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We fast approach the end of another year, a year which has been one of success for the Archive. As many of our readers would have witnessed we heavily promoted our Kickstarter Campaign Hidden histories of a million wartime women
in May. With the help of 705 backers £27,724 was raised to digitise the many stories written by volunteers over 70 years ago in the form of Narrative Reports. The process has now begun to bring these stories to you and you can keep up to date with the project by following our Facebook
pages, joining our heritage bulletin mailing
list or regularly visiting our Kickstarter page for the Friday update
Our final blog for the year comes from part of Lady Reading’s Christmas Message written in 1955; I believe it highlights how important it is for us not to forget the past, how we need to be practical in going forward and relates to sharing hidden histories. I hope you enjoy.
Lady Reading's Christmas Message to WVS 1955
“As one Christmas follows another, it is ever more difficult to find the right present to send to you, and so, I send this year, the means, hidden and unsuspected, of gauging, watching and guarding the precious thing which is in your keeping.
It’s the Job that Counts Vol II
I believe that we, workers in Voluntary Service, are today enjoying the endowment bestowed on us by the previous generations, enriched by their outlook and strengthened by their experience. And I want to ask you whether you will, this Christmastide, pause and examine this thing we call Voluntary Service, for it is ours to enhance during the time it is in our keeping, and it is for us to hand on in perfect and ever better shape.
We live in an age where allegory and parable appear to be out of date, but, to my mind, they are not only the best way of teaching but, for oneself, they offer an infinite joy in the companionship of one's own mind. And so I hand into your possession the power with which to examine this thing that is in your trust, charging you to use your imagination and your vision to appraise it, to weigh it, and, above all, to treasure it.”
During the war WVS ran/organised a number of services and activities for children. We mentioned one of these services in a previous blog Tales of under-fives nurseries were
authors had written about their experience when visiting the nurseries.
WVS always strove to make children’s lives a happy one
during the War particularly when it came to providing toys. In the 1944 December Bulletin this article appeared:
TOY MAKING IN A VILLAGE
FROM the early months of the war our W.V.S. working party had knitted every kind of comforts for the Services and Merchant Navy. We had also sewn all sorts of garments for evacuees, but making toys we had never even thought of, and when the appeal came for soft toys for the new day nurseries, we felt rather dubious as to our capabilities in this direction; however, we said we could but try. To commence, patterns, materials and a demonstrator were sent to our village from the County Office, and we were duly launched as toy makers. Dolls were our first efforts; the bodies and clothes were simple, but the painting of their blank faces was a real work of art. We all tried our skill and the results caused much amusement. We decided we could not send out dolls dressed like a six-year-old with an expression of eighty years old, so this job was given to the one person who seemed able to paint the right look. After the dolls we became more ambitious and begged all kinds of materials to make various animals. From old grey flannels we made elephants and donkeys, and from the bits little mice with hairs pulled out of an old brush for their whiskers. Bits of fur were used to make cats and dogs, white felt hats made beautiful polar bears, even an old silk hat was trimmed into a seal. Woollen materials of the appropriate shades were used for giraffes, their spots being embroidered in brown wool. Horses had fur manes and tails, dozens of little rabbits, some sitting, were made out of real scraps of material, and lambs from old Turkish towelling. Besides the recognisable animals we produced a large number of cuddly soft toys which, we hope, though unlike any known species of animals, will be loved by and give pleasure to the little ones they were made for by the novices of our W.V.S. working party.
As is evident from the above article presents and toys
were already being made and collected by WVS but the organisation also encouraged people, even those without
carpentry skills to make toys themselves in a booklet produced in 1941 and
reprinted in 1944, WVS GUIDE TO SIMPLE TOYMAKING FOR WAR-TIME DAY NURSERIES.
Like the Elves who work in Father Christmas’ work shop the WVS were busy making
toys here are just a few examples:
“Clothes pegs painted to represent funny men in variously
coloured clothes. These are fitted by the children on to the open end of a tin
which has been attractively painted e.g. as the funny men’s house.”
