Heritage Bulletin blog
Keep up to date with the latest news and happenings at the Archive and Heritage Collection. Send us your email address to receive notifications of new posts to your inbox, or follow us on twitter.com/RVSarchives
Showing 21-30 results
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 August 1949.
Centre Organiser has since 1942
collected, sorted and packed, with help, no less than 35 tons 2 qrs. 15 lbs. of
salvage, realising £169 18s. 5d. in all. Aled covers 110 square miles, and the
work was done in a shed known as the “WVS hut.” If records of the work done
previous to 1942 were available they would show a great achievement.
Outing organised by WVS car drivers;
about 80 old people, many of whom are taken to and from hospitals for
treatment, were invited to a picnic at Hassocks. Ice cream and a magnificent tea
were provided in the grounds of a private house. Each driver used his or her
own car, and everything was provided by voluntary contributions.
WVS running an Information Bureau
at a Military Camp are dealing with a number of unexpected domestic requests,
one of them being from a soldier for the loan of a pair of scissors to trim his
moustache before meeting his wife!
Over 200 cans of peaches and
goose berries were canned at the Widowers’ Children’s Home, Murrayfield,
Edinburgh, last week. The staff and older children joined in and enjoyed it as
much as WVS.
Have a cup of tea? WVS have served
at the Royal East Sussex Hospital Canteen during the last four months, 1,031
tea meals and 1,329 cups of tea.
On the occasion of the opening of
the new Danish Mission at Newcastle, WVS were asked to escort eight Danish
ladies, widows of officers and men who had died in the last war. The ladies had
a very heavy shopping list and it kept the five WVS escorts exceedingly busy to
assist in buying all the raincoats, belts, suits, cases, etc., as well as 8
lbs. of coffee and cocoa! Flowers and small
posies were purchased to carry to the Commemoration Service and after WVS had
accompanied them back to the hotel a terrific sorting of parcels took place.
They then went to the Danish Centre where WVS bade them goodbye.
suggestion of the WVS Centre Organiser there is to be a goat class at the Roos
Show, and the judge is to be another WVS Centre Organiser who is also the
Secretary of the Yorkshire Goat Society. This is the first time a goat class
has been arranged for a show in the East Riding.
WVS stepped into the breach and
presented a bride with a silver horseshoe on her parent’s behalf as they could
not be present at their daughter’s wedding and they had written to WVS for
help. The bride later came to thank WVS for its great assistance at the
Registry Office, etc., and presented WVS with a delightful bouquet of flowers.
Pete here, it has been just over two years since I last posted a blog about
volunteering here at the Royal Voluntary Service Archive & Heritage
Collection; this is what I have achieved in the past two years.
Maybe I am
being too self-critical, but it doesn’t seem to be very much. I am still involved with the collection of
photographs I had started sorting two years ago. I have managed to appraise around 3000 and saved
those which tell the fascinating story of the Charity in the 1990s and early
2000s, give them reference numbers, find descriptions from WRVS publications,
and scan them into the computer. This
last year I’ve been writing descriptions of all the photographs – I’m about
half way through.
Got to tell
you this, though, being a volunteer here is sometimes like being a history
detective, piecing the evidence together. I was going through the photographs
and I came across two pictures of RAF Tornado aircraft making Meals on Wheels
deliveries. At first I assumed they were
separate events as they featured different aircrew, different WRVS volunteers,
and different locations. Further
research revealed it was the same aircraft and crew on the same mission, one picture
taken just before take-off, with the pilot and leaving party, and the second
picture on arrival, with the navigator and different arrival party. I mentally popped a champagne cork for that
off to do some more cataloguing and investigating hopefully next time I blog
you’ll be able to read my descriptions on the online catalogue.
The second line of J R R Tolkin’s Poem All that is gold
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
Did you know that the Archive
& Heritage Collection runs an enquiry service? Do you wonder what people
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.
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 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.
“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.
