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Not all those who wander are lost

The second line of J R R Tolkin’s Poem All that is gold doesn’t glitter, both very true when looking at a recent deposit we received. It’s also true that if you are travelling with WVS you won’t be lost.

In July 1942 the Ministry for Homeland Security set up the Volunteer Car Pool (VCP) to address the problems of petrol shortages. Private car owners were encouraged to enrol in the service agreeing to make their car available in an emergency. WVS was asked to be involved in the running of the scheme; by 1944 they were overseeing 570 VCP schemes across Britain. This was then succeeded by the Hospital Car Service (HCS) in 1945 where WVS and the WRVS volunteers took thousands of people to Hospital every year until the Mid1970s when the charity started to run a more diverse scheme called Country Cars (1974/75).

A short time ago we received a set of driver’s records including letters, a log book, monthly summaries, petrol records and journey records for the VCP and HCS. Mrs Bird wandered around the London and Essex Metropolitan areas between 1944 and 1950 collecting those in need of transport and taking them to hospital and many other places. Of course these records don’t glitter but they contain hidden gems such as her records for July and August 1944 when she took evacuees and their escorts from Chingford to stations in London such as Kings Cross and Paddington. Most of these journeys were 30 to 40 mile round trips. Moreover one book shows that WVS’s transport services were not just used for hospital journeys even before 1974. In 1947 and 1948 Mrs Bird took people to an old people’s tea entertainment, collected wool from Tothill Street London (WVS Headquarters) and transported fruit for canning to Portland Place. Occasionally she also delivered Meals on Wheels and clothing to local clothing depots.

If you would like to find out more about the VCP and HCS why not explore our Factsheets on Transport or Hospital Services

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 25 July 2016.

Labels: WVS, Accession, Archive, VCP, Hospital Car Service

What can you tell me?

Did you know that the Archive & Heritage Collection runs an enquiry service? Do you wonder what people ask us? In May we received a very interesting enquiry asking what information we held in our Archives about Queen Mary’s Carpet and how its sale in 1950-1951 was coordinated by WVS.

The answer to this question is a simple but important one we hold two files one in our Central Registry collection discussing the how the carpets journey from the Victoria and Albert Museum to America, its tour around the USA and Canada and how it raised money for the united Kingdom after the War. The other is a file of miscellaneous memoranda containing leaflets, postcards, souvenir booklets and letters - the story these records tell is fascinating. 

In 1950 Queen Mary gave the nation a carpet that she had been embroidering between 1941 and 1946 and measures 10ft 2inches by 6ft 9.5inches has a unique floral design and signed Mary R, the boarder was made by the Royal School of Needle Work. Her Majesty decided to give the nation the carpet to help ‘bridge the dollar gap’, created by the war, money raised would go to the National Exchequer as she thought that everyone should contribute something to the country in its time of need. The Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (IODE) were responsible for raising the much needed dollars while WVS were responsible for the carpets tour of US and Canadian public institutions. Lady Reading was made acting chief of staff of the operation.

The Carpet was first displayed in the Victoria and Albert Museum before traveling to North America on the Queen Mary. The Carpet arrived in New York on 20th March and was exhibited there for 5 days before traveling around 15 other main cities in America and Canada including Ottawa (Ontario), Washington DC, Los Angeles (California), Seattle (Washington), Vancouver (British Columbia), Toronto (Ontario) and Montreal (Quebec).  On its tour the carpet was accompanied by a WVS volunteer who commented that it was the most exciting three months of her life and at in that time she and the carpet traveled 14,000 miles and was seen by 400,000 people.

After its tour the IODE purchased the carpet and toured it across Canada, raising at least another $100,000 for the British Exchequer. The carpet was presented to the National Gallery of Canada at the end of its tour. It is now kept in the gallery’s collections.

If you have a question about the Archive’s or the History of Royal Voluntary Service why not contact our enquiryservice today, we look forward to hearing from you.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 18 July 2016.

Labels: WVS, Queen Mary, Carpet, Enquiry, Archives, Records

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics” so goes the eponymous quote popularised by Mark Twain.

Every once in a while we all have to admit we have been wrong and so that is what todays blog is in part about. It is the wonderful thing about archives, especially large ones like ours, that we are always finding new things and new evidence, refining and re-writing history and making ‘new’ discoveries.

Here in the archive we have the most fabulous set of statistics for the period 1938-1945. The WVS were compelled by the Government to keep them for the purposes of assisting with Civil Defence. Early on this data tracks WVS volunteer recruitment and numbers monthly, and from 1943 quarterly, but in much more detail. But when the war ended, so did the statistics; the need was no longer there.



We know for certain that in November 1941 the WVS reached its zenith in terms of the number of women who it could call upon, with 1,043,423 members; the largest volunteer organisation in British history. But what happened at the end of the war and afterwards has always been rather sketchy.



