Heritage Bulletin blog
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As the Deputy Archivist I am constantly looking at ways to make our collections more accessible. At Royal Voluntary Service we have run a small number of digitisation projects and opened an enquiry Service (running since 2013) but there are large parts of our collection which remain uncatalogued and only accessible to the Archives team. One way of tackling this is to create finding aids; they are defined as a document containing detailed information about a specific collection of papers or records within an archive. Finding aids are used by researchers to determine whether information within a collection is relevant to their research. Thus over the years we have used collections to create a number of fact sheets to help researchers gain an understanding of different services we have provided since 1938.
The fact sheets on our main site cover a number of topics including:
Health and Hospital Work 1938-2013 – this is a comprehensive look at the work of WVS and WRVS in hospitals since it was founded. Research to compile this document included Central Registry files, publications local office collection accessions and Narrative Reports.
Roll of Honour and History of the Roll of Honour – the former document is a colour copy of the beautifully illustrated book which contains the names of 245 WVS members who were killed during the Second World War. The latter explains its history and compilation, providing you with access to the history of this very important Roll of Honour.
WVS Uniform – on our website you can choose two ways to learn about the history of our uniform and how Royal Voluntary Service has chosen to represent itself. There is the more traditional factsheet containing a number of pictures of wartime uniform with descriptions and it uses publications to provide details on the costs. There is also a video which explores all uniforms from WVS for ARP to Royal Voluntary Service a quick guide with images, publications and uniforms all with video commentary to help you move from Green and red to orange and purple and then back to green and red.
There are also fact sheets on:
• The origins of Meals on Wheels
• Darby and Joan Clubs
• One in Five
• Salvage on the Home Front
• Story of WVS Bristol
• Origins of WVS
• Narrative Reports
• Books on WVS and WRVS
And copies of documents
• Ten Years Work (1938-48)
• WVS Housewives Service
There are also some shorter one page factsheets on our Voices of Volunteering schools resources pages which can help researchers to understand a topic before going to look at the online catalogue for more information about their chosen subject. These factsheets include:
• Books on Wheels
• Clothing Depots
• Darby & Joan Clubs
• Good neighbours
• Hospital canteens
• Lunch Clubs
• Meals on Wheels
• Psychiatric Hospitals
• Services Welfare
All our factsheets aim to provide you with source material which isn’t available or easily accessible in other forms. We hope you will take a look, absorb the information and perhaps start some research of your own into our history. If you have any specific questions get in touch with our remote enquiry service.
WVS Bulletin December 1956
This week is Refugee Week, it takes place every year around
the globe to celebrate World Refugee Day on 20th June. In the past we have shared many stories with
you about WVS and WRVS’s involvement in refugee crisis across the world from
Belgian and French refugees during World War II to Ugandan Asians and
Vietnamese in the 1970s. This week we thought we’d bring you a different story
that of Hungarian Refugees who came to the UK in 1956.
On 23rd October 1956 the Hungarian people rose up
against the government of the Hungarian People’s Republic. It spread quickly
across the country but was eventually crushed on 10th November.
Thousands of those who revolted fled the country as refugees 21,500 came to the
UK although 5,500 later re-emigrated. Ready to assist the refugees was WVS who
took full responsibility for clothing, arranged hospitality in people’s homes
and worked in reception centres and hostels.
There are many records on the efforts of WVS in 1956 and
1957 to help the refugees on a national level. However there are also local
reports two which come from cities still known for their work to help refugees,
Sheffield and Leeds.
Leeds was involved in various different aspects of relief
for refugees including sorting 400 blankets, housing students at the university,
assisting refugees with employment and clothing. One story particularly stands
out as a huge act of kindness.
Sheffield was also very busy working with Hungarians arriving
in the city they were initially involved in clothing even before Hungarians
arrived. Sheffield United Tours took clothing from the WVS to Austria along
with one ton of sugar given to Sheffield WVS by Bassetts Ltd. Some refugees
were brought back on returning coaches and clothing still remained and issue.
In 1957 WVS Sheffield was mostly concerned with billeting
taking on a role which they had been responsible for during the War. This included
private billets as well as hostels for 64 Hungarians, by June 1957 29 had left Sheffield. One boy had returned to Hungary and three people had left for Canada.
Aid continued for many years in Report on 25 years work 1938 -1963 the following was written:
“Most Hungarians have now become fully integrated into the life of the country, but a few still live in these communal billets, while many others continue to depend on WVS for advice in connection with their families and homes.”
Nettles and broken gramophone records, just a couple of the things we don’t search for very often in the collection however this month both cropped up in our Twitter and Facebook accounts. Both were collected by WVS during the war, nettles for medicinal purposes as much needed herbs and gramophone records for recycling; at the time they would have called this salvage. Inspired by our social media posts and some comments from our followers I decided to embark on some research in the collection. I wanted to find out about Royal Voluntary Service’s relationship with nettles and gramophone records. This is what I found
If you type in the word nettle or nettles into the catalogue you will find 3 mentions in the Bulletin between 1943 and 1969.
