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A Wartime Christmas in Rickmansworth

The Second World War started (in Europe) on 1st September 1939 nearly 80 years ago. WVS had been established just over a year; not long after the start of the war it was Christmas. As I was thinking about writing this blog to go out the week before Christmas Eve I wondered what the WVS were up to at this time of year. I could have chosen anywhere but one of the first documents to jump out at me was a programme of Christmas activities from Rickmansworth WVS 1939. Looking at the Narrative Reports from the area for December 1939 to 1944 you can clearly see that just because it was Christmas WVS work didn’t stop. These are just a few examples of activities in Rickmansworth, taken from the Narrative Reports.

WVS Rickmansworth, like all other WVS centres in Evacuation zones, during the war organised various entertainments for children and adults who were a long way from home just after being evacuated in September 1939. Activities included film showings, dancing, gymnastics, games, singing and parties. Over the years activities changed, in 1941 the Evacuee Club held an exhibition of needlework including clothing such as frocks, dressing gown and children’s clothes. In 1942 the WVS held two parties for under-fives which was considered a great success as you can see in the extract below from December that Year.


Of course the WVS didn’t just spend December running children’s parties they also had other duties to perform. Activities included salvage in 1941 they campaigned to collect paper from houses driving around using the loudspeaker on the WVS Van. Knitting also continued during the season of good will in 1941 47 pull overs were knitted for the Merchant Navy and members began knitting gum boot stockings for Russia. In 1942 they received an urgent request for sweaters and socks for Malta; 114lb was distributed to knitters for the job. Work with the Red Cross also continued in 1941 they had the Russian Red Cross sale for Mrs Churchill’s Fund and the WVS were able to raise £210 (c£8262.74 in today’s money). In 1942 a WVS party made soft toys and raised £59.16.8d (c£2,354.23 in today’s money) for the local Red Cross group. As you can see many activities were business as usual for WVS of Rickmansworth.

Supporting the Armed Services based in Hertfordshire was a large part of WVS Rickmansworth’s work in 1941 and 1942 with a variety of activities in December of Both Years. In December 1941 The Troops Hut was completed with electricity and lino installed. It also had a radio gram and ping pong table. The WVS opened the Hut on Christmas day for 200 men who spent the evening playing games. In Both years WVS held a concert for the RAF Benevolent Fund in 1942 they raised £18.10.0d (c£727.91 in today’s money) for the fund. Looking after the services didn’t just include the Army and RAF there was also the Home Guard to support. In Both years the Home Guard were on exercises and WVS served tea to them from a mobile canteen. Another Service provided by the WVS all year round was camouflage nets. WVS’s role garnishing camouflage nets began in the early years of the war but the scheme wasn’t official until June 1943. Rickmansworth WVS were already working on this before it became official and included other work for the services in this role as you can see from this Narrative Report Extract, December 1942.

This week’s blog has focused on WVS Rickmansworth’s work during the Decembers of 1939, 1941 and 1942. Unfortunately in our Headquarters collection of Narrative Reports there are not many for this area in Hertfordshire and we haven’t been able to look into the Christmases of 1943 and 1944. It is more than likely that these missing reports were written and one of the quadruplet copies arrived at Headquarters. However in 1970s Region 4 was heavily weeded as all regions had different rules for what was kept at that time we have less information about local offices in the Home Counties and East Anglia areas. Although this is the case for Rickmansworth you can see from just a few reports how much was going on during the Second World War and how much time the women of Rickmansworth were giving to help people keep up moral at this time of year.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 17 December 2018.

Labels: Narrative Reports, WVS, Second World War, Services Welfare, Evacuation, Rickmansworth

Wonderful work is waiting for you with the services overseas

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 difficult).  

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.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 13 November 2017.

Labels: India, WVS, Letters, Archive, Services Welfare, NAAFI

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

This year we will be following the adventures of Miss Yellowly and her fellow Services Welfare Members in the South East Asia Command (SEAC). Look out for our regular installments each month. This week we start at the beginning with her journey from London to boarding the Mauretania in October 1945.

"Today the 20th Oct 1945. Sue Dorothy and baby came to London (Euston Station) to wave me off. All the girls and myself were thrilled to bits and very excited. We left Euston Station about 11am hardly realising we were off. Arrived at Liverpool 3.40pm and boarded the bus for the docks. We were all amazed to see the Mauretania in the dock and to know we would be sailing on it. After seeing customs etc. we boarded the Mauretania and what a moment, my cabin was on the main deck and I shared it with Nom Dewey, Clare Chamberlain and Mrs Cranston, we are very comfortable. After a clean-up we went out investigating walking around the decks and chatting to the soldiers. There are about 6000 troops on board including about 60 girls. We had a lovely dinner, pea soup, lamb, vegetables, fruit salad, rolls plenty of butter, coffee or tea and I’m sure we all felt better after the meal. After dinner we went into the lounge and wrote some letter cards and had another stroll around until bedtime.

