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"We really didn't do very much"

While running the Voices of Volunteering project I talked to many volunteers who had helped many people including refugees and who thought they had only made a very small contribution. This week is National Refugee week so I thought I would share some stories from volunteers about their experiences of working with refugees. As you will see they did rather a lot.

WVS were working with Refugees from the start of the Second World War, greeting them and finding billets or accommodation.

“War was declared, I was fifteen and my brother was seventeen. I suppose like all stupid young people it was exciting, frightening in a way but quite exciting. And we lived in Weymouth and a lady called, I don't if it's Mrs Sewell or Miss Sewell advertised for volunteers because a lot of, people were coming over from the continent and the Channel Islands to get away from the war. So both my brother, Bob, and me volunteered and we were making beds for people. We actually helped at the birth of a baby which was quite a shock to both of us, but there was no point in, there was no, we couldn't hang around because it was imminent. Anyway, that's my introduction to the WVS as it, as it was called.” – Geraldine Harris Volunteer, Weymouth.

After the Hungarian revolution in 1956 around 200,000 people fled as refugees a number settled in Scotland. In January 1957 the WVS Bulletin reported:

“It is very difficult to make our page of any interest, other than Hungarian Relief Work, but we begin it by telling of the safe arrival of two train loads over the week-end at two camps, one Middle-ton Camp, Gorebridge, the other Broom-lee Camp at West Linton.

W.V.S. set up the clothing issue stores in both camps 24 hours before the expected arrival of the refugees and were then at the station and in the camps to help settle them in for the night. W.V.S. are now on duty issuing clothing and giving every possible assistance.”

When Idi Amin expelled the Asian Community from Uganda in 1972 many came to the UK and of course the WRVS was there to welcome them with clothing suitable for the British weather.

“we really didn't do very much except sort clothes, which came in from the public. There were so many clothes, we didn't know what to do with. But they all had to be sorted because some of them were not fit to give to anybody, and some were absolutely, really super clothes. And these were all sorted into men, women, children’s and babies. And we had one, one school sent us in with the children’s clothes, in the coat pockets were, was a toy in every one, which was lovely.” – Maureen Jones Volunteer, Epping

When Kosovar Refugees arrived in the UK in 1992 once again the WRVS was there to provide clothing to them.

“The Kosovars were based in Calderstones Hospital which was just on the verge of clothing [sic], closing and there was an appeal out for clothing and it came in in droves, we were really overwhelmed. We thought we were making some progress and then another lot would come in. Some really good things, new things, and we were sorting out the rubbish as well, which you also get some rubbish. But we never, we never finished it. They, eventually the, the clothing was taken into another part of the building and arranged as a dress shop or a men’s shop so they could come in and choose enough clothing to help them through.” – Kathleen Ashburner Volunteer,

These stories and more can be found on the Archive Catalogue search the Voices of Volunteering or Bulletin collections.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 12:00 Sunday, 26 June 2016.

Labels: Refugees, WVS, WRVS, Hungarian, Kosovar, Ugandan Asians

An early Christmas Gift - WVS Bulletin

The blog is a wee bit late this week, but for a very good reason, and we hope you will forgive us. It will also be the last of the year as I am off on my Christmas Holidays.

We have decided to give everyone an early Christmas present, one that the elves here have been working on for over 3 years.

Today sees the culmination of our Bulletin project!

We have painstakingly scanned, OCR’ed and edited all 419 editions of the Bulletin/Magazine from 1939-1974 and loaded them onto our online catalogue. You can now search the entire text, and then view and download the original documents.

All for free!

Try a search today

This is our first major foray into the world of providing access to our archive material digitally and we hope that it is a big success. There are 8,444 pages which contain stories from around the country of WVS and WRVS work covering 35 years; from tales of the evacuation, to welcoming the Ugandan Asian Refugees as well as Food Flying Squad competitions.

If you enjoy ‘Spinach and Beet’ every month, you can read every unedited edition, and indulge yourself with hundreds of recipes from ‘food news’.

Family historians will love all editions after 1961 which include the names of all recipients of the WVS Long Service Medal!

There is so much to discover, where will you begin?

It‘s all part of the continuing development of our collections, opening them up as a resource for all to enjoy and explore. This though is just the tip of a very large iceberg. The Bulletin represents only 0.05% of our collection and we are going to need your help in the future to make access to more available.

If you want to know more about the Bulletin and Magazine keep reading, as we’ve posted another blog below with a few details.

Happy Christmas

Posted by Matthew McMurray, Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 08:02 Thursday, 10 December 2015.

Labels: WVS Bulletin , Christmas present, Online catalogue, spinach and Beet, From the Centres, Food news, Long Service Medal, Food Flying Squad, Ugandan Asians, WRVS Magazine

Easing the plight of refugees

Listening to the news reports on the refugee crisis this morning, we thought we would share with you some of the ways in which WVS volunteers have helped refugees, both in this country and abroad, over the years.

The Refugee Department of the WVS was opened in May 1940 to meet the needs of War Refugees on the invasion of Holland and Belgium and later on the collapse of France, and the invasion of the Channel Islands. WVS helped with the meeting and transport of refugees and their care at reception centres in the London area. After billeting, support continued at local WVS Centres, providing temporary homes, clothing, activities, and employment. For example in 1940 a refugee from Guernsey, who was a dressmaker, was provided with a sewing machine so that she could earn a living in Britain. The WVS continues to help thousands of refugees from Poland, and in 1956 some 12,000 Hungarians.

In 1959, World Refugee Year, the WVS set up an adoption scheme, through which individuals and WVS Centres could support refugee families, particularly in Germany, Africa and the Middle East. They provided gifts of money, food, fuel, and clothing, but as relationships formed they were able to send more personal gifts such as paints for artists, wool and knitting needles, soap, razor blades, and handkerchiefs.

In 1961 many refugees from Tristan da Cunha were housed in an ex-army camp in Caterham. Caterham and Godstone WVS, with the help of Oxted, Sevenoaks Rural, and Reigate, cleaned, furnished and equipped the camp, and undertook all the cooking for the first ten days. They were responsible for welfare, daily social activities, and games for the children, and they ran a shop in the old NAAFI.

The WRVS Settlement Section were on hand to support the arrival of some 2,500 Czechs in 1968, and some 2,000 Ugandan Asians in 1973. Many arrived almost destitute, knowing little or no English, and friendless. The WRVS provided free English lessons, venues to meet fellow exiles, help with Social Security, furniture, jobs, and education.

In many case members set up lasting friendships with the individuals and families. Here at the archive we store several items of memorabilia and gifts connected with these relationships including the beautiful model boat from Tristan de Cunha pictured here.

Posted by Sheridan Parsons, Archive volunteer at 00:00 Thursday, 03 September 2015.

Labels: refugees, Baroness Warsi, Today programme, Radio 4, Hungarain, Trisan da Cunha, Poland, Holland , Belgium , Ugandan Asians, Czech, Caterham, Godstone, Oxted, Sevenoaks, Reigate