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What to wear: The archives uniform collection

The archive collection not only contains records, such as its UNESCO UK Memory of the World registered Narrative Reports, but also so many wonderful objects and items, such as our uniform collection. It contains over 500 unique items stretching from 1940-present day, tracking the wider changes in fashion over time as well as the changes in the nature of Royal Voluntary Service work. The small loan collection has been used by local offices to promote the work of the charity at events and has even featured on TV, most notably in ‘Housewife 49’ and last year’s Christmas episode of ‘Call the Midwife’.

Although the Women’s Voluntary Service was officially launched on 16 June 1938 it was not until 28 June 1939 that the first uniform was issued. Lady Reading had managed to convince Digby Morton, the London couturier, to design a suit, blouse and overcoat as a matter of public duty. She also talked the head of Harrods into making and supplying them, saying that the uniform would have to be brought. The original full suit cost a pricey £9 4s 7d, well out of the reach of most members, but the dress was more affordable at 47s 6d. Due to the uniform’s expense the WVS eventually released the material to allow women to make their own uniforms, with armlets being launched in 1943 for those who had no uniform but needed their status as a WVS member to be recognised.

By transforming the WVS into a uniformed service Lady Reading allowed her ladies easy recognition, becoming known as The Women in Green. After Lady Reading’s death in 1971 however, the organisation saw many changes and the uniform was no exception. It had changed little since 1939 but now new materials were introduced along with trousers (in traditional green of course!).

In 1998, the uniform was relinquished altogether in favour of casual work wear appealing to a new generation of members and increasing number of male volunteers. In 2004 the organisation was officially renamed simply 'WRVS' and the green and burgundy colours which had remained unchanged since 1939, were replaced by vibrant purple and orange. Finally, in 2013 with the name change to Royal Voluntary Service the charity returned to its roots leaving the purple and orange behind for green once more.

If you would like to know more about the clothing collection why not read our fact sheet, or listen to Angela Currie’s experience of wearing a uniform in her oral history on our online catalogue. Listen 35 minutes in to hear her talk about having to wear full uniform, including gloves, to build a soya boiler during her WRVS training at Easingwold College, which she describes as a ‘terrifying experience’.

Posted by Hannah Tinkler at 00:00 Monday, 08 December 2014.

Reports from everywhere - November 1954

MABLETHORPE. When a party of children came here on a school treat, about 20 were swept out to sea by a sudden enormous wave. Fortunately all were saved. They were brought to us. We gave them tea and lent them clothes while we dried and pressed their wet ones. By 6 o’clock they were ready to catch the bus for home as arranged.

DARLINGTON C.B. Writing postcards in a crowded London Post Office, I was asked by a man with both hands bandaged to address a parcel for him. He thanked me saying “ I knew you would help me,” proving that even the back view of a W.V.S. uniform attracts those in need. Long may it remain so !

PADDINGTON B. A member visiting the doctor’s surgery was in uniform. While in the waiting room a harassed G.P. looked in, saw the W.V.S. member, and asked, “ Can you cope with looking out files?” An hour later she entered the surgery. “ Gosh,” said the doctor, “ I apologise, but I was hours behind and am only a locum. In the hospital I’ve just left we had two W.V.S. who did cope, and so have you! Do you want a regular job ?”

RUISLIP U.D. The Guide Commissioner asked us to find some work of public service for a 15-year-old Guide, so we arranged for her to help in the Darby and Joan Club one afternoon. She continued helping all through the holidays, serving tea and washing up, and prepared vegetables for meals on wheels when we were short of a cook. She was always smiling and willing and the old people were delighted to see her.

BROMSGROVE U.D. A demonstration of emergency feeding was said to be the best of its kind so far. Eight women who can build ovens and feed fifty people at a time assembled an oven from a few bricks, a hotplate and a dustbin within an hour. The following day the oven was tested and quickly turned out cakes and tea.

