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As already discussed in a previous blog, Updating the online catalogue, we have just released the digitised copies of the diaries (1938-1942) from the Hidden Histories of a Million Wartime Women project collectively known as the Narrative Reports. To ensure that everybody has the opportunity to read them, this trusty guide should hopefully help you navigate your way through the thousands of diaries that are available to read online. Before discovering this endless historical source, I advise topping up the midnight oil!
The first stage is to go to the Archive Online page. I would then suggest clicking on Advanced Search as this will help you find your area of interest a lot easier. Due to the geographical nature of the collection, the easiest way to find a diary that will interest you is to search for a town, city or county. Enter your chosen area into the keyword(s) section, (Bath, for example) and then select Narrative Report from the drop down menu in the category section. After clicking search at the bottom of the page your choice of centre should hopefully appear.
If your centre of choice does appear in the search result, it will be listed chronologically. It is important to remember that not all centres were established in 1938, so some places may not have records from the earliest years. Nevertheless, click on your chosen year of preference (I am sure you will end up reading every year anyway) and scroll down to the section named Media Download.
This is where you will find the wonderful stories of the WVS. Simply click on the PDF link and a document containing all the reports for that year will be available to read as many times as you like. Each report has been individually photographed and cropped using our editing software to ensure that you get the best reading experience. I hope that this guide will help you navigate through the abundant memories of the WVS. If you are experiencing any problems or you are have difficulty accessing the Narrative Reports, please contact our enquiry service. We are only too happy to help you read though this unique collection of stories and volunteer experiences.
To help encourage you to start perusing the wealth of the Narrative Reports, here is an interesting little snippet describing the instructions for air raid precautions from a local Housewives’ Section meeting that took place in the city of Bath on 13th July 1942.
“Too many People think of volunteer service as
cheap labour. Real voluntary service is nothing of kind. It is the gift of
one’s skill, one’s time, and one’s energy, given by an understanding human
being for a special reason”
Lady Reading, It's the Job that Counts I,1953
Five/six years ago I wrote and submitted my dissertation for
my Msc Econ in Archive Administration. The focus was the value of volunteers in
county and community archives in North West England and how archives could or
couldn’t conform to Government policy. This was at a time when the MLA had just
become defunct and ideas like the Big Society (remember that?) were floating
around. Five/six years is a long time and many things have changed included my
move from an interest in county/community archives to specialist ones. However the
value that volunteers provide to archives hasn’t.
Here at the Royal Voluntary Service Archive & Heritage collection we have a team of volunteers who come on a regular basis and
take on roles such as: repackaging, digitisation, cataloguing, occasionally
giving talks to local groups and accessioning to name a few. Everything they do
helps to make our work a success and volunteers improve access and knowledge about
material; work which staff cannot complete is taken care of by volunteers; the preservation
needs of material are met by volunteers and the archives is promoted to other members
of the public.
Volunteers also bring specialist knowledge for example skills from
previous professions such as specific knowledge of photography or computer
skills. In our case most volunteers bring knowledge of the history of WVS/WRVS/Royal
Voluntary Service through their own experiences of services such as meals on
Wheels, Books on wheels, being District Organisers, Vice-chairmen or office
secretaries. This helps us to understand the context of the material they are
working with and allows them to learn more about their different interests in
the charity. Volunteering doesn’t just benefit the Archives it also advantageous
to the volunteers.
Back in 2011 I interviewed several volunteers about their
different roles in archives this included people who were retired, unemployed,
seeking work experience or in the case of community archives they were
volunteers interested in telling the story of a certain group in society. While
they helped the archives volunteering also gave them something. This can be
split into two categories educational benefits and social benefits. I concluded
that in county and community archives education came second and social came
first as primarily volunteers went to the archives to socialise with other
Here at the Royal Voluntary Service Archive & Heritage Collection most
of our volunteers are retired and occasionally we have student and graduate
volunteers however it seems there is more of a balance between education
(Knowledge and skills) and the social aspect. In just over five years I have
seen volunteers learn new skills such as cataloguing, blog writing and handling
or other preservation skills. Many of our volunteers who meet on the same day
have also formed friendships and meet outside the Archive. We have also
celebrated their achievements and time with service awards.
So remember volunteering is a two way thing volunteers give
archives their valuable time, knowledge and skills, in return volunteers can
make new friends and learn new skills. Also archives will always need
volunteers without them we would not have been so successful in many projects.
After the excitement and perhaps in some cases disappointment of the results of the Wimbledon finals over the weekend I thought you would be interested in reading about WVS/WRVS’s involvement with Wimbledon. A past blog three years ago talked about volunteers running the information desks during the competition in July. This service was in return for the use of the courts for a tournament run in September originally organised by the WVS Club.
On 4th June 1947 the Queen Mother opened the WVS Club at 41 Cadogan Square London/. The club was open to members and ex-members who could apply to join for an annual subscription of £2 2s 2d with a £3 3s 0d entrance fee. It was to be a central meeting place for all members and organised the WVS Tennis Tournament from September 1948 till it closed in 1955.
