strips of any vegetable but if beetroot is used do not place it in position until the last minute as the colour runs.
Use two sticks of celery to represent the hands of the clock. Frame with slices of tomato alternating with cucumber - or chopped ham and sliced sausage.
Posted by Matthew McMurray at 00:00
Monday, 20 April 2015.
bright Young things,
Spinach and beet,
centre organiser ,
Well it has been a very busy and exciting few months collecting oral histories for the Voices of Volunteering: 75 Years of Citizenship and Service. It’s been nearly six months since I last added material to our online catalogue so another 20 volunteers’ voices have now been uploaded to the 14 I told you about in the blog post ‘Voices of Volunteering goes online’. We have also added the text transcripts of 15 of the oral histories which are downloadable as Pdfs.
You can now listen to all 35 oral histories on our online catalogue, here is a flavour of what to expect:
Find out from Jill Walden-Jones how the Social Transport Scheme was started in Dyfed in 1974.
Mary Gibbons will tell you what it was like to go on a Children’s Holiday at Atlantic College.
Winifred Simpson talks about her time as a WVS member from 1940-1964 in Coventry when she helped at the Police Station Tea Bar.
What was it like to volunteer in a WRVS Hospital Shop in Scotland? Moira Trotter has the answers.
Sandra Taylor has had many different roles as a volunteer including delivering Meals on Wheels and being a District Organiser.
Sheila Lamont discusses what it was like to be a Services Welfare Officer on the Falkland Islands.
Cyril Barnes talks about helping with Meals on Wheels and Books on Wheels in Melton Mowbray.
Want to know more about WRVS’ Emergency Services work in Cumbria? Pat Gill is the one to listen to.
Setting up a rest centre was all in a day’s work for volunteer of 20 years Jill Fawcett.
Find out what it was like to be a Services Welfare Officer in Fleet, the Falklands, Germany, Cyprus, Blandford, Litchfield, Canada and Abourfield from Jean Crosley-Ingham.
Listen to why Mary Smalley said ‘that started me on what I consider to be, in a way, the most important thing I have done outside my home and family ever’.
Also hear one of our Heritage Champions talk to Peterborough volunteer Diana Setchfield about the Gloucester Centre and the Senior Stop Café.
In other news I now have some company while on my travels around Great Britain in the form of Stella our Royal Voluntary Service knitted doll and you can follow her adventures on Twitter @RVSarchives.
A small group of rug-makers is meeting twice a week at Grimsby to make rugs for London homeless.
Kingsbridge have started the keeping of certificates for domestic poultry keepers, to obtain wire-netting.
Biggleswade salvage stewards collected 2,500 old ration books during December.
In 1944 a Bath member did 1,170 hours of hospital work, in addition to being a VCP driver, a mobile canteen driver, and a worker in a static Services Canteen.
At Tavistock a WVS member, refusing to be beaten by the weather, went out on a sledge and collected 450 articles for the Re-homing Gift Scheme.
Henley Services canteen recently served 20,714 hot beverages, 249 soft drinks and 21,685 sandwiches during one month.
During the last three years WVS as voluntary telephonists have done 10,000 hours of duty at the Royal Sussex County Hospital.
WVS members at Smethwick have collected 8,400 stamped envelopes and note paper for the use of wounded soldiers when they arrive in hospital, to notify their relatives.
Two National Savings Centres in Islington, entirely staffed by WVS, have during the past three and two years exceeded the £500,000 and £75,000 marks respectively.
An evacuee train en route through Taunton was able to stop only for eight minutes, but WVS managed to get 630 cups of tea and over 900 buns and sandwiches on board, during those few minutes.
The Army Welfare Officer at Peterborough has asked WVS to operate a “Get you Home Scheme” so that men on leave from overseas who are stranded at the stations at night can be taken home by car.
One work party member at Battle, who very specially “mothered” the relays of men manning a searchlight near her home during the fly bomb attacks, now has an average of seven letters a week from her men now serving overseas.
The WVS Village - Representative at Offley recently received a letter of thanks and congratulations from the Regional Commissioner for the “ excellent services ” rendered by herself and helpers when a Rest Centre had to be opened after an explosion resulting from a collision between two motor vehicles.
Bridgewater Welcome Club are very proud of the mural paintings done by one of the American members. D-Day came before he could finish his picture of the main street of the town, which is left incomplete without the Welcome Club. The Club hope he will come back and put in the finishing touches. He, like so many other of his countrymen, will be sure of a grand welcome.
