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The State of the Union

This is the kind of story that I don’t write that often. I am not sure why, and perhaps I should write more updates. It is, I suppose a bit like an American President’s State of the Union address, and perhaps it should only come round once a year. We will see.

With an archive as large as ours, the pace of change is necessarily slow, that is especially in relation to projects and tasks most of which are carried out by our fantastic volunteer team. Running the collection day to day is a full time job and can be quite frantic and fraught; answering enquiries from inside the organisation and from the public, monitoring and adjusting the environment in the stores (with electric heaters, hand filled portable humidifiers and dehumidifiers), changing a leaky tap washer (as I did last week), photographing objects, managing computer servers and of course writing this blog. As a lone archivist you have to be a jack of all trades and also a master of quite a few of them too.

Our stalwart volunteer team plough on with their projects, most have been working on these for years. Pete has been working on his photograph cataloguing project for almost three years now and comes in every Monday for five hours. After sorting and appraising a collection of over 5,000 images from about 1997-2008 he is now cataloguing the 717 that we have selected for permanent preservation. He manages to catalogue about ten images per day and we are both optimistic that he might be finished by the end of the year. Other volunteers are still working on our Narrative Report collection, and are approaching after two years finishing sorting and repackaging those reports from 1965-1980, some have been working on this since 2010. Nora has recently finished sewing identification labels into over 500 unique items of uniform in the collection, a task which took her a year and our newest recruit Sheridan is fast approaching completion of her cataloguing of a collection of five large boxes of material from the NE of England, a task which has taken her just over eight months so far.

The biggest piece of work we are currently just beginning though is our Archive development project, which received support from our trustees in November. This project, which will run for 18 months, will allow us to put together a plan for the future of the archive and discover how we can integrate the archive and our history more into the everyday running of the charity, how we can provide better access for all to use the collections in the future and importantly how we can affordably house our nationally important collection to make sure that it is preserved for future generations. This project properly kicks off in April, but it has, as you can imagine, involved a lot of meetings, engaging people inside and outside the organisation, and writing of plans, which have kept me very busy. To paraphrase the nuns in the Sound of Music “how do you solve a problem like an Archive?” Watch this space …

Posted by Matthew McMurray, Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 00:00 Monday, 15 February 2016.

Labels: State of the Union , Volunteers, Projects, Archive, Development, nuns, Sound of Music, images, enquiries, uniform

Spinach and Beet - Part 18

This week’s diary of a Centre Organiser comes from April 1951.

WEDNESDAY
If it wasn’t that Miss Rime can type like an angel, and has the most perfect memory for the smallest detail of everything that ever happens in the office, we sometimes feel we couldn’t bear with her another minute. She is a Samuel Johnson “ fan ” and quotes from his writings on every possible (and impossible) occasion—especially when asked to do any job on which she is not particularly keen. We are all very tired of her oft-repeated :
“ Catch, then, O catch the transient hour ;
Improve each moment as it flies ;
Life’s a short summer—man a flower—
He dies—alas!—how soon he dies! ”
—followed by a deeply heaved sigh and a look of martyrdom. Today, however, we felt a new respect for her—and for Samuel Johnson. A woman caller had pestered her with questions : about sickness benefit (“ I really cannot answer that—you should go to the National Insurance Office ”) ; financial assistance (“ The National Assistance Board may be able to help you ”), and so on, until the visitor, seeing she would get nothing from us, said sneeringly : “You don’t seem to know how to help a poor body, do you ? Pushing it all on to somebody else! ” Quick as a flash came Miss Rime’s retort : “ Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it! ”

THURSDAY
Spring colds have laid low several of our more experienced members and the office has been manned recently by some of the newer ones. Felt an “ atmosphere ” when I arrived this morning to find our well-loved District Nurse obviously “ parked ” on a hard chair—awaiting my arrival. Knowing how precious every minute of her day is to her, I enquired anxiously: “ Couldn’t Miss Newcome help you? ” Before Nurse had time to answer I felt an urgent tug at my sleeve, and a fierce whisper warned me : “ She came to ask for a pull-over for one of her children who has had measles . . . and she says her name is Miss Jones. Don’t you think we ought to get on to the Moral Welfare Officer------? ” Had quite a job explaining (after due introductions had been made, and Nurse had departed with a pull-over) that she refers to all her cases in the same manner : “ One of my mothers,” “ one of my husbands,” and so on. Miss Newcome—in whom we have been unable, as yet, to discover any trace of a sense of humour— was only partially mollified. “ I do feel,” she said rather primly, “ that this method of expression is more than a trifle misleading.”