“Bobbin Toy, a solid base, square or oblong. Uprights on to
which bobbins will slip easily (e.g. meat skewers) should be glued firmly into
the base, and coloured to match its bobbins e.g. red stick red bobbins, green
stick green bobbins etc. The whole can be mounted on bobbin wheels and a hook
screwed in front of the drawing it along. Or using pegs of different lengths,
this can be made into a counting toy, putting one bobbin on the first peg, 2 on
the second (of the same colour) and so on –up to five or six.”
“Mosaics, these may be either loose pieces of different
shapes (squares and half squares of different colours are best), which can be
freely used for pattern making, or pieces which make a definite pattern, and
fit into a tray. Plywood should be used for pieces, but the tray may be made of
Perhaps you will be inspired to make some toys for next Christmas.
Accessioning is the process where archivists record new
additions to their collections. Over the last year we have been given over
forty new additions ranging from objects, uniform, photographs, publications,
documents and many others besides. I thought that I would share two recent examples
with you this week.
WVS Canteen Worker
On our shelves waiting to be housed in a new acid free box surrounded
by plastazote is a 12 inch tall carved
plaster statuette of a standing WVS Canteen worker in WVS uniform coat, hat,
scarf and gloves. It was sent into the Chesham
House RVS Community centre in august this year after being brought by the owner
in the 1980s from a shop called Bygones.
Pictured in this blog she is holding four cups with her
fingers through the handles in her right hand and two with the fingers of her
left. She is also holding four milk
bottles against her chest with her left arm.
There are two tea urns at her feet to the right and behind her. On the front of the plinth is incised,
'W.V.S. CANTEEN WORKER’ in a serif script in capitals.
The reverse of the plinth holds a very feint signature
'Margaret H G???????' and a date '1941.5'.
Unfortunately a portion of the hat brim over and behind the right eye
has been broken off and is missing, and a crack around the whole of the neck
indicates that the head has been broken off and replaced. Now it is part of our
unique and very interesting collection it can be preserved and kept safe for posterity.
Lanarkshire Local Office Collection
This was one of the larger accessions of the year and
probably the last to arrive, we look forward to seeing what comes to the archive
next year. The documents which arrived in a large cardboard box was made up of
minutes, day books, Narrative Reports for Strathaven, Strathclyde and East
Kilbride, Quarterly Reports, Scottish Annual Reports, financial records,
emergency Services training programmes and publications. All these records tell
the story of the Strathaven and Strathclyde offices in the Lanarkshire/East
Kilbride districts between 1954 and 2003. One of my favourite items was "WOMEN'S
ROYAL VOLUNTARY SERVICE NOTES FOR MEMBERS" which had a very interesting FAQ
section including one which sounds more like a statement:
“Question: You are a class organisation, middle-class,
choosey and establishment-minded"
"Answer: Come, come, most up-to-date community welfare is
organised on the knowledge of demographic figures. WRVS membership is
representative of the communities in which they live and serve. North Country
folk serve North Country communities. Londoners serve London.
In a new “young families” housing complex, young marrieds
serve young family needs. In sheltered housing, elderly serve each other. I
suppose you imagine AB’s serve DE’s. you ought to think again!
(Note: Modern demographics have a way to classifying Very
Rich as AB and Very Poor as DE and Middle and Professional classes as C1 and C2.)”
More news from around the country, originally these stories were submitted by Centre Organisers on the back of the Narrative Reports and selected by the editors of the Bulletin for publication. These are just a few activities from December 1949.
GLASGOW - The mobile canteen lent by Scottish Headquarters
was taken inside the Customs barrier at the docks for the sailing of the
emigrant ship Cameronia. The canteen operated for many hours, serving not only
those going abroad but also friends who had come to see them off. W.V.S.
escorts at the station were on duty from early morning until late afternoon.
HAMPSHIRE COUNTY - Services Welfare, An ex-regular soldier
of the Indian Army telephoned an urgent request for help. He explained that,
with his family, he was to have embarked for Australia within the next few
days. His wife had that morning been admitted to hospital, could we find
someone to care for the triplets aged 3 years, in order that he could get to
London and cancel all his arrangements with the Emigration Authorities? A
member came to the rescue and undertook the care of the three boys.
