Heritage Bulletin blog

The Heritage Bulletin Blog ran from July 2012 to January 2020, covering a huge range of subjects, from a day in the archives, to extracts from the WVS bulletins, and histories of various WVS/WRVS services.

It’s 219 articles have become a valuable resource in themselves, why not search them or just browse to discover something new.

Showing 21-30 results

Aluminium pans into Spitfires!

This week’s blog commemorates the beginning of the battle of Britain on 10 July 1940 and one of the many roles that the WVS played in helping to defend our shores from the Luftwaffe.

THE APPEAL FOR ALUMINIUM made by Lord Beaverbrook, Minister for Aircraft Production, to the women of Britain ended with these words; "The need is instant. The call is urgent. Our expectations are high".

The Chairman said in her broadcast on July 11: "Remember too, it is the little things that count - it was the little boats that made the evacuation of Dunkirk possible".

Once again the little things achieved great results; the response to the appeal was immediate, and to the staffs of the W.V.S. offices it appeared overwhelming. Pots and pans and aluminium objects of every conceivable description poured in to the depots which were filled as soon as they opened. Every household, from Buckingham Palace, the smallest cottage, made its contribution, and in some cities the traffic was held up by mountains of aluminium. The gifts of a free people made it unnecessary to set an unwelcome precedent by requisitioning stocks in shops, and the lengthy processes necessary to recover high grade aluminium from mixed and inferior quality scrap metal were avoided. The aluminium which was brought to the WVS offices by men and women and children could be sent straight to the aircraft factories after being smelted and some donors had very definite ideas as to the allocation of their gifts.

One old lady, parting with her only hot water bottle, was clear that she wanted it made into a Spitfire, not a Hurricane, because, after careful study of the papers, she had decided that they were the best planes.

Lord Beaverbrook wrote to the Chairman: "I send you my warmest thanks for the magnificent work which your organisation is doing in the collection of aluminium pots and pans. I have been most impressed by the energetic and efficient way in which the task is being organised, and I hope you will convey to your assistants this expression of my admiration and gratitude".

[published in the WVS Bulletin August 1940]

Posted by Matthew McMurray, Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 06 July 2015.

Labels: aluminium, Luftwaffe, Battle of Britain, Heritage Bulletin blog , WVS, Spitfire, Salvage, Pans

Summer enquiry service closure

Unfortunately, due to staff and volunteer holidays we will be unable to offer our Archive enquiry service during the month of July. 

This summer closure will start on Friday 3 July and last until Monday 3 August when the archive enquiry service will re-open.  This will also affect our paid for research service and our image licencing service.  Any enquiries received during this period will be answered within 20 working days of the re-opening of the service on Monday 3 August.

Lots of information on the WVS, WRVS and Royal Voluntary Service is available through the our history pages our website.

We're sorry for any inconvenience caused.


Posted by Matthew McMurray, Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 09:00 Thursday, 02 July 2015.

Labels: WRVS, RVS, Enquiry Service

Archive at the Roadshow

I had been waiting for years (literally) for the Antiques Roadshow to visit somewhere near the archive in Devizes, and last Thursday was our big opportunity and we took it! But having decided to go, what should we take from over a million items in the collection? There is so much rich history in the archive that it really was a very tough decision.

As an avid fan of the Roadshow I knew that it would have to be either something which was valuable, beautiful or could tell a fantastic story, or preferably all three!

As wonderful as the archive is, we have very few things that are intrinsically valuable, and certainly nothing which is worth the tens of thousands of pounds like some of the beautiful items which we see on Sunday nights. The value of the items in our collection is almost entirely in the fascinating stories they tell, of those millions of women (and later men too) who gave so much for society, but whose action on the whole were relatively mundane but completely vital.

Documents tell wonderful stories, but are mostly rather dull to look at, so what could we take? What had a great story, looked good and might be worth something?

The answer had of course been rolled up in unbleached cotton calico and sat safely on a shelf unseen for the past five years. It was Lady Reading’s Tapestry!

