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This week we bring you our third Heritage Bulletin Blog Podcast please click play on the soundcloud player above or you will really miss out this time I promise
Inspired by recent discussions on audio-visual archives I thought it would be appropriate for our third podcast, (the audio part), to be about something visual. Many of you will have heard of the Rank Organisation and the image of the man hammering the gong has probably popped into your head, or you can visualise Sid James and Barbara Winsor in a Carry On film with their distinctive laughs [if you’re reading and not listening to this you have just missed out on my very bad impression, well it's really a case of the giggles]. Obviously there was not a Carry On film about or featuring the WVS, however, the Rank Organisation made many other films including the Look at Life series.
Look at Life was a regular British series of short documentary films between 1959 and 1969 which were screened in their cinemas. The films always preceded the main feature film that was being shown in the cinema that week. In 1959 the Rank Organisation made and showed the film Women in Green all about the work of WVS, or as they called them the million women in green, between 1938 and 1959. The film features shots of WVS members carrying out services such as emergency feeding, hospital work, care of children, clothing and helping house holders during Devon’s floods in the 1950s. Services Welfare was also highlighted with cameramen flown out to Cyprus filming members preforming their daily tasks. The WVS was supported by ambassadors in the 1950s/1960s as it is today; Dinah Sheridan who starred in Genevieve and The Railway Children can be spotted collecting magazines for the forces. Most importantly the film features founder and Chairman Lady Reading giving another inspirational speech to rally her members. The film is a good reminder of the importance of voluntary service.
Its overriding theme was how remarkable and integral WVS had become to British society in just over 21 years, as it is nearly 80 years later after it was founded. Copies were sent to British Council Cinema and NATO while we still hold a copy in the Archive. The film was well received by WVS and its supporters; on 31st October 1960 Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh viewed Women in Green [reported in the WVS Bulletin December 1960] before the premiere of The Man in the Moon. It was still being shown and the rights requested by other organisations in 1963, 1968, 1969 and 1975 according to archival records. As one letter from a WVS member about the film stated ‘the film is part of our history’. Today it is as important in telling the story of WVS, WRVS and Royal Voluntary Services as none audio-visual archives.
We hope you will join us again soon to listen and read more blogs about the history of Royal Voluntary Service contained in its archives.
2017 marks the 70th anniversary of the creation of Women’s Home Industries, which was started in 1947 to support the national export drive following the end of the Second World War. Sponsored by the WVS, Women’s Home Industries’ objectives were “Earning dollars for this country by producing home made articles for export to Canada and the United States” and “Giving work to those who are not able to leave their homes, but who would like to use their skill to add to production”. The idea of ‘Knit for dollars’ came from a 70 year-old bedridden Yorkshire woman, who wanted to contribute to the export drive but was unable to, and mentioned this to Lady Reading. Lady Reading showed samples of women’s work to American and Canadian buyers, and their delighted reaction encouraged her to pursue the idea.
On 1 October 1947 WVS Centres were sent a leaflet about Women’s Home Industries, with the organisation being officially launched in a press conference the following day. WVS members were instructed to send a sample of their knitwear, needlepoint or quilting to Women’s Home Industries Limited, giving an idea of the number or orders they could undertake and an approximate time for delivery. Women whose work was selected as suitable were paid at standard industrial rates and sent the necessary materials. This was made possible by an agreement between Lady Reading and the Board of Trade that raw materials would be supplied to Women’s Home Industries coupon free – rationing of course continued in one form or another in Britain until 1954. Indeed, as Lady Reading stated in a newspaper article, many women working for Women’s Home Industries found a “thrill in having once again lovely materials to work with and retaining the skills of their fingers”.
Women of all social classes contributed to Women’s Home Industries. Even Queen Mary sent them six embroidered floral chair seats, which were sold in New York for $10,000 with proceeds donated to the Queen’s Institute of District Nursing. Queen Mary’s needlework later generated even more money for the nation when her carpet was exhibited across the USA and Canada. You can read more about Queen’s Mary’s carpet here
Women’s Home Industries was a huge success, and by 1953 had “developed into a well-established business, executing wholesale orders for the most fashionable stores in the United States and Canada”. Whilst the association between Women’s Home Industries and the WVS had ended by 1958, Lady Reading remained Chair of both. Women’s Home Industries is yet another example of the role the WVS played in the social and economic life of Britain during and after the Second World War. Without the initial sponsorship of WVS, Women’s Home Industries almost certainly would not have existed and the beautiful handiwork of women across the country would have remained unknown.