It’s the second and final week of
Wimbledon and our story of how the WVS, WRVS and Royal Voluntary Service served
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
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,
Today Royal Voluntary Service
provides services for older people in Wimbledon and all over London including
Social Clubs, Good Neighbours and Home Library Services.
Two years ago I wrote a blog (WVS/WRVS Serves at Wimbledon) looking
at our association with the Wimbledon Tennis Championship and the eventful two
weeks between 1947 and 2004 when a number of volunteers ran information desks. So
the other day I was wondering what were the WVS doing in Wimbledon before they
got involved in Tennis.
We actually know very little about the WVS in Wimbledon
during the War, unfortunately none of their Narrative Reports survived from
1938-1947 but there are two articles written in the Bulletin Magazine in 1942 and 1942. One of them tells us that on 11th October 1942 there was an
invasion defence exercise involving the Housewives Service, the Centre
Organiser and WVS post leaders who controlled the Street Leaders. The exercise assumed
that the South East of England had been invaded and the WVS were involved in
caring for the wounded and evacuating people from their homes. You can read the
full article here.
Another source of information is the statistic books for 1943-1945 they tell us the services WVS were involved in in those years Wimbledon ran the
- Under 5’s Nurseries
- Civil Defence Canteens
- Work for HM Forces
- Hospital Services
- Work Parties
- National Savings
Back to the Bulletin, which reported that in February 1945 Wimbledon
was adopted by Leicestershire as part of the Re-homing Gift Scheme. Donated items
collected by volunteers in Leicestershire were sent to Wimbledon, where they
were distributed by WVS to those setting up new homes after they had been
bombed out in flying bomb attacks. In June 1945 the WVS of Leicester County
Borough sent Wimbledon 16 1/2 tons of household goods including over 60 chairs
which had been re-seated by the Institute for the Blind.
Next week we look at what the volunteers of Wimbledon did after the War
While running the Voices of Volunteering project I talked to many volunteers who had helped many people including refugees and who thought they had only made a very small contribution. This week is National Refugee week so I thought I would share some stories from volunteers about their experiences of working with refugees. As you will see they did rather a lot.
WVS were working with Refugees from the start of the Second World War, greeting them and finding billets or accommodation.
“War was declared, I was fifteen and my brother was seventeen. I suppose like all stupid young people it was exciting, frightening in a way but quite exciting. And we lived in Weymouth and a lady called, I don't if it's Mrs Sewell or Miss Sewell advertised for volunteers because a lot of, people were coming over from the continent and the Channel Islands to get away from the war. So both my brother, Bob, and me volunteered and we were making beds for people. We actually helped at the birth of a baby which was quite a shock to both of us, but there was no point in, there was no, we couldn't hang around because it was imminent. Anyway, that's my introduction to the WVS as it, as it was called.” – Geraldine Harris Volunteer, Weymouth.
After the Hungarian revolution in 1956 around 200,000 people fled as refugees a number settled in Scotland. In January 1957 the WVS Bulletin reported:
“It is very difficult to make our page of any interest, other than Hungarian Relief Work, but we begin it by telling of the safe arrival of two train loads over the week-end at two camps, one Middle-ton Camp, Gorebridge, the other Broom-lee Camp at West Linton.
W.V.S. set up the clothing issue stores in both camps 24 hours before the expected arrival of the refugees and were then at the station and in the camps to help settle them in for the night. W.V.S. are now on duty issuing clothing and giving every possible assistance.”
When Idi Amin expelled the Asian Community from Uganda in 1972 many came to the UK and of course the WRVS was there to welcome them with clothing suitable for the British weather.
“we really didn't do very much except sort clothes, which came in from the public. There were so many clothes, we didn't know what to do with. But they all had to be sorted because some of them were not fit to give to anybody, and some were absolutely, really super clothes. And these were all sorted into men, women, children’s and babies. And we had one, one school sent us in with the children’s clothes, in the coat pockets were, was a toy in every one, which was lovely.” – Maureen Jones Volunteer, Epping
When Kosovar Refugees arrived in the UK in 1992 once again the WRVS was there to provide clothing to them.