A large number of gifts from Plymouth for the Re-homing Gift Scheme have been received from people who had been bombed-out themselves and whose offerings entailed real sacrifice. One woman gave some things which she had been treasuring in memory of a sister who had been killed in a raid ; she felt she ought no longer to be sentimental and that the things should be used now to help others.
Ipswich have started a salvage “Something for Nothing Scheme” in which small gifts are exchanged for a certain weight of rags or bones. A bead necklace, for instance, can be “bought” for 56 lb of bones, a teapot for 28 lb of rags, a bicycle bell for 56 lb of paper, etc. The response has been so enormous that the prizes have had to be “put up". Recently, in the same borough, a six-feet pile of bones, which had been stewed down for the dogs, was discovered rotting near a dog racing track and immediately collected !
Posted by Matthew McMurray at 09:00
Monday, 06 April 2015.
heritage Bulletin Blog,
Reports from everywhere,
This week’s blog introduces to you for your viewing pleasure, the WRVS Association newsletters which are now available online.
The Association’s archive has been catalogued and re-packaged and it's newsletters have been digitised and placed on our online catalogue as OCR searchable pdf attachments, for you to read, search and enjoy. Why not take this opportunity to read volunteer’s memories of their time with the charity, or to find out what branches of the Association got up to at their meetings. You could even just enjoy some of the jokes and poems the newsletters contain, which certainly kept me entertained whilst I worked to digitise the collection. Like this funny definition of Association members:
‘My husband always refers to us as "Vintage WRVS". Like old wine, I have found that we are mature, well-rounded and produce a lot of merriment and good humour.’
If you would like to browse this great resource just click here
and you will be redirected to our catalogue. From there, just click ‘advanced search’ and select ‘WRVSANEWS’ in the category drop down list to browse the newsletters. If you would like to search them for a particular subject, maybe a location or service, just enter your keyword in to the ‘WRVS Assoc. News Text’.
This month’s extract from the diary of Centre Organiser come from the WVS Bulletin April 1950, with the recipe from May 1950.
Tremendous re-organisation beginning in the Clothing Store : all warm garments are being smothered in anti-moth crystals and relegated to the top shelves to make room lower down for more summery ones. Mrs. Bright, who is in charge, shocked her helpers into bust ing activity to-day by saying : “ Here it is Monday morning; to-morrow will be Tuesday, and the next day Wednesday—the week’s half gone, and nothing done. Hurry up, all of you—Hurry ! ”
It is often difficult to curb Mrs. Catte’s bitter tongue, but perhaps a newcomer, Mrs. Stranger will prove equal to the task. During this afternoon’s Work Party Mrs. Stranger—at our invitation—was telling us a little about herself and the work she had been doing for W.V.S. in the Centre she came from. In addition she told us about her son who had won scholarship after scholarship and had just received promotion after only a few months in his first job. “ Isn’t it wonderful how lucky your boy is?” Mrs. Catte purred silkily, but there was a glint in her eyes. “ Yes,” Mrs. Stranger retorted instantly, “ isn’t it wonderful ? The harder he works the luckier he gets.”
Sudden outbreak of a particularly nasty type of feverish cold amongst the helpers, coinciding with an unexpected number of requests for “ Meals on Wheels ” for ex-hospital patients. Everbody—myself included —rushing around madly, trying to cope with the deliveries by car, bicycle and even perambulator. Returned to the office to find amongst the letters one written in the third person : “ Mrs. Appleton would not mind a ‘ Meal ’ on a ‘ Wheel,’ provided it arrives really hot and that the food is freshly cooked and not merely re-heated. She never touches liver and does not care for steamed puddings.” “ Would not MIND ...!!’
1 oz. margarine
2 tablespoons flour
1 pint milk
1/2 pint bottled tomato-water
Make this into a sauce. Add as much grated cheese as can be spared—not less than a breakfastcupful—and stir all into a smooth paste. Add 1/2 oz. gelatine dissolved in a little boiling water, mix well to prevent lumps. Allow this to get completely cold, then whip to a spongey consistency.
Having previously prepared a tin of evaporated milk by standing the tin unopened in a pan of cold water, brought to boiling point and boiled for 15 minutes and cooled thoroughly—overnight if possible —whip half a tinful of this milk until stiff. Then combine with the cheese sauce and pour into moulds. Decorate with paprika and parsley.