We knew that there were very significant resignations at the end of the war, with speeches given by women at the closing of WVS centres about having done their bit and wanting to look after their homes, families and returning husbands, but no figures survived. In fact it would appear no figures were gathered from the end of 1945 until 1949, a period of rapid and dramatic transformation of the WVS from one centred around Civil Defence to one at the forefront of post-war social welfare development.

In 1949 however, with the re-establishment of the Civil Defence Corps after the Russian’s successful Nuclear test in August, the WVS formed the Welfare Section of the CD corps and the statistics started again. Unfortunately we only had a few glimpses of these through a few returns which had been kept by some local offices, which had found their way to the archive. The Headquarters summary books were missing. By comparing these few centre examples against the data from 1945 we made best guesses about the change in national volunteering numbers over the late 1940s.

We also applied that to the period up to 1982 (which were the first post war national statistics we had) and took into account significant events and the start and finish of major branches of work.

Our best guess was that after the war the WVS lost about half its membership to about 500,000, with an increase in 1949 with the formation of the CD corps and then a steady decline with some larger drops at the closure of the corps in 1968 and the death of Lady Reading in 1971.

We have recently been undertaking a whole collections review. I spent five weeks looking in every box in our collection, and managed to find many things I had ‘lost’ and some things which I had never seen before. One of these was the missing 1949-1970 membership statistical returns.

How wrong I turned out to be! After ten years of telling one story, I now have to tell another, but at least it is now more accurate. It just goes to show you what unintentional lies can be wrought from making assumptions based on limited data.

The graph below shows just how dramatic that end of war exodus of members was with the membership between 1945 and 1949 dropping by 88% from 968,242 to 118,960. The majority of that probably occurring in the immediate period after VJ day.



Membership, rose slightly with the onset of the Cold War in 1949, until fatigue set in in the md 1950s, with a flat membership until Lady Reading’s death in 1971 and then a very slow decline until the early 1990s.

The more pronounced decline in the early 1990s through to 2010, should perhaps be seen in the context of the professionalisation of the charity sector and wider social change. This included dramatic changes in the role of women in society and ideas and enthusiasm about volunteering. That said the 1990s and early 2000s were a particular turbulent time for Royal Voluntary Service as its role fundamentally changed from doing just about everything to focusing only on older people and its Government grant was withdrawn incrementally from 1997 - 2008 when it stopped completely.

I think Mark Twain had it just about right, but I’m glad I can put the record straight; at least for the time being.

Posted by Matthew McMurray - Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 11 July 2016.

Labels: Lies, Statistics, Membership, Volunteers, WVS, WRVS, RVS

The WVS of Wimbledon are we – Part II

It’s the second and final week of Wimbledon and our story of how the WVS, WRVS and Royal Voluntary Service served Wimbledon continues.

After the war WVS was still going strong but had moved away from its role in supporting a nation at war to sustaining a nation in peace time, proving welfare for older people, taking children on holidays, providing clothing, serving in hospital canteens and helping out in an emergency and Wimbledon volunteers were no different.

In the 1950s Wimbledon WVS were involved in clothing trolley shops, Civil Defence, Meals on Wheels, National Savings and Hospital Services to name a few. As well as the usual activities volunteers were engaged in occupational training clinics, canning fruit and in august 1950 190 tins were completed. Most of our knowledge of their activities comes from the Narrative Reports in March 1950 it was reported that the WVS Exhibition had received a visit from Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) and the Centre Organiser was honoured to be part of her guard. The first coach trips for older people were organised in the mid to late 1950s, mostly residents from the residential homes where the WVS ran trolley shops.

The 1960s and 1970s saw an administrative change for WVS/WRVS Wimbledon as they became part of the London Borough of Merton but they were still as energetic as ever. By this time volunteers were running a Tufty Club, helping with the Sir Winston Churchill Collection Fund, finding a volunteer to take a man with disseminated scoliosis  to the cinema twice a week and arranging for volunteers age 17 to help the housebound with library books and shopping.

Towards the end of the twentieth century WRVS Wimbledon was still doing everything and anything it could to help the people of Merton Borough and further afield. This included helping their fellow volunteers from across the country providing members running the information desks at the Wimbledon tennis championship and those taking part in the WRVS Tennis Competition with accommodation. An unusual request came in 1988 (along with distributing Butter from the EEC) when volunteers were asked to sew badges on to 150 anoraks for the Great British Olympic Team going to Calgary, Canada.

Today Royal Voluntary Service provides services for older people in Wimbledon and all over London including Social Clubs, Good Neighbours and Home Library Services.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 04 July 2016.

Labels: WVS, WRVS, Royal Voluntary Service, Wimbledon, Tennis, Post-war