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As Christmas is nearly upon us and we are fast approaching our 75th anniversary year we thought you might like this Christmas message, written by Lady Reading in our 21st anniversary year, 1959.
The Chairman’s Christmas message
"The generosity and kindness which vast numbers of people have shown to us – the members of WVS – in this our anniversary year has made us realise how extraordinarily fortunate we are, and it is for this reason as I frame my Christmas message to you that I long to be able to transmit to you that gift which can enable you to evaluate the enthusiasm which has been so thrilling to witness and to understand not only what it means, but how it can be used better to serve the communities in which we live in the country to which we are proud to belong.
Lady Reading, December 1959
The warmth of hospitality and accommodation that WVS has had this year has been earned by the tens of thousands of members who have, each one in her own way and with her own interpretation, been true to the ideal which they try to serve; and the fact that Local Authorities have been so generous to us seems, to me, to show that they appreciate the service we, their voluntary auxiliaries, aim to put at their disposal. If this be so we have achieved, in these early years of our existence, a confidence which should make us proud of the trust reposed in us and alive to the consequent responsibility.
My message to you this Christmas of our majority is one of heartfelt joy in your achievement. May opportunity continue to be yours, so that by its constant offering you may have the chance, not only of further achievement, but of realising both for yourself and others, the true meaning of the privilege of service."
From February 1940 the WVS became involved with assisting local authorities with salvage, which continued throughout the Second World War. It involved collecting a verity of items such as pans, newspapers, milk bottle tops and books. The WVS also enlisted children for salvage work in the Cog Scheme, so called because of the idea that salvage was a vital part of the war machine, which became very popular. I have recently been working on the cataloguing and repackaging of our collection of Narrative Reports. In these reports were some interesting stories about the WVS’ role in Salvage.
I thought that I would share some of those stories.
Lancashire, Cadishead, April 1943
A Cog decided to play an April Fool’s Joke on his Headmaster resulting in him losing his salvage badge for a fortnight.
‘On April 1st he went into school and reported to the Headmaster that a certain Lady had a large sack of paper which she wanted collecting that day. A little later in the morning the Headmaster came to the classroom where the boy was busy working and said “after you have finished your work you can go in and bring the sack of paper”. Imagine the Surprise of the headmaster when he replied “She hasn’t any Sir you are an April fool” The headmaster told me he was greatly amused although he dare not show it in front of the class.’
Some Members also recruited the services of the local police force to collect items for the campaign.
Devonshire, Axminster Rural, January 1944
‘On the 15th and 20th went round the district in a police car with a loud speaker. The driver and I took it in turn to talk, which we did to varied audiences, apparently empty villages, where windows opened, and people appeared, or to crowds, and to above all to enthusiastic school children, who showed us their badges with pride.’
Picture: Bringing in salvage for COG Scheme in Thurston 1939-1945 WRVSA&HC/WRVS/HQ/P/SAL/COG001.
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.
On Wednesday 12th September, we had a little party here at Devizes and we invited the local press to come along. We try and have at least one get together of all the volunteers every year, It gives them a chance to meet each other (many had never met before as they all come in on different days) but this was a special occasion.
We had an important visitor, John Chambers the Chief Executive of the Archives and Records Association (ARA). He came to present the volunteers with a unique ‘Highly Commended’ award in the annual Archive Volunteer of the Year competition. We had very narrowly missed out to Wolverhampton City Archives for the win, but as one of the volunteers told the local paper “Wolverhampton have got all the resources in the world whereas we operate on a shoestring.” While I would say that this is probably a little bit of an exaggeration, the Wolverhampton project is supported by both the National Cataloguing Grants Scheme and the National Manuscript conservation trust. The judges clearly thought our project was something very special indeed though, as this will be the first and last of this special award to be given.
I am very proud of our volunteers here, in four years from nothing, we have built a team that gives over 900 hours every year, that’s the equivalent of another one and a half members of staff. The volunteers cover all ages and abilities we have graduate students such as Hannah and now Natalie as well as the ‘old lags’ who have done over 40 years service with WRVS. Without the volunteers we wouldn’t have gained our UNESCO UK Memory of the World status and we wouldn’t be about to open our enquiry service to the public. In fact the archive probably wouldn’t be here at all.
All I can say is thank you, and here’s to the continuing future of the archive.
Ever wondered what an Archive volunteer gets to be involved with? Well, as a volunteer I get stuck in with all the goings on at the Archive, whether that’s sorting through new items just delivered or writing the Heritage Bulletin, there is always something going on! The most recent task I am currently working through though is cataloguing all of our records from Ipswich.
These files had been saved by our Archivist, who, armed with the empty boot of his car, rescued them from being destroyed once the Ipswich Office closed. The collection holds files relating to a lot of the services WRVS provided to the community of Ipswich, from Meals on Wheels to children’s holidays, it’s all there.
So come Wednesday morning you’ll find me sat at my desk armed with a staple remover and a computer, entering in the details of the records held within the Ipswich files. My task is to catalogue 140 files, two boxes of membership cards and the posters which were recovered.
So far I’m half way through and still going strong; I have pulled out countless rusty pins and staples from the documents and in the process of cataloguing have come across some great finds. The earliest record so far is an extract from the Thornbank Residential Club minute book dated 1946, this was the first ever Residential Club WVS opened and the Ipswich hoard contains several files about the service provided at Thornbank.