FRIDAY
Had a letter today from a W.V.S. friend in Surrey whose village has hitherto lagged behind in recruitment for the Civil Defence Corps. Knowing that the one subject guaranteed to lure people from their homes is “ Local Rights of Way and Footpaths ” (about which feeling has run extremely high), a Public Meeting was advertised in the local Press . . . “ at which Civil Defence will also be discussed ”— and over 70 people attended. Having well and truly dealt with Rights of Way the audience, now thoroughly roused, responded with enthusiasm to the suggestion that there was equal urgency to join Civil Defence, and enrolment forms were handed round, completed and signed forthwith! “ Of course,” my friend admitted in a postscript, “ my being Chairman of the Parish Council helped a great deal in bringing about the meeting.”

Recipe

Steamed Suet Pudding
In these days of short meat ration, make the most of any fat the butcher gives you. There is nothing to beat a good Steamed Suet Pudding, sweet or savoury and excellent for young and old.

Basic Recipe :
1 cup Breadcrumbs. 1/2 teasp. Salt.
1 cup Chopped Suet. 1/2 teasp. Baking Powder.
Water to mix.

Mix dry ingredients and mix to a stiff paste with the water. Roll out and use as desired. Steam for 1 1/2 hours but see that water is always boiling and never add water that is not boiling. When bowl is taken from water let it stand a few minutes before turning out the pudding.

Sugarless Sauce to serve with the above :

1 tablesp. Sweetened Condensed Milk.
1/2 pint water, thickened with wetted cornflour. Vary by adding chopped nuts, cherries, ginger or some wine.

Hints : Serve Vitamin D by way of using Cod Liver Oil instead of fat for all fish sauces.
If you want your meringues to look professional, include some Icing Sugar with the castor sugar.

Posted by Matthew McMurray - Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 00:00 Monday, 08 February 2016.

Labels: Canteens, Rotas, Trolley Shop, Meals on Wheels, Samuel Johnson, Distric Nurse, WVS, Civil Defence

Early days on Christmas Island

Billie and Mary Burgess give news of their first impressions and activities on arrival, prior to the opening of the NAAFI Club on December 3rd, 1956

THE great day had at last arrived and in a few minutes the R.A.F. plane in which we were travelling would be touching down on the new runway of Christmas Island. There below us lay the now famous Coral Island about which everyone is talking. Basking there in the brilliant tropical sunshine, looking every bit like the tropical isles one reads about in fairy tales.

At last, travel-stained and a little weary, and covered in the inevitable dust, we reached the small green bungalow which was to be our home for as long as we were on the island. It had been constructed from disused huts left behind by the American Forces and is an absolute model of ingenuity. A large lounge, bedroom, small kitchen and toilet (including a shower—another memory of the Americans) are all decorated in a cool shade of cream and pale marina green. So hurried were the preparations for our arrival that the painters were literally leaving by the back door as we were coming in by the front.

Bright and early the next morning we made our way to the NAAFI compound and to the large Romney hut where our club-room facilities were supposed to be situated. Alas, we were a little disappointed. Not only was our Centre not completed, but the NAAFI end of it was only in its primary stages. We cautiously asked when it was likely to be finished. They could not give us a definite date, but as soon as the canteen was finished they would be starting on our room. Here we were with all our boxes and packing cases simply crying to be opened up. What were we to do? In the end we decided to open them one at a time and to take (when transport was available) all the more valuable articles back to our bungalow and store them on our verandah. Soon there came to light all the various treasures which W.V.S. members had contributed. The sewing machine was the first to emerge, followed closely by the delightful kitchen utensils, some of which, unfortunately, we shall not be able to put to full use until our tiny kitchen is equipped with the small stove we are hoping will be installed.

We had already approached the Army personnel with regard to a pantomime and, having found out that they were in the throes of producing a Christmas concert, we were determined to unpack next the boxes of costumes in order to help them. That afternoon we discussed with their producer what costumes would be required. They were putting on a little panto of The Christmas Carol as one of their acts in the show, and among the costumes mentioned was a long pair of lace edged pantaloons for Mrs. Cratchett and a frock coat for old Scrooge. Imagine our great surprise and delight when the first article out of the costume box was indeed a pair of unmentionables for Mrs. C. and not long after a frock coat was discovered for the old miser.

A couple of days later we made an impromptu visit to the small but adequate Military Hospital, taking with us a supply of magazines and periodicals. We had a long natter with all the patients and they seemed very cheerful and quite delighted to see both us and the reading material. The chess sets and other games were also a great success. We shall make this one of our regular ports of call in the future.

As soon as our Club room is ready, we hope to start the Scots dancing- classes. In fact we have already enrolled the services of an instructor (a plumber who repaired our leaking tap, which, incidentally, is supplied with water from a converted petrol drum on the roof). A gold-medallist waiter is also among our ardent ballroom followers and he has volunteered to help us with these classes once they are under way.

Most evenings we visit the NAAFI canteen to take orders for ‘ Say it with Flowers’, chocolate orders and Christmas gifts. These schemes are more than welcomed by the boys and we have taken a considerable number of orders.

Posted by Matthew McMurray, Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 00:00 Monday, 01 February 2016.

Labels: NAAFI, Club, Service Welfare, Christmas island, Soldiers, WVS, Coral island