HORNCHURCH - This locality is fortunate in having a landmark
in a windmill over 160 years old. Up to 20 years ago it was owned by a baker
who milled his own flour, but it was neglected during the war and has been
falling with slow decay. Now, through the interest of the Ancient Order of
Preservation of Windmills Society and Essex County Council, voluntary workers
go every weekend to restore the windmill to working order. W.V.S. supplies teas
to the volunteers and hopes to make a profit on the transaction. This profit
will become a donation to the Windmill Fund.
NOTTINGHAM C.B - A message was received one day that a young
German boy from Bremen was arriving the next night at Fenchurch Street Station.
Could W.V.S. meet, feed and escort him to the train for Nottingham. London
W.V.S. as always, came to the rescue. The Boat Train was late in arriving;
consequently the Nottingham connection was missed. W.V.S. took the child on a
tour of London, found accommodation for the night and saw him off on the first
train the following morning.
MITCHAM - Dumb Friends League.-W.V.S. have obtained a
regular supply of dog biscuits to be sent through the Dumb Friends League to an
old age pensioner who found it impossible to feed his dog.
RUTLAND COUNTY - The County Organiser walked into the office
one day to be told that she need not worry about the Home Help for Mrs.
So-and-So's baby as it had been cancelled! A Home Help on her first maternity
case told the Organiser when she went along that the family were destitute and
there were no napkins for the baby. A small supply was produced and later one
appeared on the table as a table-cloth. The woman who went in as Home Help came
out as Godmother to the infant.
READING C.B - W.V.S. Children's Specialist in addition to
her other work, devotes Thursday afternoons to the Babies Home at Battle
Hospital and regularly takes the babies out in the large hospital perambulator!
ST. PANCRAS - Fifty-three members from our Kentish Town
Darby and Joan Club were taken by coach one evening to see the “Lights of
Southend." Had tea and cakes at the end of the Pier and arrived home 11.00
WESTON-SUPER-MARE - One afternoon the police rang through to
say that they had two boys aged 15 and 13 at the Station, who had run away from
their home in Bristol on stolen bicycles. They had slept out all night in heavy
rain and were found wandering in Weston soaked through. The police asked
whether we could supply them with clothing. We feel rather proud of the fact
that we fitted them both out with shirts-pants-sports
coats-mackintoshes-pullovers -shoes, and last but not least long trousers.
In the early 1970s WRVS were trying new ways to attract
younger volunteers within the 20-35 age bracket. A new initiative was setup,
Evening Centres, usually run in existing WRVS centres where they led monthly
meetings to help attract younger members to take on WRVS services in their
spare time after work or study. As it is St Andrew’s Day on Wednesday I thought
we would look at the work of these centres in Scotland between 1971 and 1974.
In 1971 London Headquarters established the Evening Members Department
and corresponded with the Scottish Headquarters in Edinburgh to establish
centres in the Large Burghs such as Dundee, Aberdeen and Adinburgh. Perth and
Glasgow were not included in the original correspondence; the Chairman of
Scotland presumed the exclusion of Glasgow was an ‘oversight’ but was later
informed that Glasgow had already agreed with London to start a centre. Perth
even before the centres already carried out evening work had recruited three
volunteers aged 25-35 but had to put them in the Saturday Meals on Wheels
round. They were very keen to find them evening work although there were very
few activities for them.
Once founded Evening Centres in Scotland were a success,
take Glasgow for example, in June 1972 a member of the Evening Centres
Department in London visited to help set up a centre in the city it started
with an organiser (ECO), two assistants and four members. By the end of the
year the centre had 56 members with 20-30 turning up to regular monthly
meetings and taking on services such as flower arranging, hospital visiting,
nurses libraries, good companions and emergencies. Glasgow were also looking to
the future of the evening centre wanting to expand into visiting residential
homes and taking up public speaking to recruit more members for the endless
number of house holders who needed a good companion.
In order to expand all
these services more members are required and it seems evident that the ECO will
have to take up public speaking! This may or may not be a good thing for WRVS,
however, we are willing to try, and to this end have accepted an invitation to
speak on ‘the work of the WRVS Evening Centre and the role of the volunteer
within it’ to young people interested in the Community Service Section of the
Duke of Edinburgh’s (Gold) Award, Start praying!
Glasgow Evening Centre Report 1972
There isn’t much information about the centres after 1974,
perhaps a quest for another day is for me to research some of the other regions
in Britain to find the answer. Watch this space...