In my cataloguing pursuit I have come across floor plans for extensions and improvements, numerous newsletters, leaflets and reports and so many more interesting things.
I will be working with the Ipswich files for the next few months ensuring that all of the files have been recorded and preserved properly and then it will be onto the next challenge!
For those of of you gripped with Olympic mania, I've found a little something for you from our 1948 Narrative Reports, these extracts are taken from the London area reports.
In 2012, 70,000 volunteers have been recruited to welcome and direct spectators and athletes. If you've been to London in the last week, you'll have seen someone to help at virtually street corner.
In 1948, we had WVS!
July, August, September 1948
The Olympic Games
At the request of the British Tourist and Holidays Association, WVS in the London region were asked to staff information bureaux for Olympic Games visitors who arrived at Victoria, Waterloo, St. Pancras and Liverpool Street Stations and also at Wembley Park and at the Stadium itself.
Foreigners who arrived without having booked rooms were referred to the Central Accommodation Bureau and others were told how to reach their hotels or lodgings and were given answers to a multitude of extremely varied questions. WVS received most valuable assistance from the Girl Guides and members of the WJAC who were most helpful as messengers and also over escorting strangers in a strange land to their buses or tube stations. The bureaux at Wembley Park Station and at the stadium were staffed from 10 a.m. till 10 p.m. by the local WVS every day including Sundays.
As well as undertaking this exacting job, the Wembley WVS escorted seven hundred Italians and five hundred French people to their billets in the area, many of the final journeys taking place between 2 and 3 p.m. A Stanmore WVS member got into touch with a contingent of the Swedish Lottaocerstyrelsen who were looking after members of the Swedish teams and were housed in a local school. These Swedish girls were extremely interested in the Meals on Wheels service and two of them accompanied WVS on one round, talking to the old people and taking many photographs en route.
WVS were asked to undertake mending for some of the Olympic teams were living in West Drayton, but although a large quantity of wool was collected and WVS were ready to deal with all sorts of repairs, only six pairs of socks in need of mending materialised! WVS who staffed the information bureaux and helped the foreign visitors in many ways a;; agreed that it had been a job which was well worth doing and the foreigners seemed extremely grateful and appreciative of WVS help and advice and many of them said it had made all the difference to their stay in this country.
14th Olympiad at Wembley Stadium
We had a tremendously busy time during the period of the games. Our two main stations, Wembley Park, and Wembley Central and Information Bureaus which were staffed by our members from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. including Sundays.
Accommodation was arranged, advice given, and information of all kinds were required. 700 Italian and 500 French visitors were escorted to their billets in Wembley, for which they were all very grateful. Many letters of thanks have been received from them. Although we were all tired at the conclusion of the games, it was a most interesting time.
Report on the Olympic Information Bureaux
Two Bureaux were opened in Wembley - one at Wembley Central Station and one at Wembley Park from July 26th to August 9th from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day, Sundays included.
The primary object of these bureau was to direct visitors to their accommodations but there were only about six applications for this assistance. The greater part of the work was done at the office at Wembley Park (adjacent to the Station).
Very many enquiries were dealt with, Chiefly in connection with tickets, lost property, places of interest and how to reach them and we were asked to mind a small child whilst the mother returned to the Stadium to search for a lost bag.
On Wednesday the 28th July I was approached by a French representative of a travel agency who asked us to take 250 French visitors to their accommodation in various parts of Wembley, Harrow, Pinner and Edgware. The next day was spent in sorting the vouchers into their correct districts and order. Having, a short time before this, given a talk to members of the Wembley Round Table on the work of WVS from 1939 to the present day, they were so impressed that they offered assistance at any time. I took them at their word and called upon six owner-drivers to assist in distributing this large number of French people. Only four WVS members were able to help as this work started at mid-night and ended at three a.m. and there was no means of others getting home.
On Aug. 3rd a similar party of French arrived at 9-45 a.m. This time being escorted by WVS members to their accommodation by bus and train. On Aug. 10th a party of 729 Italian visitors arrived in Wembley at 8.45 a.m. food parcels supplied by a London firm, were distributed to each visitor by WVS before being taken by coach (AWVS member in each coach as Hostess and Guide) to addresses in Wembley, Pinner, Harrow and Edgware.
The question was how we could achieve this without having to spend money; thankfully technology has come to our rescue and allowed us to reach the largest possible audience by starting an online blog or diary.
As the Heritage Bulletin is only a bi-annual publication and at current the only way we can show you
the work we do here at the Archive, the blog, which is launching this month, will be a different way for us to keep you up to date with what is happening here in Devizes.
The monthly entries will be based around a day’s work in the Archive and will include accounts from both the volunteers and the Archivist.
It will allow you the chance to see new arrivals into the collection and any new projects we may be involved in. You will also get an insight into the varied items we hold in our collection and the amusing tales of volunteers which have been recorded in the Narrative Reports.
Unfortunately you can't subscribe to our blog just yet, but all our posts will remain on the site permanently so you can catch up with our Archive news at any time. There is also a comments section which will allow you the chance to share your stories or any comments you may have.
We look forward to sharing our experiences of the Archive with you and hope you enjoy reading our entries!
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...