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Reports from Everywhere - March 1956

ACCRINGTON
Provided the North Western Gas Board with a list of old people known to be living alone so that their gas appliances might be tested, and arranged for an official to visit the Old Folks Club to explain the scheme. This had its sequel when the same official rang up to say they had started on the scheme and that one of their inspectors had been to a house and found three bottles of milk on the doorstep and an old lady in bed upstairs. Could we do anything? We could and did. One of our members went to the house the same day and saw the old lady and her neighbours, but found that the old lady was not neglected in any way nor was her house; her family and her neighbours were looking after her. Why there were three bottles of milk on the doorstep was not explained.

BIRKENHEAD
Occupational therapy is now regarded as an essential factor in the recovery to complete usefulness, in the shortest possible time, of post operation cases. Patients in St. Catherine’s Hospital take lessons, under our care, in weaving, knitting, embroidery, small leatherwork, making and dressing soft dolls and making plastic bracelets and necklets.

EAST GRINSTEAD
A young woman, sent to us by the National Assistance Board with a request for furniture, was visited just before Christmas with some toys for the children. The only furniture in the house was the two beds and the two chairs we had given her. Shortly afterwards a man called at the office, asking, as executor, whether we would receive the residue of the contents of a house for anyone who was in need. The deceased owner had been a member of the Old People’s Welfare Club, and we felt we should help the club first, so one or two oddments were given for the members, but we were able to provide the young woman with four chairs and an armchair, a kitchen cupboard, two tables, a double bed, two mattresses, pillows, bolster, blankets, dressing table, floor rugs, curtains, china, spoons, forks, kitchen ware, brushes, fire-irons, bread crock, baking tins, dishes, etc. When we told the Housing Manager what we had been able to do she said it was the best Christmas present she had ever had, as she was at her wits’ end to know how to help this woman, who was a really deserving case.

HASTINGS
The office was just being closed when an old lady was brought in, having arrived by coach from London and not knowing where she was going. She had no address with her except where she came from in London. The stranger who brought her to us said “ Find W.V.S.—they will be the ones to help ! ” We finally took her to the Police, who promised to find her somewhere for the night. She was collected soon afterwards. The Holiday Home where she had been expected had contacted the Police.

Posted by Matthew McMurray - Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 09:00 Sunday, 13 March 2016.

Labels: Reports from everywhere, WVS , Accrington, Birkenhead, East Grinstead, Hastings, Gas Board, Occupational Therapy, embroidery, weaving, furniture, holiday

Archives into the future

Two weeks with no blog is a very bad show on my part but there is no rest for the wicked and I have been out of the office a lot in the past two weeks, so finding the time to write this has been hard. Last Monday, while sadly no young ladies proposed to me (being a leap year and the 29 February), I was hard at work, presenting at the ‘Archives into the Future’ conference at the British Library in London.

The event was organised by The University of Hull Antislavery Useable Past project and sought to bring together academics, researchers and practitioners to discuss charity archives. I was invited to speak on a panel in the afternoon entitled, ‘Experiences from the archives’. I shared the platform with representatives from the Bishopsgate Institute, Salvation Army International Heritage Centre, Together Trust and Prof. Pat Thane from the Institute for Contemporary British History. All of whom work hard to curate and share archives of ‘voluntary action’. It was a very good panel (if I do say so myself).

What I always find so interesting about attending and being able to contribute to this sort of event is that idea of different approaches we discover to shared problems and experience; the chance to see how other care for maintain and make accessible their collections and the opportunity to discuss issues in depth with my peers.

This is especially relevant to Royal Voluntary Service as we enter our 78th Year, and the 58th year since the foundation of the Archive, back in 1958. In May we are going to embark on a significant development project for the archive. This will provide a blueprint for a new permanent home and also work out how we can make our collections more accessible to everyone; at the same time as making it sustainable in a world of ever tighter budgets and demands on the resources of charities like ourselves.

At Royal Voluntary Service we are immensely proud of our archive and the stories it tells of the contribution by millions of women to British society and we hope by September 2017 we will have worked out solutions to many of our challenges.

As our project progresses hopefully I can give you more updates in the future.

Picture: University of Hull

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

Reports from Everywhere - January 1966

This week we bring you Reports from Everywhere from 50 years ago this month.