The opportunity to tell Lady Reading’s story, who I strongly believe to be one of the most important women in the 20th Century, (right up there with Marie Curie, Emeline Pankhurst and Eleanor Roosevelt) was too good to miss.

It combined not only our founder’s story, but also the story of the WVS itself in its twenty half cross stitched panels.

What is that story and how much was it worth I hear you ask! Well, you will have to tune into the Antiques Roadshow from Bowood House next series to find out!

Posted by Matthew McMurray, Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 00:00 Monday, 29 June 2015.

Labels: Lady Reading , Antiques Roadshow, Tapestry, Heritage Bulletin Blog , Bowood House, Wiltshire

Reports From Everywhere - June 1955

BATH. One of our old ladies who had been visited for a long time by W.V.S. dropped a hint that she had a birthday the following week. This was duly noted by the member and the landlady. Small gifts of candies, biscuits etc. were produced for the great day and they all had tea together. During the little celebration the old lady coyly announced that it was not her birthday at all but she would like to make sure of it now! Tailpiece—she died before her birthday ; she was over 80.

BURTON-ON-TRENT. The Hat Stall. The Matron at the Andressey Hospital approached the leader of the trolley shop to see if it was possible to supply those mental patients who were able to go out with new hats, as the ones they had were getting very shabby. As nothing appears impossible to W.V.S. our leader went to the manager of one of our large stores to see what he could do. He most kindly agreed to help and sent up a large quantity of hats to the hospital and the trolley helpers held an extra session one evening in the women’s sitting room. It was a most exciting and interesting evening. The patients were frightfully thrilled and tried on the hats with great enthusiasm, matching them with their coats, laughing heartily when the hat didn’t suit. They had been saving up for this occasion and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. The helpers and nurses were completely exhausted at the end as there were between fifty and sixty patients. We are wondering what we shall be asked for next.

ESTON (SOUTHBANK). On arriving at the post office one morning the Centre Organiser found a note asking her to telephone a crippled women who wanted W.V.S. help. It was found a self-propelling chair was needed. The Centre Organiser made several enquiries, and then told the woman what to do (all in the same morning). In less than three weeks the woman had been interviewed and examined and found eligible and now, having received the chair, she is so grateful she wants to do shopping for old people not able to do their own.

MORPETH. We have called on 38 old people to see if they need help, and came across many sad cases and some with humorous endings. For example, two poor old sisters over 80 living in most squalid conditions, no bedding, having sold belongings to keep going ; very proud and refusing any help. The National Assistance Board officer was asked to call and the Medical Officer of Health notified. The N.A.B. officer, after a lot of questioning awoke vague memories of money in their minds, and after a lengthy search he and they discovered £400 in notes in an old handbag!

SALISBURY. A little girl, very badly burned was transferred from the Isle of Wight to the plastic ward of Odstock Hospital. W.V.S. Isle of Wight told Southern Region and they passed the message on to South Western Region who asked Salisbury to send a visitor. Within two hours of receiving the request a member was on her way. The child was very ill and of course homesick. Our member quickly established herself as a trusted and beloved “ aunt,” and has been visiting the little girl three or four times a week for more than two months.

Posted by Matthew McMurray at 00:00 Monday, 22 June 2015.

Labels: WVS, WRVS, RVS, Bath, Burton on Trent, Eston, Morpeth, Salisbury, Hospital, old people, hats, Reports from everywhere

The longest serving member of the Army Hitler forgot

You may have seen one of the newspaper, magazine or television pieces about our oldest volunteer Margaret Miller who is 104 years young, in our celebration of VE Day at the beginning of June.

Last week we finally managed to interview Margaret about her amazing 76 years volunteering for the Royal Voluntary Service, as part of our Heritage Lottery Funded Voices of Volunteering project.

You can listen to Margaret by following the link to Margaret's page our online catalogue

Margaret was first involved with the WVS in Glasgow during the Second World War with collecting items for the Household Gifts Scheme and distributing them to people who had been bombed out. She was also involved with visiting and talking to soldiers in hospital and talking to them or bringing them gifts.