In 1942 WVS started to collect much needed herbs for medicinal purposes to assist with the war effort. In that year, nationally, they collected 60 tons of the herbaceous perennial flowering plant. Along with dandelion leaves, burdock leaves/roots and elder flowers to name a few it was considered to be of secondary purpose but I’m sure they were collected with just as much enthusiasm as rose hips or valerian root. Nettles along with some other herbs don’t really get a mention after the war however they are referred to in the Bulletin in August 1960.
The article A London Herb Garden written by a Bon Viveur describes in detail the plans for a garden at a decrepit Georgian house in Blackheath. Part of the article discusses what the herbs they grow will be used for. This includes Cumberland and Westmoreland herb puddings a recipe which includes bistort and “nettles of course!” Today, I don’t think we always associate nettles as being useful or something we would consume and of course they can always feature in a well told story like MUM’S STAND-IN from March 1969.
[I] hoped that the recipients would tolerate my inexperience and help me out, which of course they did and if they felt any surprise that their regular helper wasn't there they never expressed it and perhaps enjoyed initiating a young stranger in the rituals of delivering Meals on Wheels. First problem-to find the right door-at No. 5 . . . Place. The slippery brick path lies between nettles on one side and rows of dustbins on the other side and the latch of the gate round the bend to the left is held by string, but the peeling kitchen door is ajar and the matches actually are behind the Ajax, and Mrs. D. seems really pleased to see the steaming steak and kidney pie going into the oven and the fruit and custard on a plate on the table. … But it is very hard to get away quickly from the flats for Mrs. F. is giving the baker's roundsman a cup of tea and she hurries to find another cup for me, but eventually reconciles herself merely to pressing two peppermints into my hand to help me on the way. Bang goes my diet!
This segment from an Oxford Narrative Report mentions broken gramophone records being collected for salvage. According to other sources this was for recycling into new records. However a quick search for gramophone records in the collection shows the WVS didn’t just collect broken ones for salvage. Those in Good condition were obtained for troop canteens, book depots and a Gramophone lending library at Scottish Headquarters.
You can read the rest of the Article from the Bulletin September 1944 online.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this odd assortment of stories about two completely unrelated topics and perhaps you’ll be inspired to conduct your own search of the online catalogue. Happy hunting!
Recently I have been cataloguing the Circular Notices which were produced by WVS and WRVS between 1938 and 1974. It is interesting what is contained within these files and what they tell us about the inner workings of WVS and WRVS. One such notice I came across was related to the General Election in 1945. Royal Voluntary Service, even when it was a Crown Service, has never been a political organisation and in this week’s blog we will discuss that neutral status as well as the circular notice I discovered.
The origins of the WVS are slightly complicated and it is unclear whose idea it was to start an organisation to recruit and train women in ARP roles in 1938. What we do know is that it was Lady Reading founded an organisation which would continue to grow through the Second World War in number and scope. In the beginning it was suggested that work with the Home Office; it originally operated as a Crown Service with a grant of around £15,000 a year from Government. However WVS was not a political organisation and Lady Reading aimed to keep it as independent as possible from Government.
In its first seven years WVS worked under a coalition Government, the General Election which was due in 1940 was not held because of the Second World War. However in 1945 Churchill called a General Election which he and the Conservatives lost to Clement Atlee and the Labour Party. As mentioned above WVS was not a political organisation and in Circular Notice CN.A.9/45 Position of WVS members to Political Work 14.5.45 Headquarters sent out the following information to members.
The position of WVS members in regard to undertaking work for the political parties was recently considered at a conference at Headquarters at which representatives from all the regions were present. It was the opinion of the conference that members of the WVS playing any part in Party Politics and Local Government Elections must do so in a private capacity and not in uniform and this is the general ruling which has been adopted.
CN.A.9/45 Position of WVS members to Political Work 14.5.45
It is, of course, of first importance that the Non-Party character of WVS should be maintained, and the following questions and answers have been framed to give guidance on political points which may arise. Each member is asked to observe the regulations laid down, but, more than that, it will depend on the good judgement and taste, and personal integrity of every member whether Non-party character of the WVS can be preserved in the spirit as well as in the letter, when elections take place in this country.
The Questions and answers included the following:
Q.3. Can a Candidate who is elected resume her WVS work?
CN.A.9/45 Position of WVS members to Political Work 14.5.45
A. No. It is in the in the interests of the nation that she devotes herself to her Parliamentary duties.
Q.8. Can WVS members who are doing political work during an election wear their uniform or badge?
A. During an election period WVS members may wear their uniform and/or badge when they are doing their WVS work, but neither uniform nor badge must be worn while doing political work or attending meetings.
Q.2. What is the position regarding WVS offices etc., in premises belonging to political parties?
A. These offices should be vacated and others found to replace them as soon as possible.
If you would like to know which other questions were included please contact our enquiry service.
The similar information was produced in the Bulletin in October 1951 another election year.
Over the years WVS and WRVS continued to promote it's non-party status to members. In 1992 WRVS became a Charity it was no longer a Crown Service and began to find ways to fundraise for itself, it also remained politically neutral. Today Royal Voluntary Service as well as providing services for older people also works on a national level to raise awareness of the issues older people face. We do this through our media campaigns and research.