“The Kosovars were based in Calderstones Hospital which was just on the verge of clothing [sic], closing and there was an appeal out for clothing and it came in in droves, we were really overwhelmed. We thought we were making some progress and then another lot would come in. Some really good things, new things, and we were sorting out the rubbish as well, which you also get some rubbish. But we never, we never finished it. They, eventually the, the clothing was taken into another part of the building and arranged as a dress shop or a men’s shop so they could come in and choose enough clothing to help them through.” – Kathleen Ashburner Volunteer,
These stories and more can be found on the Archive Catalogue search the Voices of Volunteering or Bulletin collections.
It’s been an exciting few weeks here at the Archive after
launching our Kickstarter Campaign on VE Day at the beginning of May.
The Campaign ended on Tuesday 8th June with a
final total of £27,724, which means we have exceeded our goal and can digitise
an extra 2,724. We’ll be able to reveal even more stories of the million women
who volunteered for WVS during the war including this one from June 1941.
The first Communal
feeding centre in Doncaster was opened on Wednesday June 4th. The
WVS supply the staff in the kitchen, 1800 meals are served per 6 day week.
We have been asked to
supply drivers for the conveying of the food from the place where it is
prepared to the centre.
And this one from August 1942
Wing Rural District,
Meat Pie Scheme. For
This is our latest
activity. We started in Ivinghoe on May 12 1942 and in June and July made 2179
pies at 4d each. We have paid the Ministry of food 1/2d on each pie, i.e.
The 12 workers 6 on Tuesday
and 6 on Thursday, Cooks and Kitchen hands come at 9am each day and the whole
thing runs like clockwork.
What we badly need and
have tried to get through the County Inspector of Pies is a mincing
machine that can be screwed to the table. She tells me that all mincers go to
Over the next few weeks Kickstarter will be gathering the
pledges made to the Hidden Histories of a million wartime women so that we can
start to digitise these amazing diaries in September.
Thank you to everyone who has supported the project, helping
to bring the stories of a million wartime women to life. So watch this space for more updates on the Hidden histories of a million wartime women.
Our founder Lady Reading was, to be blunt, a force of nature, who could be both the kindest and the fiercest person one could know. To her friends she was charming, delightful and funny, to her enemies she was to be feared. She was always insightful and rarely tolerant of fools and bureaucracy. Our collection has thousands of her letters and writings all preserved for posterity, mostly as copy letters, which simply bear her squiggle of approval in blue fountain pen.
One of the volunteers came across one such letter of frustration this morning from 1967 and I thought I would share it with you (suitably anonymised).
“I am full of righteous indignation and do feel that it is maddening in the way everything is always stymied by someone inventing some reason why it can’t be done, except their own way. I can’t tell you how many letters I have written, … but each one passes the buck to the next one in such a sanctimonious way that I could shake them all.”
When Lady Reading became the first women to take her seat in the House of Lords as Baroness Swanborough her coat of arms bore the motto
“Not why we can’t but how we can”
She was also extremely modest about her contribution, saying that it was the million women members, and not her that did all the work. Without her leadership and stubborn determination the WVS would certainly not have existed or prospered for so long; but she was right, that the heart and strength of WVS was not individuals or personalities, but the collective often anonymous work of ordinary women.
“WVS was made, not by the genius of the one, but by the faithfulness of the many.”
There are only 24 hours until our Kickstarter project
finishes, and through the faithfulness of almost 700 people and a 'how we can' attitude we have reached and surpassed our target of £25,000. We are going to be able to bring into the light the first three years of the WVS’s hidden history from 1938-1941 and with an extra push we can make even more available.
If you haven’t pledged already please join in, for every pound we raise we can bring another page to light.