November 24th will be the last Thursday in the month which in
America means its Thanksgiving. If you don’t know much about this holiday,
apart from what you’ve seen in episodes of Friends and The Big Bang Theory,
don’t worry Issue No.37 of the Bulletin from November 1942 is here to help,
complete with Mock Duck and Mock Goose. If you were looking for a Mock Turkey go
to Issue No.49 November 1943 …
"As we have so many of our American Allies in this country,
many of us are likely to celebrate a festival we have never shared in before.
The first Thanksgiving Day was held by the Pilgrim Fathers to give thanks for
their first harvest, and ever since that time the last Thursday in November has
been celebrated in the United States as a national festival and day of
thanksgiving. Here is a typical Thanksgiving Day menu:
Soup- Tomato and Croutons. Turkey or Chicken or Goose, Mock
Goose, Mock Duck. Cranberry sauce or jelly. Vegetables - Mashed Potatoes;
sprouts; chestnut puree or chestnut stuffing; celery (raw); carrot strips (raw);
salted nuts. Sweet- Pumpkin pie; mince pie; apple pie; biscuits.
Cream of Tomato Soup or Mock Bisque-2 cups raw, canned or
bottled tomatoes; 2 teaspoons sugar; 1/3 tea-spoon bicarbonate of soda ; 1/2
onion, stuck with 6 cloves ; sprig of parsley; bit of bay leaf; 1/2 cup stale
bread-crumbs ; 4 cups milk (household); 1/2 tablespoon salt; 1/8 teaspoon
pepper ; 1/3 cup margarine. Scald milk with bread crumbs, onion, parsley and
bay leaf. Remove seasonings and rub through sieve. Cook tomatoes with sugar 15
minutes (shorter time if canned tomatoes are used). Add soda and rub through
sieve. Reheat bread and milk to boiling-point, add tomatoes, butter, salt and
pepper. Serve 6 to 8.
Mock Goose (Ministry of Food).-1 lb. liver; 2 lb. potatoes;
2 onions or leeks; 1 apple; 3 oz. fat bacon; 1 dessertspoon chopped parsley;
1/2 teaspoon dried sage ; 1/2 pint water; seasoning. Wash liver and cut into
slices. Cut potatoes, onions and apple into slices. Arrange ingredients in
layers in a pie-dish or hot-pot dish. Cover with pieces of bacon. Add water.
Cover with a greased paper and cook in a moderate oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Mock Duck (Ministry of Food) - Cooking time, 1 hour.
Ingredients-14lb. potatoes; 2 large cooking apples; 3/4 pint vegetable stock ;
1 tablespoon flour; pepper and salt; 4 oz. grated cheese ; 1/2 teaspoon dried
sage. Quantity- 4 helpings.
Method.-Scrub and slice potatoes thinly, slice apples, grate
cheese. Grease a fireproof dish, place a layer of potatoes in it, cover with
apple and a little sage, season lightly and sprinkle with cheese, repeat
layers, leaving potatoes and cheese to cover. Pour in 1/2 pint of the stock,
cook in a moderate oven for 3/4 hour. Blend flour with remainder of stock, pour
into dish and cook for another 1/4 hour. Serve as a main dish with a green
The American “biscuit” is more like a small muffin and is
used at breakfast, dinner or supper. A biscuit like our own is known in America
as a "cracker." American muffins are like our queen cakes in
American Emergency Biscuits (Ministry of Food)-3/4 lb flour;
2 teaspoons baking powder; 2 oz. margarine; 1/2 teaspoon salt; 3/4 cup milk.
Method-Mix flour, baking powder and salt together, cut in margarine;
add milk gradually until a soft dough is formed. Turn out on a floured board
and pat out with the hand to about 1 inch thick. Cut into rounds and bake in
quick oven for 15 minutes."
I haven’t included all the recipes just a selection if you
want to know more visit our online catalogue.
Photo: members of the WVS are providing wartime services for the welfare of American service personnel at a flat in Buckingham Gate, London. In the flat, a number of American service personnel, WVS members and ladies are being entertained by a recital of classical music that is being performed in the flat for them. WRVS/HQ/P/SWH/AMER002 1939-1945.