After the War Margaret was involved in Meals on Wheels and the Hospital Escort Service and in 1973 she was asked to set-up and run a stroke club called the Lightburn Harmony Stroke Club, which is still running today. In the interview Margaret also talks about the different members she has had over the years and her fundraising for the club. She also comments on her Long Service medal and two British Empire Medals, attending the 50th WRVS anniversary, a Garden Party at Holyrood in 2014 and her views on how Royal Voluntary Service has changed over the years.

Hearing volunteer‘s stories in their own words is what the Voices of Volunteering project is all about. For more information about the project you can visit the Voices of Volunteering project page

You might also be interested in the media coverage about Margaret and VE Day, you can find some of the articles below:

Posted by Matthew McMurray, Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 10:00 Monday, 15 June 2015.

Labels: Margaret Miller, Stroke Club, Household Gifts Scheme, WVS , WRVS, RVS, Glasgow, Meals on Wheels , Hospital escort Service, British Empire Medal

Royal Voluntary Service at the British Academy

This week on the HB blog a slight departure from the usual fare. I thought you might like a story about what we're doing at the archive, or rather, how Royal Voluntary Service and the Archive are helping the wider charity and archive sector.

On Friday (5 June) I was honoured to co-present a workshop session at the British Academy for their research project, ‘Digitising the Mixed Economy of Welfare in Britain’. The project aims to identify and encourage those voluntary organisations with records relating to the formation of the modern welfare state after 1945, to digitise them and make them available to the widest possible audience.

This was the first of many events in this project aimed at getting those involved together and enabling us all to start a dialogue about how charities, academics and others might work together.

My session, which I presented with Rob Baker of Blind Veterans UK, was all about the ways in which large charities like ours use our Heritage especially how it is used in helping to promote and give context to the work our charities do now. With our Grandest Festival only a week away, this offered the perfect opportunity to show how the archive has relevance to modern campaigns.

Our Grandmakers will be running sessions on ‘Heritage Skills’ something which the Royal Voluntary Service has excelled in ever since its creation. This is not just limited to the jam making, toy making or sewing (the subject of three heritage display panels at the event), but women (and later men) using their skills and knowledge for the creation of service which have come to underpin our whole society.

WVS was one of the key players in the development of the welfare state we now take for granted, especially for the older people. As part of our work at the end of and directly after the war, we helped to create a workable system of home care which became the model for the entire country and also created the model for the modern old people’s home, which was enshrined in the 1948 Assistance Act. Also don’t forget the widespread adoption of Darby & Joan clubs!

Sharing our knowledge is something Royal Voluntary Service has always done throughout our history, and allowing us to help lead the sector and assist others in similar circumstances is the very essence of voluntary service.

If you live in London and can make it to Hoxton Square on Saturday 13 June, do go along; and if you do why not buy one of our new archive tea towels, or coasters, or apron, or postcards…

Thanks for the photo to CHARM

Posted by Matthew McMurray, Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 10:00 Monday, 08 June 2015.

Labels: Grandfest, Home Helps , darby and Joan , Old peoples homes, Assistance act , tea towel, British Academy, Charity, Welfare

Spinach and Beet - Part 12

This month’s extract from the diary of a Centre Organiser came from June 1950

MONDAY

Distribution of Overseas Gift Foods to-day (at the request of the Mayor). Had purposely not sent an invitation to Mrs. Grabber, who has already had more than her fair share. However, she must have got wind of the occasion, for there she was—as usual ! “ No,” she admitted, “ you didn’t send me a card—and it upset me very much.” Then she added, “ But I was not so vexed at not being invited that I wouldn’t come at all ! ”

TUESDAY

Mrs. Kay looked in to thank us for getting her an E.V.W. domestic, and to tell us she is settling down happily. “ Her English is quite good, too,” Mrs. Kay enthused, “ but she mixes up ‘ test ’ and ‘ taste.’ She told me to-day that she thought a plumber should be asked to come along to ‘ taste the drains’!”