Yesterday was International Women’s day which included an equality march in London by hundreds of Women, including the Great-Granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst the leader of the Suffragette movement of the early 20th century. It seems incredible to me that almost one hundred years on from the pioneering work of these Edwardian women that gender equality has still not truly arrived.
Along with the coverage on the news, I also watched Amanda Vickery’s new programme, Suffragettes forever! I have been a fan of Amanda Vickery’s work for some time, ever since I read her book a Gentleman’s Daughter over 15 years ago while at University. In the first programme she explores the role of women in politics from the 18th Century, noting that there were no women in the House of Lords until 1958. You may be thinking where is he going with this, but, I am about to get to my point. That woman, the first to sit in the House of Lords, was the founder of the WVS, Lady Reading.
There were 4 women sworn in that day, but she was chosen to be the very first, a testament to her contribution and achievements. She is probably one of the ten most important women in the 20th century, along with such well-known names as Emmeline Pankhurst , Marie Curie, Eleanor Roosevelt or Rosa Parks, but very few people have ever heard of her.
There is not time in this short blog to List Stella Reading’s achievements and sadly no biography has ever been written about her, but through the WVS/WRVS and her other work she changed the way in which women were perceived. During WWII she created the largest women’s organisation in history with over one million members and spawned copycat organisations all over the world. Her idea changed the perception of Charity, from something which was dispensed by the rich to being an everyday action of helping your friends or loved ones. Volunteering became an activity for all and an opportunity to show in a society, where they were still marginalised, what they were capable of. I do not think it is an understatement that without the WVS and the vision of Lady Reading, much like it was in Germany, the war on the Home Front would have been lost.
The role women played in the Second World war can be argued as one very pivotal step in the slow narrowing of the gender gap and the WVS had impact far beyond the end of the war, with hundreds of thousands of women giving their time up to help their communities, whether that be assisting women prisoners in Holloway Gaol or providing flatlets in cities across Britain for young professional women in the 1950s and 60s.
Lady Reading, despite being a larger than life character was always the first to shy away from claiming any accolade or applause for her achievement. Unlike many of the greatest leaders in history she would never take the honours for herself, always crediting her ‘ladies’ with the triumph.
Posted by Matthew McMurray at 00:00
Monday, 09 March 2015.
International Women's day,
Stella Reading ,
House of Lords,
This week we are travelling to Wales, to celebrate St. David’s Day. Enjoy ‘More News from Wales’ from April 1958.
The record of the past two months in day-to-day work has continued and developed in spite of every possible vagary of weather. Snow, rain, flood, fog, icy roads have been taken in the W.V.S. stride. Meals-on-wheels in the very hilly areas have continued without a break and drivers are becoming highly skilled in handling vehicles on the icy slopes. We feel that many would give an excellent account of themselves in winter car rallies.
We are very sad to record in the decision to close Tonfanau Camp, Merioneth, that the W.V.S. Centre has also closed. This job has been continued with one or two short breaks since 1949 until now and from the highly flattering remarks made by Western Command we are glad to realise that the Army has found the work valuable. The site is on the edge of the sea and even in summer high winds and driving rain are a constant feature of this part of the coast. There are no towns of any size for miles and the W.V.S. Social Centre has proved a real blessing for the boys who have passed through the Camp. W.V.S. in Wales has been delighted to have been associated with the work and we have found that for some members working there it has been splendid training- ground before going overseas.
Cardiff W.V.S. are very pleased that their Darby and Joan Club which has been formed in the Docks district recently appeared in an I.T.V. programme featuring the life among the black population of seaport towns. Some of the old men were shown playing games, and a recording was made of the women singing. This is a very happy club, and we believe unique.
Cardiff W.V.S. were recently entertained en bloc at the Mansion House by this year’s Lady Mayoress, who is a very valued member of W.V.S. As the Deputy Lady Mayoress is also a member it was a very Civic occasion indeed and a most happy party.
Neath members, whose versatility has always been of a high order, have now excelled themselves in the formation of a “ Saucy Skiffle Group.” Dressed in highly coloured costumes and wearing wide- brimmed hats, they made their first appearance in public when they gave the Darby and Joan Club a concert for St. Valentine’s Day. Their report states: “The piano and the guitar probably supplied the music, but the saucepan lids and the wash-boards, the tin of peas, the whistle, the clappers, the wooden box with the taut rope (the double bass), all supplied the rhythm and the volume.” As it was for St. Valentine’s Day, the concert repertoire consisted mainly of love songs and Darbies and Joans joined heartily in all the choruses. One of the Joans in this club has recently made well over one thousand leeks for fervid Welshmen to wear at international matches and on St. David’s Day.