Voices of Volunteering goes online

Since my last post in June ‘WVS/WRVS serve at Wimbledon’, I have been very busy traveling the length and breadth of Britain collecting memories and stories from current and former WVS/WRVS volunteers and employees. This has been part of our oral history project Voices of Volunteering: 75 Years of Citizenship and Service which is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and aims to collect over 80 oral histories by March 2016. The memories and stories collected so far tell a very personal story of how WVS/WRVS/Royal Voluntary Service has helped society since 1938. The first 14 of those narratives have now been added to our Archive online and you can listen to them in full by using the links below. Or if you want to carry out a more advanced search of our oral history collection to look for a service or person, you can look at our Guide to searching the Archive online page.

Ena Miles and Pat Clarke discussing their time in the Bristol Royal Infirmary canteen since 1987

Caroline Naylor focusing on what it was like to be a volunteer trainer in the 1990s

Maureen Jones who was involved with Meals on Wheels for 45 years and went from delivering meals to Essex Meals on Wheels County Organiser

How Elizabeth Kay gave talks to parents of young children about drug abuse in the 1960s

Mary Howard-Jones who joined WVS in 1953 as an Ambulance Driver and went on to become an Emergency Services trainer

How Barbara Statham, as Bedforshire County Hospital Organiser (1979-1993), was responsible for the rebuilding of a hospital canteen after a fire

A member for just over 30 years, Doreen Harris who went from being a volunteer in the Norfolk County Clothing Store to a District Organiser for North and South Norfolk

Gilli Galloway one of WRVS’ first members of staff in 1993 responsible for Community Services

Angela Currie who joined in 1985 as an Emergency Services Volunteer, over the years she was involved in many emergencies including the Boscastle floods

Gladys Brown who helped WRVS to collect and distribute furniture to those who needed it in the 1950s

Christine Manby who has been involved with Emergency Services since the 1990s and has attended emergencies such as floods and bomb scares

Gillian Highley an Old People’s Welfare Organiser for Halifax from 1967 and how she ran a very successful Lunch Club for 33 years.

Joan Beck talking about delivering Meals on Wheels in Holmfirth and running the local WRVS Toy Library

Happy Listening and watch this space for more oral histories from Voices of Volunteering.


Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 00:00 Monday, 24 November 2014.

Home from Hospital

With the launch of the Lets End Going Home Alone campaign today, l thought we would take a look at our role getting people home from hospital or just about anywhere. 

Transport for those in need is one of the longest running services the Royal Voluntary Service still provides. Transport had been at the heart of WVS work from the very beginning, initially recruiting and training drivers for heavier vehicles such as ambulances. But when the basic petrol ration was withdrawn in the summer of 1942 the Volunteer Car Pool (VCP) was formed and administered by WVS to provide cars for emergency use and for the day to day running in connection with Civil Defence, evacuation and other essential work. By 1943 they were overseeing 570 VCP schemes across Britain. At the end of the War when the VCP was closed down in July 1945, it had clocked up over 60 million miles.

The disbandment and withdrawal of the VCP would have been keenly felt, especially by hospitals for which the largest amount of work had been done, 41.5% of the total. However, Lady Reading realising this need sat down with the heads of the British Red Cross (BRC) and the St. John Ambulance Brigade and organised a service for those sitting patients who could not afford an ambulance or hire car to hospital. This service was named, rather prosaically, the ‘Hospital Car Service’ and began with a pilot in Oxfordshire on 1 August 1945 before being rolled out across the country. In the first year of its operation its cars covered 409,987 miles. It was initially thought that the service would only run until the creation of the NHS in 1948, but under the 1946 NHS act Local authorities were obliged to provide transport to hospital for those who needed it and Volunteer drivers was the only affordable way of doing it. The Hospital Car Service managed by the WVS continued until the mid-1970s when it was taken over by the Hospital Authorities.

As a result of the hospital car schemes and the experience of the VCP during the war, WVS knew the value of social transport schemes and the difference that for example respite (even for just an afternoon) for tired mothers could make. Therefore in the 1960s the WVS started the Spare a Mile Scheme by which they encouraged volunteer drivers to give lifts to the disabled, elderly or handicapped. It was not until 1970, as the number of HCS schemes declined that WRVS developed a fully fledged community transport scheme for all. In Wales this was called ‘Country Cars’ and gave anyone who needed it a lift to clinics, surgeries, dentists and opticians. In Wales they once even gave a lift to a dog!