Glasgow’s fairy Godmother
When Mr Rio Stakis opened a new night club in Glasgow, he asked his friend Jimmy Logan to do the cabaret. Jimmy agreed but would not accept payment. The outcome was that Mr Stakis gave Jimmy Logan a cheque for £1,500 which he is distributing to charities.  This has meant that within a year Jimmy Logan has presented a second van to Glasgow WVS Centre for use with the Meals on Wheels in the city.

Forget me not

A patient at the Canadian Red Cross Memorial Hospital, Beaconsfield, asked WVS whether our trolley carried a stock of rubber bones, as he wanted to send a present home to her dog. We regretfully had to say that we hadn’t thought of that, but finally the patient bought a rag book, kept it in her bed for a bit so that it would get her scent, and gave it to her husband to take home so that the dog would know she had not forgotten him.

Milkman as go between
On Christmas Day an SOS came to the Centre Organiser of Worthing WVS after an old lady had left a note for her milkman saying that she was very lonely and would he please tell the WVS.  The milkman gave the message to the police who told the Centre Organiser who visited her and tried to arrange for her to have tea with a family who had offered hospitality. However, she could not be persuaded to go. She was visited again and it was realised that she was not really fit enough to be on her own. After getting in touch with her relations arrangements were made for her to be moved to a suitable Home where she is having the care she needs.


Posted by Matthew McMurray, Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 25 January 2016.

Labels: Glasgow, Reports from Everywhere , WVS , Worthing, Beaconsfield, meals on Wheels , Van, hospitality , Milkman, Jimmy Logan

Winter Warmers

This week’s HB Blog is dedicated to winter warming recipes from The WVS Bulletin 70 years ago this month.

Bon Appetite!

Soups

White Vegetable Soup

Ingredients

1 small carrot
1 small onion
1 small turnip
1/2 leek
1 stick celery
1 1/2 pt. water
1/2 pt. milk
1 oz. flour
1 oz. fat
1/2 small bay leaf
seasoning.

Method

Melt the fat in saucepan, slice the vegetables and put into fat. Cook the vegetables but do not let them burn. Add the bay leaf and water and cook until vegetables are tender. Mix the flour and milk together, pour into saucepan and boil for a few minutes to cook the flour, stewing carefully. Take out the bay leaf, add the salt and the soup is ready.

Potato Soup

Ingredients

1 1/2 lb. potatoes
1 stick celery
a few spring onions
a little leek
2 pt. vegetable water and white stock
2 level tablespoonfuls household milk
seasoning
2 tablespoonfuls chopped parsley.

Method

Scrub, peel and slice the potatoes. Place them in the boiled salted stock and cook with the lid on till quite soft. Rub through a sieve and mash well with a wooden spoon. Mix the milk to a smooth cream with a little water, re-heat, add parsley and serve immediately.

Beef Tea

Ingredients

1/2 lb. lean beef
1/2 pt. cold water
pinch of salt.

Method

Remove all skin and fat from the meat and cut into slices. Stew each slice and soak in a china jug with the cold water and salt for 1/4 hour. Cook in slow oven for 2 hours. Strain and remove fat—season and serve hot with toast.

Milk Pudding

Ingredients

1 1/2 to 2 oz. cereal
5 level tablespoonfuls household milk
1 pt. water ; 1 level tablespoonful sugar
1/2 oz. margarine.

Method

Reconstitute the dried milk with the water. Wash the cereal and put into a greased pie dish. Pour over the reconstituted milk. Add the sugar. Dot with margarine. Bake in a slow oven for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Posted by Matthew McMurray, Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 00:00 Monday, 18 January 2016.

Labels: White Vegetable Soup, Potato Soup, Beef Tea, Milk Pudding, Recipes

The Silent History of Women

In a sleepless night at the weekend, before I returned to work for the New Year, I was listening to the Film Programme on BBC Radio 4. The episode was about Women in film and included a very interesting conversation with the director Carol Morley, Producer Elizabeth Karlsen and writer/actor Justine Waddell.

Elizabeth Karlsen came out with a phrase that has stuck with me over the past couple of days and one which has led me to much thought. She said that the history of women was a ‘hidden history’, a ‘silent history’ and in searching out and making films about women they were mining silent territory, a lone pickaxe if you will in a vast deserted wilderness.