Posted by Matthew McMurray at 00:00
Monday, 02 March 2015.
St. David's Day,
Heritage Bulletin Blog,
Darby and Joan,
Meals on Wheels ,
This week a story from February 1955.
TRAVEL may sound odd in conjunction with a hospital trolley shop, but those who manoeuvre our trolley at a particular hospital will agree that is the only word for it. The journey by van, lift, or sheer mountaineering on foot with the help of a kindly porter, leaves no doubt as to its authenticity, or the trolley’s similarity to the original ending of the title.
Still, however mulish its back wheels can become, it plays its part sturdily in all circumstances. In addition, the noise it can make in certain corridors is valuable in warning the patients of our approach, thereby saving time by them having their money ready. We were joyfully greeted on one occasion with “Oh good, here’s the trolley shop”, so we venture to hope that the noise is not too bad. Seriously, it is a rewarding task, and a privilege, to be allowed to bring a little of the outside world to those confined to hospital; whether they are the sick, or the bright and helpful staff who with every courtesy make us feel welcome.
The patients love to have a chat and the opportunity to buy something for those at home. The anticipation in awaiting the happy surprise their relatives and friends receive on being given these unexpected gifts is, I am sure, a tonic to the patients. A man’s wife has a birthday coming, a mother can send sweets to the children, the things they thought would have to wait until they were well again are brought to them on the trolley shop. The nurses too are not forgotten. A patient shows appreciation by asking a nurse to choose something for herself: “ She has been so good,” they say.
So the shop-on-wheels is not just something being pushed round to sell things; it is a means by which we learn to understand the needs of others in many ways.
There are frantic moments when one is asked for the unusual, and the empties are forgotten in the reckoning up, but the thought of the dainty tea waiting in the canteen, served with such kindness, fortifies us.
Thus ends another day of travel and we look forward to the next. A mixed pleasure, for sometimes we find friends not there, but we hope it means their recovery and re-union with family and home.
This Saturday, 24 January, 50 years ago, one of the greatest Britons to ever live died at his home in London. That man was Sir Winston Churchill.
The WVS as ever played its part in helping the people of Britain to pay their respects to a man who had helped this country through its darkest hours.
This report from the WVS Bulletin from March 1965 tells the story of the WVS efforts to assist at the Lying in State a duty they had performed only 13 years previously for King George VI.
WVS has sent a cheque for £1,040 to the organisers of the Winston Churchill Memorial Fund, the amount generously contributed by the 82,400 people who had hot drinks from WVS while waiting in the queue, during THE LYING IN STATE.
SINCE WVS served hot tea and Bovril to the public waiting in the queue during the Lying in State of Sir Winston Churchill, many appreciative remarks have been made about their work.
On the Friday, a member in uniform, when doing her shopping in Westminster was at the first shop— and much to her embarrassment— taken to the head of the queue as the shopkeeper said she must be tired. At the second, someone proposed three cheers for WVS, and at the third the member was again sent to the head of the queue. Later, while looking at the window of a local store, where a bust of Sir Winston Churchill was displayed, this same member was again the centre of attention. The men said that they were so glad to have this opportunity of thanking WVS—one of the men recalled their work for the services during the war and the other remembered the care taken of his mother and father who were bombed out. At this moment, three more men arrived who had waited five hours in the queue, the night before, and who wanted to say that they thought that WVS was doing marvellous work.
The Chairman visited the WVS at the site on several occasions and surprised many workers by being there at midnight on the Thursday. She talked to everyone on the Food Flying Squad vehicles and, on crossing to the Lambeth side, found that the workers were both short-handed and slaving away in the dark. The workers had got used to the perpetual gloom and were dispensing tea and Bovril—the latter a generous gift from the makers—at a great rate to the queue which at that time spread as far as County Hall. The Chairman characteristically wasted no time in despatching to Headquarters for two extra helpers to make up the full complement. She then herself returned to Headquarters with a colleague to look for emergency lighting. Sometime later, they returned with a supply of red candles and jam jars and the workers served the hot drinks by their glowing light.
The Chairman tells a story of how she arrived at the canteen on one occasion to find a policeman holding a carry cot and passing the baby into the vehicle with: ‘he has to be fed’, and he was fed without more ado, the mother sitting on a large carton of plastic cups.