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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 month’s extract from the diary of a centre organiser and recipe comes from the WVS Bulletin, March 1950:
We were a little surprised when Mrs. Forth-Wright asked to be enrolled as a W.V.S. Godmother: she did not seem as though she would be particularly sympathetic with children. However, she “took on” another member’s godchild yesterday (during the member’s illness) and it seems to have been a great success. “The little boy spent such a long time looking out of the window in the evening - it was a glorious sunset, wasn’t it? - that I asked him what he was up to, "she told us to-day.“ And do you know what he answered?” She paused expectantly. “He said:
'I’m watching God put away the day.’ ”
There have been unusually large sales of saccharine from our Hospital Trolley Shop lately, and to-day one of the helpers said jokingly to one of the old ladies : “Another packet! You had one last week. However many saccharines do you put in each cup of tea?” “ Eh ?”, demanded the old lady. The member repeated the question in louder tones and the old lady chuckled. “Tea ?” she said. “I don’t put ’em in my tea, I suck ’em!” Matron, hastily consulted, was reassuring as to the harmlessness of this - surely most unusual ? - practice.
The proverbially exaggerated “fishing” stories cannot, surely, compare with the wartime tales exchanged by W.V.S. members when they get together nearly five years after the cessation of hostilities they are still at it ! “It was our job to empty the dustbins,” one member told another. “You’d be astonished if you knew what people throw away - even in wartime. We made nearly £200 from the sale of things we salvaged.” “Not very pleasant work.” another member suggested. “Well, no,” the first one had to admit. “But even the maggots in the old bones came in useful: small boys used to ask us for them... they used them as fishing bait !
1 egg 1 teaspoon baking pdr.
1/4 lb. flour 1/4 lb. cornflour 2 oz. margarine 1 tablespoon sugar
Sieve dry ingredients. Rub in margarine, then work in egg yolk to make stiff dough. Roll out to flan tin size and bake in a good oven. Cool.
Fill with cooked forced rhubarb, thickened with arrowroot and sweetened to taste - cooled. Then beat up the white of egg stiffly, fold in 1 tablespoon caster sugar. Spread this over the rhubarb and finally sprinkle with sugar. Brown very lightly in a cool oven.
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.
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.
Heritage Bulletin Blog,
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.
This month’s extract from the diary of a centre organiser comes from the WVS Bulletin, January 1950:
A young woman brought two little girls, dressed identically, to the Clothing Exchange this afternoon. “Hallo, Twins,” one of our members greeted them. “They’re not twins,” their escort retorted sullenly. “Not - ?” someone else asked, “but they’re exactly alike. How old are they?” “Same age - six; just a couple of hours difference,” was the answer. We looked at each other in bewilderment. Dressed alike, looking alike, born within two hours of each other and yet not twins ? “This one’s my daughter ; t’other one’s my sister. Me and my Mum, we had ’em the same day,” came the explanation. Our members bustled into activity, endeavouring to fit out aunt and niece!
A would-be member, Miss Hope Less, for who - so far - we have been unable to find a job (“I’m not really good at anything”) joined a Work Party this afternoon at which we were all busy unravelling old knitted garments prior to re-using the wool. She managed, somehow, to spin a positive cocoon of tangled wool around herself and I could see our efficient Mrs. Wright was itching to get her fingers on to the job. Miss Less, blissfully unaware of the emotions she was rousing, giggled happily at the muddle and said, “‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!’” This was too much for Mrs Wright who swept the wool away from her with fierce possessiveness, muttering as she did so: "‘If at first you don’t succeed’ - try another method!” Hastily suggested a pause for tea.
A JANUARY DINNER (a menu and recipe suggestion from the WVS Bulletin January 1950)
Wash 1 lb. filleted cod or haddock. Remove skin and bones and put these in a saucepan with cold water to cover and a pinch of salt. Add a small piece of celery, chopped, a small carrot and a little chopped onion. Simmer for one hour and then strain. Put some flour into a basin, allowing 1 tablespoonful to 1 pint of soup. Mix smoothly with a little cold water, stir into the soup and boil for a few minutes, stirring all the time. Add the fish cut up into neat pieces. Simmer for five minutes then add 1/2 pint milk and hot water, and chopped parsley. (This makes an excellent supper dish by itself).
1 soup-plateful chopped vegetabled
3 soaked dinner rolls
1 1/2 oz. margarine
Salt to taste
Wash and dry and well drain all vegetables before measuring. Drain all moisture from the soaked rolls. Melt margarine in a saucepan and stir in gradually the rolls and prepared vegetables. Mix well then stir in the beaten yolks of eggs. Lastly lightly fold in the frothed whites of eggs. Turn into a buttered pie-dish, dab with pieces of margarine and sprinkle with a little grated cheese. Bake in oven until nicely crisp on top.
3/4 lb. cranberries
1/2 pint water
1/2 lb. brown sugar
Wash and pick over cranberries. Put them on with water and sugar and simmer gently until soft. Break up with a fork and cool. Cover plate with short pastry. Spread over cranberries. Place cross-bars of pastry on top. Sprinkle with sugar and bake in hot oven for 1/2 hour.