Our archive deals primarily with the contribution of women to British society in the 20th century so naturally this idea of a concealed past, waiting to be revealed, struck a chord with me. Most have heard of Dad’s Army because of the popular 70s TV show, but few know of the army that Hitler forgot - the “Women in Green”; the Women’s Voluntary Services (WVS).

During the Second World War, the Home Guard, or Dad’s Army as they were known, comprised around one and a half million men, the WVS just over one million members. The WVS was larger than all of the other women’s services combined; the next largest the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) with around 250,000 women.

While Dad’s Army and the other conscripted services ended with the victory of the Allies in 1945, the Women in Green carried on. Around 600,000 women helped us to pioneer the early welfare state, such as developing the modern home care system and fundamentally reshaped British society, and our volunteers continue this legacy in communities across the country today.

The representation of women in film over the past 20 years has admittedly changed substantially, with documentaries covering services such as the Women’s Land Army, the ATS and, the Lumber Jills and WAAF. But, to my knowledge, the WVS has never enjoyed the same treatment. The only WVS centred programme that I know of is Victoria Wood’s wonderful ‘Housewife 49’, a one off drama based on the wartime diaries of WVS member Nella Last. One almost never sees a uniformed WVS member in the background of a period drama, despite one in every ten women in the country belonging to the organisation during WWII.

I sometimes feel a bit like I too am mining that silent territory, shouting to get the remarkable story of those women in green heard. Our archives are full of those wonderful stories of everyday unremarkable heroism which faced down a never ending tide of human misery and hardship created by total war.

Perhaps part of their problem is that their story is unglamorous; dealing with lice infested children, handing out donated clothing to the dispossessed or working in the background sustaining with tea those toiling in the spotlight to put out the fires and clear the rubble created by the Blitzkrieg.

"…our aim is not recognition of success nor are we wishful of public thanks, but we are determined on achievement. No task is so slight that it falls below our notice-no effort so great that it lies beyond our attempt. We fight for our country with unspectacular but unceasing determination."

Lady Reading
The success of the organisation and the vision of its founder, Lady Reading, was in using the everyday skills that women already had and mobilising them to make a difference quickly. It was also to use those who were not eligible for conscription, mostly older women over the age of 40, housewives and mothers.

As talking about the war and one's experiences started to become popular in the 1980s and 1990s, most of these women who had given so much to their country had already passed away and the more glamorous and less constrained younger generation for whom the war brought new opportunities were left to tell the wartime story.  Our archive is now the last keeper of those forgotten memories.

Over the years I have been approached by several documentary makers about creating a programme about the WVS, but all have sadly come to nothing. To return to Elizabeth Karlsen’s view; commissioners want a hook, and invariably a hook that people already know a little about. We however are mining the silent territory, the hidden history of women.

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

Labels: Silent History, Elizabeth Karlsen, Hidden History, Dad's Army, Home Guard, ATS, WAAF, Women's Land Army, WVS

A New Year message from Lady Reading

Lady Reading always sent WRVS members a Christmas and New Year’s message, this one is a gift from January 1963.

THERE are so many gifts I should like to send you this Christmastide - but they are either beyond my purse or my capacity. And so I send you a thing of great value and seldom found - it is the gift of being able to play a game which is interesting and intriguing in your own mind.

Decide first what line of country you wish to play it in: - memory, construction, imagination, fairy castle - and then make your own rules and go ahead.

Two things must always dominate this game - first once started, it must be carried through, for whatever length of time you assign yourself - and second whilst you are playing it you must stick to that particular subject and not wander off in other directions. If, for instance, you choose “memory” it is necessary if you wish to recall nice happenings, to tie them to time, place, or person, BUT if you want to try and strengthen your memory - then you must try simple exercises of memory - such as at bedtime trying to think how many people wearing spectacles you met during the day.

My present is, I think, an unusual one, but it has given me such endless pleasure throughout my life I hope it may do the same for you. And it comes with affection and good wishes that are so warm I hope you can feel them without being told and I trust they will bring much happiness to you in the year ahead.

Happy New Year.

Posted by Matthew McMurray, Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 04 January 2016.

Labels: Gift, Game, New year, Lady Reading, memory, brain training