WEDNESDAY

An extremely handsome young man brushed past me as I entered the office this morning, and I found Miss Pretty standing by my desk looking flushed. “ What’s been happening here ? ” I enquired briskly. The question was obviously embarrassing. “ Er—that man you saw: he followed me along the street,” she answered. “ Then he came in here to ask if I was doing anything this evening.” “ Well ? ” I prompted, scenting a budding romance. “ When I told him I was free this evening ...” Miss Pretty paused, flashed me a glance and went on quickly : “ He asked me if I would sit-in with his baby so that he and his wife could go to the pictures ! ” (Poor Miss Pretty !)

Rose Custard

Stew 1 pint of raspberries slowly with 1/2 teacupful each of sugar and water. Strain off the juice, measure and make up to 1/2 pint if necessary. Beat 2 eggs, heat 1/2 pint milk and stir it into the eggs, add 1 dessertspoonful of sugar and a pinch of bicarbonate of soda. Leave till lukewarm, then slowly stir in the raspberry juice. If the colour is insipid add a little cochineal. Pour the mixture into a fireproof dish, stand this in a bowl of cold water and put them together into a slow oven. The custard should set firmly without boiling. Turn out when cold and decorate with whole raspberries. Serve with Savoy Biscuits.

Posted by Matthew McMurray, Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 01 June 2015.

Labels: Rose Custard, Recipe, WRVS, WVS, Baby Sitting, EVW , European voluntary Workers, Overseas Gift Foods, Spinach and Beet

The Army Hitler forgot

Our Narrative Reports and correspondence files are strewn with the whimsy of some of the more creative of the WVS centre organisers over the years. And one of their favourite past times was including with their letters or little poems. These ranged in skill from the sublime to the downright awful, but below, for your delight is one of the most charming we have come across.

WVS – The Army Hitler Forgot

Has the question ever been put to you
Can you tell me what the WVS do?
Oh yes! Of course, they drive a car
Serve cups of tea from a canteen Bar
With such duties light, in a gentle way
They easily pass the livelong day.
No, no! They are wrong, and must be told
Of the different story we now unfold.

We Camouflage, “Make do and Mend”
Knit, Sew and Wedding Dresses lend
Rest Centres, Information and CAB
Red Cross messages, Salvage and VCP
Overseas Gifts for those “Bombed Out”
A boon to our country without a doubt
Meals for the Land Army, and Home Guard as well
National Savings the Exchequer to swell
Billeting, Hospitality, the Child’s Clothing Exchange
Are some of the activities within our range.

Take out school meals, rose hips collect
Try hard to fill in “Returns” correct.
Reports, Statistics, Forms One, Two and Three
Besides the Canteens and Cups of Tea.
Welfare for the forces is in daily request
Furnishing, Libraries, Mending socks and vests.
Whatever they ask we try to provide
To perform a “Miracle” is the WVS pride.

The housewives section do jobs without end
In lulls and Emergencies are the Warden’s Friend
With Demonstrations, Meetings and Exercises too
They are known to all by the cards “Red” and “Blue”.
In all Emergencies the WVS are there
Looking after the Homeless with Tender care.
We feed, we clothe and the Frightened Soothe
And being “Basically Trained” can trouble remove.

Our days are full with routine work
And the dullest job we never shirk
Yes, with willing hearts in the Isle of Wight
We “Stankonovite” from morn till night
And if our efforts can shorten the war
By just one day, well that’s worth working for
And if we are tired and weary, we don’t care a jot
For we are part of the “Army that Hitler Forgot”.

By Mrs S C Needham, county organiser for the Isle of Wight, October 1943

Posted by Matthew McMurray, Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 09:00 Tuesday, 26 May 2015.

Labels: Hitler, WVS, Canteens, Land Army , Home guard, National Savings, Tea , VCP, Make do and mend, Camouflage, Red cross, Gifts

Reports from Everywhere - May 1965

This weeks Reports from Everywhere features just a single report from May 1965.  It is a typical story of the help the WVS gave and continue to give on a daily basis. 

