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“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.
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.
Volunteers' Week takes place on 1st to 7th June and is dedicated to celebrating the fantastic contribution made by millions of volunteers across the country. In this week’s blog I thought we would celebrate the contribution made by millions of volunteers for nearly 80 years through WVS/WRVS/Royal Voluntary Service. Over the years these volunteers haven’t just made a contribution to the UK but have inspired volunteering across the globe; one example is the Home Help Service.
In 1944 the WVS Centre Organiser for the City of Oxford, Theresa MacDonald, asked the Local Authorities permission to pioneer a new scheme, Home Helps. Its purpose was to work alongside and form an attachment with the Local Health Services. At first it dealt with maternity as its top priority and then concerned itself with old people as well as chronic cases. Eventually the Helps took on any cases which were a health emergency.
As a public health service, Home Helps took on jobs such as washing, cooking and child care. They were employed by the Local Authority but administration was in the hands of a voluntary organiser. The WVS trained the Helps and promoted the scheme, at first very little formal training was given but later Helps could work towards the National Institute of Houseworkers’ Diploma.
In 1946 WVS opened a Home Helps Department at headquarters in London and used its network to publicise the scheme. The department also ran residential training for Home Help Organisers. Different local schemes added their own flare to training meetings including celebrations such as Christmas, birthday and anniversary parties. Buckinghamshire went further and held a county rally for its Home Helps. When the National Health Service Act (1948) came into force the Ministry of Health stated that Home Helps was vital to the new service. Many Health Services however wanted to take full control of the scheme. In some areas the WVS remained very involved with Home Helps, though over the years many handed over to Local Authorities and paid organisers.
It’s interesting what can motivate you to do research, recently I was reading a novel set in in Italy in 1945 so I wondered what connections WVS had with the country. Sure enough we had a file titled Italy in the Central Registry Series. In this file I came across a report titled Milan Italy which discusses the Associazione Amici Buona Causa, the literal translation Friends of a Good Cause, the Italian version of Home Helps.
Originally this service focused on urgent or needful cases such as maternity and sudden illness but had not really focused on older people who might need regular visits. It’s development pretty much mirrored the WVS Home Helps. In 1956 Donna Ina Gallaritti Scotti who worked with the Associazione Amici Buona Causa travelled to England to research how Home Helps assisted older people in their own homes and talk with WVS about their work. Her main objective was to attend the Home Helps Conference which was attended by WVS members representing their local authorities. It was also attended by the Public Assistance Minister from Rome which, she felt, would aid her cause back in Milan. During her visit to Britain she spoke with the Older People’s Welfare Department at Headquarters who provided information about the costs of their various services. She was very impressed and felt able to carry out this work when she returned to Italy.
WVS continued to run this service but by 1964 only a few WVS run schemes remained in counties such as Cornwall, Worcestershire and East and West Sussex. Home Helps was finally wrapped up in 1974 with the closure of the final scheme in East Sussex. However it inspired many other services which still continue such as Good Neighbours and befriending.
Thank you to all our past and present volunteers for being so inspiring not just on volunteers' week but in the past, present and future.
The 1950s was the decade which saw Britain start to really recover
from World War II and entre the Cold War with involvement in the Korean War 1950-1953
and Suez Crisis in 1956. For the WVS there was the 1953 East Coat Floods, The Lewisham Train Crash in 1957 and a 21st
Anniversary in 1959 to keep volunteers busy. In the Archive we have a
collection of over 1,400 photographs from the 1950s; you can see their full descriptions on
our online catalogue. For this week’s
blog I have chosen five which I think represent the work of WVS in this decade.
Judging a garden
provided by Garden Gift Scheme, London 1951
The Garden Gift Scheme was started in 1945 to collect plants
and shrubs to replenish gardens destroyed by the bombing. In 1947 Queen Mary
presented a Challenge Cup in a competition to find the best pre-fab garden
created from donated plants. These competitions continued into the early 1950s
with WVS Judging gardens like the one in this image. Here you can see four WVS
members with the man who planted the garden looking at the flowerbed and lawn
in an unknown location in London.
Food Flying Squad, Lancashire
Although in January/February 1953 the WVS volunteers
involved in Emergency Feeding, Food Flying Squads and Civil Defence had been
called out to help the thousands of victims they still had much to do during
the rest of the year. This including training with the Food Flying Squads a service
which was established by the Ministry of Health to provide
food during large scale emergencies such as flood or fire. There were 20 convoys
in Britain, including two in Scotland working with the Scottish Department of Health.
Volunteers, like the ones in this picture from Lancashire, would train with
groups such as the Army in preparation for an emergency.
WVS Van Distributes
Welfare Foods, Scarborough 1955
At the request of the Medical Offices of Health WVS was responsible for
the distribution of welfare foods including codliver oil, orange juice and
dried milk. Before the end of rationing in 1954 this service was very important
for providing mothers, babies and children with adequate nutrition. This service
continued into the 1960s; as you can see from this image WVS members were very
proactive in their campaign to provide the nations children with the vitamins
and health foods they needed. In this image two children have just received welfare
foods from WVS on Eastfield Estate, Scarborough, North Yorkshire.
Emergency Feeding at Lewisham
Train Crash 1957
The Lewisham rail crash
occurred on the Lewisham by-pass line in London at about 6:20 pm on 4
December 1957. In dense fog, an electric train to Hayes stopped at a signal
under a bridge and the following steam train to Ramsgate crashed into it, the
collision causing the bridge to collapse onto the steam train. Of Course WVS
were on the scene to feed rescue workers, in one week they cooked 4,000 meals
and provided countless cups of tea. Here four WVS Civil Defence members carry a
tea urn and polystyrene cups on the tracks near St. John's Station, Lewisham,
London after the train crash. The damaged bridge, wreckage and workers can be
seen in the background.
WVS services welfare barbecue,
RAF Sylt 1959
In the 1950s
the WVS Services Welfare Department worked with NAAFI to organise leisure activities
for men based overseas in the Armed forces. In 1959 WVS celebrated its 21st
Anniversary in many of the traditional ways with a service at Westminster Abbey
and an Exhibition. However by 1959 WVS didn’t just have members in Britain but
all across the world. WVS Services Welfare Members based at RAF Sylt North
Frisian Islands, West Germany organised a barbeque to celebrate with the
soldiers in their care.
Of course WVS provided many other services in this decade including Hospital canteens/shops and trolleys, Older People's Welfare such as Darby and Joan and Lunch Clubs and of course preparing people for nuclear attack through the One-in-Five department established in 1955. Today Royal Voluntary Service are still providing practical and emotional help where and when it’s needed.