First held in 1948 the Tennis Tournament was held in September at Wimbledon on the first day WVS supported an American Tournament and on the second day members were invited to play in a ladies doubles competition. In November the following report was printed in the WVS Bulletin:
Although the WVS closed the Tennis continued into the 1980s and possibly 1990s though the last mention in the Archives is the WRVS Association Newsletter No.18 May 1983.
It’s been a while since we updated the online catalogue but never fear the archive team have been working hard to tackle the backlog and bring you more interesting and exciting records.
Cataloguing is one of my favourite activities as the Deputy Archivist I have been able to work on a few different projects over the past twelve months. The first was cataloguing the Central Registry files relating to the Good Neighbours scheme. The files contain information about how the scheme was set up in each region of WRVS in the 1970s and policy for the service. You can find them be searching Good Companions in the Keyword field (the schemes original name) and Central Registry in the category field of the advanced search.
Another series which I catalogued in six weeks (one day per week) and thanks to funding from Leeds Beckett University was the Circular Notices. This is a series of letters/memorandum circulated to regional administrators, county and county borough offices and all members from 1938-1974. They cover a wide range of topics from the ARP Animals Committee, Assistance for evacuees & Homeless Persons, WRVS Information Desks-Wimbledon and the Books On Wheels Film. In fact most of the services you associate with WVS/WRVS plus a few more can be found in these files. Search Circular Notice in the category field of the advanced search.
Our Archivist spends most of his time working hard to promote and develop the archive however during those rare quite periods he does get the opportunity to catalogue. This time he has chosen the ominous Miscellaneous Memoranda collection (yes I know a naughty word in archives). This series is made up of documents detailing wartime and post war work of WVS including the Personal Parcels Scheme, The Volunteer Car Pool and Rationing - Notes Compiled for Mrs Roosevelt. Search Miscellaneous Memoranda in the category field of the advanced search.
I can’t believe it’s been over 3 years since I was working on the project to catalogue all the reports written between 1938 and 1965. Now because of the wonderful support of 705 Kickstarter backers the reports written between 1938 and 1942 our Archives Assistant has now digitised and published the reports with their catalogue records. They can be downloaded by clicking on the red PDF icon where available. More Narrative Reports will be added to the catalogue by April 2018. You can access digital copies of the narrative Reports through our online catalogue searching your local area or county.
In March we brought you the blog What the does the Deputy Archivist get up to on Wednesdays? This discussed the work that went into cataloguing our large and varied collection of publications. Over the course of nearly 80 years Royal Voluntary Service has been producing publications to advertise their services and appeal for volunteers. The catalogue records for over 1000 leaflets, booklets, posters, cards, bookmarks and certificates are now available to search online. Using the advanced search look for services in the keywords field or the different types of publication in the category field.
The Archive team including our dedicated volunteers will continue to catalogue more material including photographs and local office material, so watch this space. If you have any quires about material in the collection please contact our enquiry service.
WRVS had a number of headquarters over the years including
Park lane, Brixton, Milton Hill, Cardiff and not forgetting Scottish HQ in
Edinburgh. However WVS’s (1938-1966) Headquarters was 41 Tothill Street now the
Conrad London St James. This was the office where the hard work really began when
Lady Reading sat down in a tiny office in Tothill Street in Whitehall, London;
crammed in with four other handpicked women she laid the foundations of what
would quickly become the largest volunteering organisation in British history.
I wonder if they ever thought this organisation would still be around today.
The Women’s Voluntary Services for Air Raid Precautions was founded and took up residence at 41 Tothill Street on 16th May 1938. Originally this was a single room secured by
Lady Reading’s Secretary and former Civil Servant in the Ministry of Labour
Mary Smieton. The WVS Offices expanded quickly to occupy the whole 4th Floor. A
reception was established on the ground floor and not long after a shop for the
purchase of WVS uniform. Over the years the shop window was used for a number
of displays including Make do and Mend in 1943 as seen in the image above.By the end of the War there were 176 members working at Headquarters.
Over the years many other WVS activities took place at
Tothill Street including:
The labelling Princess Elizabeth gift food parcels distributed
to the needy as a wedding present from the future Queen in 1948.
- Collecting gifts including a Sheffield Plate Soup Tureen for
Canadian Flood Relief in 1950
- One in Five introductory talks in November 1958, the
department was established by Lady Lucas Tooth at Headquarters in 1955.
- The sorting of magazines for Services Welfare, as part of
the books and magazines adoption scheme in 1962.
WVS Headquarters moved from Tothill Street to Park Lane in
May 1966 the year they were renamed Women’s Royal Voluntary Service (WRVS). At the time there were 361 members of staff working at Headquarters more than double the numbers in 1945.
Today we are delighted to honour
our founder, Lady Reading, with an English Heritage blue plaque in London at
The Conrad London St James (formally the WVS Headquarters 41 Tothill Street). Today is
also the digital launch of all those fascinating hidden histories of one million wartime women which we have been digitising since September. Follow us
on Twitter to find out whats happening at todays launch event.