Lost and Found

There had been no WVS programme and no meeting on that afternoon, when the Area Organiser at Ellon, Aberdeenshire, driving home, noticed an elderly woman walking, or rather tottering towards the city. Feeling that it was better to risk a snub than to ignore someone in distress she turned her car and went back.

The woman, more than glad to step into the car, said that she was lost but had a vague idea of where she lived. She seemed hazy and bewildered. The Area Organiser decided that it would be best to go straight to Police Headquarters and ask for advice. They had no report there of anyone of that description missing but suggested that they follow at a discreet distance while our member took the old lady to the address she had given.

Getting no reply at the door, the member rang the bell at a neighbouring house where she found the old lady’s gardener wondering what ought to be done as he had taken her to the bank in the morning, moved away to turn the car and come back to find she had disappeared. She must have been walking for hours.

The gardener opened the door of the old lady’s house to reveal a sadly neglected and unkempt place. Having suffered two very bad shocks some time before - finding her husband dead in the garden and having her maid killed in a car crash - her health had deteriorated until she was unfit to cope with life.

After requesting that they keep her informed of the old lady’s welfare, the member left the old lady in the care of the police, and was very surprised and delighted when on hospital duty the following week, to find her tucked up cosily in bed in a lovely large bright ward where she is now undergoing treatment for complete exhaustion.

The police were tremendously impressed by the care taken of an entirely unknown person, and very grateful for the co-operation as well as interested in our concern, not realising that this was simply the way in which WVS expects to be of help.

Posted by Matthew McMurray at 00:00 Monday, 18 May 2015.

Labels: Ellon, Aberdeenshire, Police , Older person, Old Lady, Car service, Hospital, WVS

The WVS and WI keep the 'Homefires' burning

With VE Day just gone and the new ITV series Homefires, about the Women's Institute, (WI), on our Sunday night television sets, you might be forgiven for thinking that the WI was the only women’s organisation working on the Home Front in WWII.

The WVS during WWII was led by a grand coalition of over 60 women’s groups, but not including the WI (except for on matters relating to evacuation).  This seems to have been caused by a clash of personalities between Lady Denman and Lady Reading, the leaders of the respective organisations.  This however did not stop the WI and the WVS co-operating closely together at a local level, where central politics was of little consequence to winning a war!

As a follow on to this I thought we would look at the contribution of the WVS to the war effort in and around the Village of Bunbury in Cheshire, where Homefires was filmed. 

Bunbury did not have its own WVS centre, but was part of the Nantwich Borough and Rural District.  The Rural District which covered all of the villages around Nantwich and had representatives in 41 villages and hamlets.  In total nearly 500 WVS members served the area, specialising in canteens for the troops (which on occasion fed over 1,500 troops in a day) first aid post and rest centres, work parties and rural transport.  With 20 members touring the villages collecting for National Savings. 

The WVS did, as everywhere else, just about anything; distributing ration cards, darning socks, undertaking billeting surveys, and providing food and entertainment for troops.  The WVS even had a ‘herb committee’ which was tasked with collecting nettles herbs, rosehips (if which in September 1943 they collected 1 tonne) and other forage. 

Transport in rural counties was also a big issue, as it is today, and over 1,500 passengers were transported by the Volunteer Car Pool (VCP) every month.  This on top of knitting over 300 comforts every month for troops and 30 camouflage nets were woven (when the webbing was available!). 

Jam making is never mentioned, but it may be that in this area the links between the WI and the WVS were not so strong.  Whatever the case, women made an amazing and often unsung contribution to the war effort, and without their sacrifice things may have ended very differently.

Posted by Matthew McMurray at 00:00 Monday, 04 May 2015.

Labels: Homefires, WI, WVS, WRVS, Heritage Bulletin Blog, Cheshire , Bunbury, Rose Hips, VCP, Comforts, Ration, Canteen