The women in green, ready for any eventuality

The Second World War ended on 2 September 1945 following the defeat of Japan in August. It concluded in August when America dropped two nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki causing the Japanese to surrender. However with the end of one war came the threat of another completely different type of war and one which played out on several different battlefields but didn’t result as some feared in nuclear armageddon but the fall of a political ideology and superpower. This was the Cold War which spanned four decades from 1947-1991. Of course in the unfortunate event that nuclear war would play out between east and west there was a volunteer army at the ready and well prepared to assist civilians; obviously it was the WVS.

At the end of the Second World War it seemed that the post-war years would be a time of peace and in Britain the Civil Defence Services were disbanded. However by 1949 the government and the people had come to realise that with large world powers making nuclear weapons the Civil Defence Corps needed to be brought back into action. This took the form of a voluntary organisation which incorporated the WVS into a special welfare section. In 1951 Home Secretary David Maxwell Fyfe declared the function of WVS in Civil Defence would be to:

Roles included

• Training

• Running rest centres

• Helping in peacetime national disasters

• Providing meals for Firemen, police, members of the Civil Defence Corps and Cadet Camps

Emergency Feeding and feeding at large scale events as part of training (also part of the Food Flying Squads)

• Home Nursing

• First Aid

• Liaison with Civil Defence in other countries WVS members trained women from Holland, America, Lebanon and Luxemburg to name a few.

• One in Five talks which aimed to talk to 3 million women about the dangers of nuclear attack and basic survival.

In the mid to late 1960s the Cold War between Russia and Britain had started to thaw and it was thought there was no longer a need for the Civil Defence Corps. The corps were disbanded in 1968, however the ever practical Lady Reading and WRVS members (by then Royal had been added to the title) saw a need for the welfare services they had been providing since 1949 as part of Civil Defence. In the early 1970s they started the Emergency Services Department. This new department continued in the following roles:

• Running rest centres

• Helping in peacetime national disasters

• Providing meals for Firemen, police

• Emergency Feeding and feeding at large scale events

One in Five, although part of WRVS’s Civil Defence work, had been established as a separate department and so work continued to train one fifth of women about the dangers of nuclear attack and basic survival. This service continued into the 1980s and as hostilities relaxed and the Soviet Union collapsed (1989-1991) the department faded away.

Even though parts of WRVS’s role in preparing the nation for a large national crisis ended with the fall of the Berlin wall and collapse of the Soviet Union some vital services were still needed. Volunteers continued to assist in emergencies and reassuring the nation in times of need in our next blog we will look at how WRVS provided compassion in crisis in a new era were the ideals of society and community were changing drastically.

You can find out more about the role of WVS/WRVS during the Cold War on our factsheet page or if you are in or near to Devizes before 24th June you can visit the Compassion in Crisis Exhibition at Wiltshire Museum.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 00:00 Monday, 04 June 2018.

Labels: WVS, WRVS, Cold War, Civil Defence, Emergency, Nuclear

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