I slept like a log until 6 o’clock Sunday morning. We pushed off 9 o’clock, we were in our own cabins and everything was so calm we didn’t realise we were moving. We went on deck and it was a queer feel[ing] when I thought of leaving England behind. We strolled about all day and in the evening there was a concert given by local talent, it was funny seeing everybody sitting on the prom deck on their lifebelts what a crowd, the concert was good and we enjoyed it very much. By 10 o’clock at night we were beginning to rock, we are now in the Bay of Biscay, I had a cup of tea (which was quite the wrong thing to take) and when I got to my cabin I was very sick indeed ..."

We will re-join Miss Yellowly next month as the ship approaches the Suez Canal as she and her fellow WVS members' journey to the SEAC.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 16 January 2017.

Labels: Services Welfare, SEAC, Mauretania, Suez Canal, diary, WVS

Say it with flowers

This being our first blog after Valentine’s Day we thought we'd try a romantic theme and bring you a story from February 1945 about love and the way in which WVS brought service men and their wives together in the final months of the war.

“Of all the many tasks that WVS members have undertaken, surely this plan for the delivery of flowers from men in the Services to their families and friends at home is the most imaginative example. A really lovely, fairy godmother-ish kind of idea - in the true WVS spirit.

I was asked if I would collect from the florists some flowers and deliver them at a certain house on a certain day. It sounded simple and attractive, but I did not realise how greatly I should enjoy my errand until I returned to the WVS office to report that my job was done.

It was a beautiful morning, the sun shining brightly on this middle-aged WVS member as she sallied out of the flower shop, balancing a huge bunch of daffodils on her arm and feeling all young and sprightly and romantic. I literally trotted along as my feet tried to keep in step with my thoughts (these were already at the door and handing in the flowers with a smile and a few well-chosen words!). I felt a cross between Mercury and a bringer of peace terms.

Those daffies smelled of spring! What an exciting, heart-stirring mission I was engaged upon. No bees buzzed (after all it was February), but birds sang - at least sparrows cheerfully chirped from the house-tops - and everything seemed to shine; everywhere was full of brightness and everyone who directed me (for I was not familiar with this part of the town) was so kind and helpful - a truly golden day.

Even the little house seemed to gleam and beam at me as I rang the bell. At the sight of the young woman with the baby in her arms all my pre-arranged speech of explanation vanished. “Are you Mrs Dash?” I asked; “for if you are, these are for you.” The baby stretched out fat hands towards the daffodils. “Please hold him, Miss, while I open the letter. Oh, the flowers are beautiful... they’re from Ken, my husband, he’s in Holland... we’ve been married three years... and - and - do come in, Miss, and have a cup of cocoa - it won’t take a minute to make.”

I sat with the cherubic baby on my knee. He gurgled as I played with his bare pink toes as though we were life-long friends. But I did wish that Ken could have seen the look on his wife’s face, as solemnly we raised our cups of steaming cocoa and drank our toast to Ken and to the early return of all the lads and lassies serving in the Forces.

So I left her, after she had pinned one of her precious daffies on my coat, and as I waved to her from the corner of the street and fat Billy raised a plump hand to me I thought: “This new task of ‘saying it with flowers’ is not a task at all, but is in the nature of a reward for all the hard, tiring, messy and often disappointing jobs that WVS have done in the past.”

Now this is romance.”

Posted by Matthew McMurray at 09:00 Monday, 16 February 2015.

Labels: Valentines Day, Say it with Flowers, Services Welfare, WVS

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

WVS Overseas

The news for the past few weeks has been mostly dominated by horrendous events happening all over the world.  While today the Royal Voluntary Service’s purpose is to help older people, in Great Britain (as anyone who has been reading this blog will realise) this wasn’t always the case. 

WVS had a presence or connections, especially during and after the second world war in both the Middle East and West Africa, doing all manner of works as these extracts from the WVS Bulletin for May 1946 show.

“In Iran and Iraq there was naturally a great deal of Services welfare for WVS to do, and canteens, clubs, hospitality, knitting and mending for the Forces formed the chief part of their work.

In Abadan (Iran) the WVS consisted almost entirely of the wives of the officials of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, who knitted and mended for the troops, did canteen work, raised money for war charities, made clothes for Polish refugees and organised parties for Servicemen.

Iraq also had working parties in Bagdad, and produced hospital supplies for the Middle East, clothes for Greece and for the bombed-out people at home, as well as parcels for prisoners of war. They ran hospital libraries, visited men in hospital and arranged private hospitality for the troops.

In Sierra Leone Services welfare was the main activity of WVS, who ran clubs and canteens for the Allied Forces in Freetown. It also had an information bureaux and organised drives for the raising of money and the collection of rubber.

Nigeria, for instance, felt that some good use should be made of the large quantities of goat and sheep skins which were available in the country, so—over a dinner table at an evening party in 1940—it was decided by a small group of friends to try to raise a little money to produce leather jackets to send to England as comforts for the Fighting Services and Civil Defence. The Fund flourished and the work grew: it christened itself the Windcheater Leather Jacket Fund and it eventually produced an average of 1100 jackets per month, which were sent to England and distributed”


Posted by Matthew McMurray at 09:00 Monday, 08 September 2014.

Labels: Iraq, Iran, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Services Welfare, Goat Skin, canteen, Knitting, mending, Anglo-Iranian Oil company, freetown