Posted by Matthew McMurray at 00:00 Monday, 17 November 2014.

Labels: Home from Hospital, Community Transport, British Red Cross, St. John Ambulance

Spinach and Beet – Part 7

This month’s extract from the diary of a Centre Organiser comes from the WVS Bulletin, August 1950:

MONDAY

Thought I was talking most convincingly at tea this afternoon to a newcomer to the town whom I had been asked to meet. Told her about W.V.S, activities (“ Too interesting,” she murmured), and finished up by saying that we needed help with almost all of them. These preliminaries over, I was about to embroider my theme and began : “ Even half-an-hour a week ...” when she forestalled me by opening her bag and handing me half-a-crown. “ A little donation, not a subscription, you understand,” she said with great firmness ; and moved across the room away from my importunate presence!

TUESDAY

Ward 3 in the Old People’s Home has always been one of the most cheerful to visit on our Trolley Shop days. Gloom has, however, descended on it since the arrival of Miss Primme : a woman who has obviously been accustomed all her life to being obeyed. “ What you should do is ... ” are words which frequently fall from her Ups to the resentful ears of the other “ inmates ” in Ward 3. She seems determined to re-organise the running of the entire Home—including the Trolley Shop! Matron has had the brilliant idea of giving her a small piece of garden “ for her very own ” and W.V.S. has—optimistically—obtained some attractive looking, light-weight implements with which she can cultivate it. If Miss Primme rises to the bait and works off some of her energies outside the Ward everyone will be thankful!

Recipe – From the WVS bulletin August 1950

The Perfect Swiss Roll Sponge. NO SUGAR.

3 Eggs.
3 tablespoonsful Golden Syrup.
3 tablespoonsful Flour.
1/2 teaspoonful Baking Powder.

Separate the yolks from the whites of eggs. Beat the yolks with the lukewarm golden syrup for 10 minutes. Then fold in the stiffly beaten whites with the flour and baking powder a little at a time. Prepare baking tin very carefully by greasing well and dusting evenly with flour—no superfluous flour. Spread the cake mixture thinly over the tin and bake in a hot oven for from 4 to 5 minutes. Have a damp cloth ready on which is spread a sheet of greaseproof paper sprinkled with castor sugar. Tip the cooked sponge cake on to this and roll up immediately —get the first turn by bending the sponge cake with the edge of the greaseproof paper. Then it will roll easily. Allow the roll to cool. When wanted unroll and fill with warmed jam or cream or fruit well pureed and thickened with a little arrowroot. This can also be made into a Chocolate Swiss Roll Log. Use half the chocolate filling inside and the other half spread over the outside and fork the outside to make log-markings. Decorate with crystallised flowers or nuts.

Posted by Matthew McMurray at 09:00 Monday, 10 November 2014.

To the Manor Born

Over the years I have found myself becoming attuned to spotting a WVS/WRVS uniform, poster, or object in pictures or on the TV; even the briefest of glimpses sparks instant recognition.

I had one such moment on Wednesday night last week while swapping channels, with the briefest glimpse of Audrey Fforbes-Hamilton (Penelope Keith) at the end of an episode of To the Manor Born wearing the spinach and beet uniform of a member of the WRVS.

The episode in question was the third episode from the third series entitled Horses vs Cars which aired in November 1981. Audrey is in trouble as her Rolls Royce has broken down (she can’t afford to fix it) and she can’t deliver her Meals on Wheels or take the old people on their summer outing.

Sadly I could find no mention of the BBC writing to us to help them with this episode in the archive, and rather intriguingly, no mention of the WRVS is made throughout the whole episode (I have now watched it, purely in the vein of research, on YouTube). Also (I know this is rather geeky, but it’s my job) the uniform Audrey is wearing is 20 years out of date by 1981, with the wrong badges too, and she is wearing black shoes! Shame on her, they should be brown! This would all tend to suggest that they didn’t ask for our help.

Anyway, I think it is a testament to the WRVS that they managed to get used in what at the time was one of the most watched programmes on British television.