On Twitter the other day I
noticed a tweet from the Royal British Legion saying that Remembrance Day was
not just for the fallen but for those who have lived through conflict as well.
While Royal Voluntary Service’s blog on 10th November focused on
remembering the 245 WVS women who died during the Second World War, this week I
thought we’d look at how the WVS fought on the home front to keep everyone safe
When we think of evacuation we
often think of the process from escorting evacuees to the country side to
billeting them in the reception areas; we don’t think always think about the effects
on the householders and the relationship they had with evacuees. There are always
two conflicting view points on how evacuees where received by people in the
Evacuation broke down class barriers and
evacuees were received with love affection and treated as one of the family.
Ideas of class continued and evacuees were seen
as dirty or verminous and were mistreated by their hosts and hostesses.
There is truth in both opinions
and as our Archives show WVS were ready to smooth out any problems which arose
even from arrival they took care of evacuees cleaning them up and providing
clothing when needed. They also produced a number of publications which didn’t
take sides but advised everyone in the art of diplomacy or allowing for as one
leaflet was titled give and take. This was a leaflet designed to inform housewives
and visiting mothers on how to behave while relatives are visiting evacuated
children. It was a way of advising both parties without taking sides and helping
to easy worries and tensions; breaking down class barriers and dispelling
Another example comes from a
circular on advising householders on bed wetting stating ‘do not punish the child or do anything to humiliate
him and do not let him think he is a "problem" child and of special
interest’. Again WVS were trying to change public attitudes before bedwetting
was viewed as a dirty habit and the organisation worked towards changing this
view wanting people to see it as an effect of being removed from one’s home, a
result of a traumatic experience.
All the WVS’s hard work to bring communities together and
change opinions of town and country must have had an effect. By the end of the
war when it introduced its furniture scheme those areas which had been less
affected by the bombing were ready and willing to send tons and tons of
household items to blitzed areas. Also WVS was able to pioneer its Children’s
Holiday Scheme in Post-war Britain where children who would not have otherwise
had a holiday spent a week with a hostess family either by the sea or in the
So do remember while the men were away fighting to stop our
society changing for the worse over a million women on the Home Front were
working to transform it for the better.
The Archive & Heritage
collection was formed in 1958, the year before WVS’s 21st
Anniversary as the Archives and Central Records Department. The members of this
department’s first purpose was to search through files for important original
reports, letters, etc. to find those of historical interest and importance. I
truly sympathise with having to assess twenty years’ worth of material and
having to take key decisions which would affect future generations
understanding of the WVS.
The department started out with a
number of part-time works all with different tasks to complete and a Head of Department
to oversee them. It is funny how very little changes in 60 years, although a
little different with a full time Deputy Archivist and Archives Assistant
(working on the Hidden History of a Million Women Project), there is still an
Archivist and a team of volunteers who help out with the collection anywhere
from two hours to a whole day every week.
We don’t know very much about the
thoughts of the women first involved in bringing this invaluable collection
together, even though they knew there was ‘a real need for such a department’
in 1958, apart from what is written in the Annual Reports. However occasionally
when sorting through the collection something catches your eye; though it wasn’t
shinny and it didn’t look particularly interesting while repackaging the
collection of General Publications on Friday afternoon I came across WVS/WRVS Archives Notes for Guidance
1973 (there are also copies for 1975 and 1981).
This small booklet with a Green
front cover shows how over 15 years the thinking in the Archive was developing
and they were getting to grips with the records they held. They were there to
collate a complete library of papers concerning policy, operational works and
records of WVS/WRVS from 1938 onwards. At the end of the booklet they list all
the documents being kept in the Archive including Annual Reports,
Bulletin/Magazine, Miscellaneous Memoranda and Narrative Reports which with
many more documents, photographs, publications and objects still reside in the
collection today. What interested me most about this booklet was what it said
about Narrative Reports:
“A complete set of Narrative
Reports form all Regions is held in WRVS Headquarters Archives.
No Narrative Reports should be
destroyed without consultation, as arrangements for keeping them vary from
Region to Region”
This might explain why the number
of reports in today’s collection varies so much from region to region.