For the convalescent: Marmalade rolls
Cut some bread and butter in very thin slices. Spread with marmalade and roll up very carefully. Put in a hot oven for 5 minutes until brown and crackly. A wonderful appetiser at tea-time.
Posted by Matthew McMurray at 00:00
Tuesday, 06 January 2015.
Spinach and Beet,
With the start of the famous tennis tournament today at Wimbledon, we thought it would be good to explore our association with the All England Club.
‘When do you think it is going to stop raining?’
‘Where is the nearest laundrette?’
‘Can you sew on my trouser buttons?’
Believe it or not theses were some of the questions asked at the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament information desks, run by WVS/WRVS between 1947 and 2004.
The All England Club allowed the organisation to hold its own annual Lawn Tennis Competition on the courts as a reward for manning the information desks. As well as answering questions on a range of subjects there were many other situations to deal with including reuniting lost children with their parents and even managers with tennis players. Volunteers also had the opportunity to watch matches on Centre Court and Court One during their breaks though they rarely watched a whole match as a volunteer wrote, ‘work must come first’.
During the 1980s one volunteer kept a record of her experiences of a week at Wimbledon. She wrote about a whole range of things including what she ate, there seems to have been a lot of avocado! On Tuesday 2nd June 1985 she wrote:
‘Panic at 6.50 when Leconte’s Manager came asking where he could get hold of Leconte’s coach who was somewhere within the rabbit warren, being interviewed by French Radio … after much phoning he eventually got hold of him’.
At the beginning of May I went to talk to Maureen Jones as part of Voices of Volunteering who was a WRVS volunteer on the Wimbledon Information Desks between 1982 and 1992. You can listen to a clip about one of her experiences at Wimbledon below.
Voices of Volunteering: 75 Years of Citizenship is an exciting new project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund which is collecting the memories and stories of long serving WVS/WRVS volunteers. Our volunteers are also involved, collecting oral histories in their local areas from WVS/WRVS volunteers. We hope to use these stories to inspire younger generations to volunteer through schools resources on volunteering and citizenship.
Well, there’s a title I didn’t ever imagine using, and nor did I ever think I would appear as an expert on wartime knitting on television, but here we are! Yesterday (Monday 1 October) I had to travel to London for the day to be interviewed for a forthcoming BBC Four programme titled, ‘The Golden Age of Knitting‘.
The venue was Wilton’s Music Hall in the east end of London, somewhere I had never been before, even though I had seen it plenty of times on the TV, usually in costume dramas. It is the oldest music hall in London and has a very rustic atmosphere, exposed timbers plaster stripped brick walls, you could just imagine yourself in a run down part of London at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
Having trudged through the very soggy streets I met up with the director/producer, camera man and assistant and the questioning commenced.
While I can confess to being an expert on the history of WRVS, or WVS as it was during the war, an expert on knitting I am not; at least I didn’t think I was. It is surprising what you can come up with, and the previous day's in-depth research into WVS’ role in providing comforts for the forces and merchant services during the war was very enlightening.
The questions came thick and fast, what was the role of the WVS with knitting? How much did they knit? Who were they knitting for? To give you an example, in Hastings and St Leonards in Sussex, WVS organized over 1,000 women, a dozen men and a nine year old boy to knit for the forces. In 1941 they produced 7,000 items, from pullovers to socks and balaclavas for our troops and surprisingly for those of the Red Army. In all during the war nationally between 150,000 and 200,000 WVS members were assigned to knitting and sewing work parties, helping and organising probably another 750,000 ‘individual knitters’. Just imagine, a million women knitting their socks off!
I spent a very enjoyable hour answering questions and hopefully at least a couple of minutes worth will turn up in the final edit. The programme should air in early spring next year, so I will keep you posted when we know a broadcast date.
I thought that it would be nice to give you a flavour of what we are doing here in Devizes to help prepare for the 75th anniversary in 2013 which is only now five months away.
Apart from our fevered preparations for the re-opening of our enquiry service, which is still on track for January 2013, and all of the ‘behind the scenes’ work that is going to make searching our collections possible, we are working bringing the archive (virtually) to you.
Over the next four weeks the volunteers and I are going to be looking for 75 items from the collection which tell the story of WRVS, whether that be, our first poster (pictured), a letter from Charles de Gaulle, or the packaging from a sandwich from one of our hospital shops.
These might not necessarily be the most exciting or eye catching items, but it is the fascinating and engaging stories behind the items, about WVS/WRVS at a national, local and even personal level, which is important.
Our first poster caused quite a bit of controversy, when it was discovered that the model was in fact German and all of the posters had to be recalled. This means that there are now only two that we know of in the world, one here in Devizes and the other in the Imperial War Museum in London.
Perhaps if you have an item which tells a story, you might like to share it with us. Either post a comment or perhaps send us an email
I’m looking forward to your suggestions...