If you want to see Audrey in her WRVS uniform yourself you can watch it by following these links to the YouTube videos.

See Audrey in her WRVS uniform in the first 3mins 48 seconds of this clip.

Clip 1

See Audrey in her WRVS uniform from 8:48 to the end in this clip.
Clip 2

Posted by Matthew McMurray at 09:00 Monday, 03 November 2014.

Labels: To the Manor Born

Reports from everywhere - October 1964

Help from the young
The very ancient town of Stirling - the gateway to the Highlands - is renewing its youth with the coming of the New University. The youth of the town are alive and energetic and when a notice was put up in the high school for volunteers to help with meals on wheels during the holidays over 40 girls offered to help. These Jolly youngsters distributed all the meals to the very appreciative old people. Through this holiday task many have become interested in WVS work for the future.

WVS cater for Old Contemptibles’
At the beginning of August, Teignmouth WVS were asked by the secretary of the Old Contemptibles’ Association if they would cater for the tea for them after the Jubilee Service and Parade held on August 9th. … WVS gladly undertook this task and catered for the men, their wives and friends – in all over 150 people – The kindly service received and the excellent food provided was greatly appreciated.

Her ‘show’
An old lady, wheeled into a fete at Hadleigh by a WVS member, asked to spend the afternoon sitting in the crèche run by WVS and seemed to enjoy every minute.

Fields and trees
Apart from the usual requests for spare-a-mile to keep hospital and dental appointments, Wallasey WVS had a request to take an old lady of 97 years of age for a run in the country. She was most anxious to see green fields and trees, having lived for a very long time almost on the promenade at New Brighton and the urge to see the country again overcame her. Our member who took the old lady reported that the outing was a huge success: she took her round the Wirral and then to her home for tea. The old lady was very thrilled and said it was a day to be long remembered. They hope to repeat the excursion.

Posted by Matthew McMurray at 09:00 Monday, 27 October 2014.

Labels: Stirling, Hadleigh, Teignmouth, Wallasey, WVS , Spare a mile, Meals on Wheels , Old contemptibles, creche, University

Up for 8 weeks in Cambridge

As students go back to their universities for the new academic year this month, we thought we would take a look at the contribution that they made to the war effort. An enquirer wanted to know what connection the WVS had to the Cambridge colleges, so after a couple of hours of research, through quite the best and most detailed Narrative Reports I had ever read, came an answer of sorts.

It appears that the WVS certainly in the period before shortly before the war saw the colleges as both a place to hold training events and also as a ripe recruiting ground. In April 1939 Newnham (the second oldest Women’s college in Cambridge) hosted a training course for the WVS for Catering managers, presumably those who were to staff communal feeding centres when the inevitable war came. The college at the same time allowed the WVS to make a speech and to enrol students.

After this initial enthusiasm, the contact between the WVS and the colleges seems to have gone very quiet. Whether this is because the war up to this point had passed the university by or that the university were just not co-operating with the WVS, I do not know. I am sure there is an enterprising university historian out there who could tell us…

It was not until April 1940 we again find any co-operation between the university and the WVS. This is a special appeal to the University colleges for Musical Instruments and clothing for evacuees. The appeal was championed by Lady Spens who held a party for 60 members of the colleges to encourage them to participate.

In September members of the university entertained foreign troops (who had been stationed there after the withdrawl from Dunkirk). The specialist language skills of the students and staff helping to make their stay easier.

It is not until 1941 that involvement really picks up, particularly when a camouflage net garnishing workshop is set up in the city in an old billiards hall in November. By December that year they had over 150 women students helping at this work.

They key to getting students to involve themselves in activities seems to have been the type of jobs. There is an interesting discourse about the troubles of getting undergraduates to help at all, it is said because the short periods during which the students were up (only 8 weeks at a time) made assigning them to longer term projects particularly difficult. Also they had found it impossible to attract students to emergency work as the colleges were ‘not able to be contacted by telephone’ meaning they could not summon their help in a hurry.

Garnishing Camouflage nets seems to have been the perfect job, as students could pop in for a couple of hours when they had the time, with no long term commitment required.