It's that time of year when a you see a lot of pumpkins in the supermarkets mostly bought and used for decoration, recently in the news I have seen appeals for people not to just throw away the pumpkin flesh they have carved out. So here are some suggestions from the WVS Bulletin using pumpkins.
2 lb. pumpkin
1 1/2 pints " household " milk
2 oz. margarine
sugar to taste.
Peel the pumpkin, cut into dices and put into a saucepan with about 1 pint of water, add a little salt, cook until very tender.
When done, press it through a sieve, add the boiling milk, the fat, some more salt or sugar to taste (sugar preferable if possible). Boil for a few minutes, stirring all the while, and serve. (November 1943)
SAVOURY PUMPKIN PIE
2 lb. pumpkin cut in thin slices
2 lb. tomatoes
1/2 lb. bread (soaked, drained and beaten with a fork)
1/2 lb. minced meat
1 teaspoonful sweet herbs
2 tablespoonfuls melted margarin
salt, pepper and thick brown gravy.
Mix the bread, meat, herbs, salt and pepper to a smooth paste with the melted fat.
Put a layer of pumpkin slices at the bottom of a casserole, or pie-dish, add some tomato and top with pumpkin.
Pour in enough gravy to cover the last layer of pumpkin. Cover with greased paper or a lid and bake in a moderate oven for 1 hour. (November 1943)
Alternatively you could make a sweet pumpkin pie...
1 1/2 cups cooked and strained pumpkin
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon margarine
2 tablespoons molasses (treacle)
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs (reconstituted dried)
1 1/4 cups scalded milk.
Simmer pumpkin in as little water as possible for 20 minutes.
Add sugar, margarine, treacle, ginger, cinnamon and salt to pumpkin.
Add egg and milk and mix thoroughly.
Line a tin plate or sandwich tin with pastry and pour in pumpkin mixture and bake in a brisk oven. It is usual not to cover this mixture with another layer of pastry. (November 1942)
Our archives are quite literally a feast for the eyes and soul most of which surfaces when we are looking at material to make accessible as part of our ongoing work to develop the archive. This week Matthew our Archivist was cataloguing some of our Miscellaneous Memoranda* collection when he came across a set of very interesting letters written by the cream of the crop from the word 1940s of literature.
Writers included Olaf Stapledon, a creator of science fiction; Noel Streatfield and Dorothy Whipple, children’s authors; Daphne Du Maurier, romantic novelist; Cynthia Asquith a teller of ghost stories; Margaret Lane biographer of the Bronte Sisters and Beatrix Potter and Joanna Cannon writer of Pony Books and detective fiction. All these writers put pen to paper to tell Americans and Canadians, who through the Red Cross supported Nurseries for Under Fives run by WVS during the war, how children under the age of five who could not be evacuated with their families were being cared for.
Each of the letters tell a different story of visits to nurseries in Kettering, Lewes, Lyme Park, Regents Park, Sandford Park, Ringwood Hampshire, Culham Court Oxon and Shephall Bury. Inspired by the work in these nurseries they formed very detailed depictions, excitedly explaining how funds and gifts from the American Red Cross gave the children, as Daphne Du Maurier described it, “enjoyment and complete unconcern”. They also enlighten the reader describing how the children are cared for, the matrons roles in the nurseries, Christmas celebrations and the importance of meal times.
Each letter is almost like a short story or chapter from a novel displaying the writers’ individual style so this week I will end with two quotes to give your eyes a glimpse at our cave of wonders.
"At Miss Brady's call, the children came tumbling in to get ready for their mid-day meal. The shining gadgetted bathroom, with its ordinary dozens of everything - twelve towels, twelve named toothbrushes, etc, etc, reminded me of Snow White's establishment."
Cynthia Asquith writing about her visit to Court House near Lewes, Sussex
"The door opened and in came a magnificently fat Father Christmas led by two of the little boys. Father Christmas, very properly, was an American Father Christmas, Mr Bernard Carter, your Red Cross Deligate over here."
Noel Streatfield writing about her visit to the Day Nursery in Regents Park, I feel that I should point out that in scene she describes before Father Christmas appears the Matron was seen leaving the room with a number of pillows.
* (yes I know fellow archivists are shuddering at the mere mention of the word Miscellaneous but we need to respect original order and des fonds, don’t we!)