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My trip to the SEAC with WVS: the Diary of Services Welfare member Miss Yellowley

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 meals.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 20 March 2017.

Labels: Bombay, Calcutta, Rangoon, NAAFI

A Surpise Package!

There was great excitement in the RVS Archives last week when a large bubble wrap envelope arrived, along with a small card reading, “Do please use anything you deem suitable and dispose of the rest”. It was my second week volunteering at the archive and a perfect opportunity to learn about ‘accessioning’, in other words, processing new items as they arrive, recording the content and the circumstances, making decisions about what to preserve, packaging it, and putting it safely into storage.

In this instance, it was very clear that our anonymous donor wished to make an outright gift to the archive. Frustratingly, though, there was nobody to whom we could reply to thank them for their kindness. The only clue we had was the postmark, which indicated that the donor came from the Greenwich area.

We carefully leafed through the package, appraising and itemizing its contents. It contained the history of a WVS member, Miss Emma Yellowley, who served with WVS Welfare Services from 1945 to 1952. In addition, the package contained previously unseen reports of the WVS Welfare Services in South East Asia. What a treat for the archivists! Many of the new items processed by the team at the archives are formal documents produced by the WVS offices, so it was a real privilege for me to share their genuine enthusiasm for this significant personal collection.

Emma Yellowley was born in Chester le Street in 1903. By 1945 she was 42, unmarried, and living in Chipstead, Surrey. Perhaps she was attracted to the RVS by an advertisement offering the opportunity for travel and adventure? She applied to join the WVS Welfare Services Overseas and in October 1945 she set off from Euston Station to start her new life. She wrote in her diary, “All the girls and myself were thrilled to bits and very excited.” Emma was one of 60 girls alongside the 6000 troops who set sail for Rangoon (now Yangon), in Burma, on board the Mauretania.

Between 1945 and 1948 she worked in Rangoon, at the Sappers Club in Singapore, and in Hong Kong. They say life begins at 40, and Emma seemed determined to prove the rule. She had a marvelous time, her stay liberally peppered with parties, picnics, swimming, amateur dramatics and outings. She also enjoyed five weeks’ holiday in India. As she left Hong Kong she remarked “It’s very sad leaving all the nice friends we have made.”

She was eager to return to the Far East, and after four months in England, she was given a second two year contract. She was posted to Kuala Lumpur, Malaya, where she helped at the Galloway Club, at the Reception Camp Canteen. Emma’s third and final contract was with the Middle East Land Forces in Cyprus, from 1950 to 1952. Here she was posted to Pine Tree Camp, a holiday camp in Troodos, a mountainous retreat near the centre of the island. 

We would like to pass on our sincere thanks to the unnamed donor who gave us the opportunity to redscover and share Emma’s story. It would be wonderful to find out who this generous person was. Can you help?




Posted by Sheridan Parsons at 00:00 Tuesday, 27 January 2015.

Labels: WVS, WRVS, Services Welfare, Burma, Singapore, Heritage Bulletin Blog, Emma Yellowley, Rangoon, Hong Kong, Cyprus