By the winter of 1941 students were also starting to get into assisting with the clubs for evacuated mothers, giving talks. One of the colleges (Homerton) even ran one of the war nurseries in the city.

That is where I ran out of time to do any more research, but perhaps we will get the chance to research from 1942 to the end of the war for a future blog …

Posted by Matthew McMurray at 09:00 Monday, 20 October 2014.

WRVS Association

The WRVS Association began life in March 1973 when a meeting was held to discuss the creation of an association which would provide a friendly link between both present and past members of the charity. This association would ensure that ex-members continued to be supported and kept informed of the charity’s current work.

From the initial meeting held in March 1973 the Association was born, developing into a nationwide scheme. In order to be eligible for membership you must have served a minimum of 5 years with the charity. Once a member you would receive regular updates via a Newsletter and through the use of Divisional Representatives, would be invited to lots of organised events in your local area, such as day trips to the theatre and meals out.

From the 25 members at the first annual meeting the Association continued to grow, during its 40 year life it had seen over 10,000 members. Reunions and Annual General Meetings were held each year, and would be a great occasion to get members together over a weekend away, to catch up and reminiscence with friends.

The Association continued to function as a source of support until it disbanded on the 3rd July 2013. Although this was a sad day for Association members, an end of an era, here at the archive we have been able to preserve the Associations records, allowing us to continue to tell its story. My role over the next six months will be to appraise, organise, repackage and catalogue this valuable collection. I will remove countless staples and repackage hundreds of records, all to ensure that we preserve the history of the Association forever.

So far in my first week I have been able to delve into the boxes and discover many a treasure, from a knitted WVS doll and a wooden gavel block presented by Helena Foster (Chairman 1983-1986) to keep order during those enthusiastic Annual General Meetings. I am sure that whilst I continue to sort through the boxes I will un-earth many other great finds….. I will have to keep you updated!

Posted by Hannah Tinkler at 09:00 Monday, 13 October 2014.

Spinach and Beet - part 6

This month’s extract from the diary of a Centre Organiser comes from the WVS Bulletin, September 1951:

FRIDAY

Rest Centre rehearsal to-day: not too bad. Was rather startled to find all indications as to the whereabouts of ‘Drinking Water’, ‘Enquiries’ and so on prefaced with the words ‘ I HI! ’ instead of the more sober ‘ NOTICE.’ “Certainly very striking,” I said, speaking close to the ear of Miss Deffe who had printed them, “and—er—matey!” She eyed me reproachfully. “It was your suggestion,” she declared. Couldn’t imagine what she meant until I suddenly remembered I had emphasised the importance of notices being eye high (and not erected at levels where only Brobdingnagians or Lilliputians could read them)!

Recipe – From the WVS bulletin September 1951

Barley Water with Rose-Hip Syrup

The best barley water needs a lemon, but as these are so hard to come by we give below an excellent alternative.

Allow about 1 tablespoon pearl barley to every pint of barley water required. Put barley in saucepan, cover with cold water, bring quickly to boil, remove, strain, return the barley to clean pan and add 1 pint of boiling water. Let it stand for a while, strain water into a jug. Add 2-4 teaspoons of rose hip syrup. If rose-hip barley water is to be used purely as a drink, 2 teaspoons of rose-hip syrup to the pint is sufficient, but if the invalid is living on nothing else but barley water, he or she needs 4 teaspoons of rose-hip syrup daily, and must therefore drink about 2 pints of rose-hip barley water daily, if possible.

Other uses for Rose-Hip Syrup. When considering the invalid’s diet, do remember to make full use of rose-hip syrup, which besides being delicious provides the highest content of vitamin C. Serve it on a milk pudding, or as a sauce round the cornflour mould, or round creams made with milk, or with baked apples.

It must be borne in mind, however, that cooking destroys the vitamin C in rose-hip syrup, so, when cooking, add the syrup last of all, just long enough for it to get warm, but not boil.

Posted by Matthew McMurray at 13:15 Monday, 06 October 2014.

Labels: Rest Center, WVS Bulletin