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the start of a New Year and perhaps for some the start of some New Year’s
resolutions. If one of those is researching a new project or discovering
something new we can help. In this week’s blog we provide a guide to using our
online resources to research the history of Royal Voluntary Service.
From an in-depth
analysis to a short overview of the history and origins of some of the charities most enquired about services.
fact sheets can be found on the Royal Voluntary Service website and include
- Hidden Histories of a Million Wartime Women - kickstarter updates
- Welfare work in
hospitals 1938 - 2013
- Origins of WVS
- WVS Housewives'
- One in Five
school resources pages Voices of Volunteering you’ll also find brief overviews
of many services including among others:
- Books on Wheels
- Clothing Depots
- Good Neighbours
- Lunch Clubs
- Services Welfare
mentioned above we have the Voices of Volunteering resources; these resources
are for teachers to use with students age 14+ studying Citizenship, PHSE,
English language and History or who are involved in extracurricular activities
such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award. Titled Citizenship
and Service, the activities and oral histories illustrate to
students the significance of volunteering through the volunteers’ own eyes and
how volunteering has adapted to the changing needs in society. The resources
are available free for all. Visit Voices of Volunteering: 75 Years of Citizenship and Service.
There is a
very handy list of some of the collections held in our Archives which you can
find on the Archive & Heritage Collections page.
As you are
already doing you can keep up to date with the Archive and find out about the
history of the Charity in this blog. An archive of these blogs is also available
on the right of the page. There is also access to the six volumes of the Heritage Bulletin printed between 2010 and 2012 which provide a variety of stories about
WVS and WRVS.
or not Social Media can be a fantastic resource for research and finding out
about what we hold in the collection that may not be found on the main website
pages. As well as a number of Facebook and Twitter posts we have also created a
small number of vlogs and videos on YouTube and podcasts and oral history clips
- The Hidden History of a Million Wartime Women
- A history of Uniform
- Three Heritage Bulletin Blogs
- Two 80th Anniversary Films
- Coloured Thread
- Archives and Motives
- Women in Green on the Silver Screen
- Clothing Store (Oral History)
- The Gift of Time
- Bromham Hospital Fire (Oral History)
been through our extensive collection of secondry sources and finding aids you
may want to look at some primary material. ArchiveOnline is a fully searchable catalogue
contains listings, many with preview images of a selection
of historical material housed in our Archive & Heritage
Collection. It is also the gateway to our digital, downloadable version of all
419 issues of the WVS/WRVS Bulletin from 1939-1974, over 60 Oral Histories and the 84,000 pages of the
WVS Narrative Reports 1938-1945.
also a guide available to help you use our extensive catalogue; Guide to searching the Archive Online.
Why not have
a go at running a search and see what you can find! We searched for New Year
there were 497 results including this 1963 New Year message from Lady Reading.
Enquiry Service and visiting
Of course if you are in need of help or can’t find what you are
looking for you can contact us through our enquiry service. Also if you are a
researcher and are interested in visiting the Archive & Heritage Collection
the collection is open by appointment only the first Tuesday and Wednesday of each month, 10:00-16:00 (closed for
lunch between 13:00-14:00). To ensure we can provide a high standard of
service, access is by appointment only and we ask that these are made at least
a month in advance. You can find more information here about this service.
We hope this brief
outline of what we can offer has given you food for thought and some New Year’s
Year from all of us at the Royal Voluntary Service Archive & Heritage
The Second World War started (in Europe) on 1st September 1939 nearly 80 years ago. WVS had been established just over a year; not long after the start of the war it was Christmas. As I was thinking about writing this blog to go out the week before Christmas Eve I wondered what the WVS were up to at this time of year. I could have chosen anywhere but one of the first documents to jump out at me was a programme of Christmas activities from Rickmansworth WVS 1939. Looking at the Narrative Reports from the area for December 1939 to 1944 you can clearly see that just because it was Christmas WVS work didn’t stop. These are just a few examples of activities in Rickmansworth, taken from the Narrative Reports.
WVS Rickmansworth, like all other WVS centres in Evacuation zones, during the war organised various entertainments for children and adults who were a long way from home just after being evacuated in September 1939. Activities included film showings, dancing, gymnastics, games, singing and parties. Over the years activities changed, in 1941 the Evacuee Club held an exhibition of needlework including clothing such as frocks, dressing gown and children’s clothes. In 1942 the WVS held two parties for under-fives which was considered a great success as you can see in the extract below from December that Year.
Of course the WVS didn’t just spend December running children’s parties they also had other duties to perform. Activities included salvage in 1941 they campaigned to collect paper from houses driving around using the loudspeaker on the WVS Van. Knitting also continued during the season of good will in 1941 47 pull overs were knitted for the Merchant Navy and members began knitting gum boot stockings for Russia. In 1942 they received an urgent request for sweaters and socks for Malta; 114lb was distributed to knitters for the job. Work with the Red Cross also continued in 1941 they had the Russian Red Cross sale for Mrs Churchill’s Fund and the WVS were able to raise £210 (c£8262.74 in today’s money). In 1942 a WVS party made soft toys and raised £59.16.8d (c£2,354.23 in today’s money) for the local Red Cross group. As you can see many activities were business as usual for WVS of Rickmansworth.
Supporting the Armed Services based in Hertfordshire was a large part of WVS Rickmansworth’s work in 1941 and 1942 with a variety of activities in December of Both Years. In December 1941 The Troops Hut was completed with electricity and lino installed. It also had a radio gram and ping pong table. The WVS opened the Hut on Christmas day for 200 men who spent the evening playing games. In Both years WVS held a concert for the RAF Benevolent Fund in 1942 they raised £18.10.0d (c£727.91 in today’s money) for the fund. Looking after the services didn’t just include the Army and RAF there was also the Home Guard to support. In Both years the Home Guard were on exercises and WVS served tea to them from a mobile canteen. Another Service provided by the WVS all year round was camouflage nets. WVS’s role garnishing camouflage nets began in the early years of the war but the scheme wasn’t official until June 1943. Rickmansworth WVS were already working on this before it became official and included other work for the services in this role as you can see from this Narrative Report Extract, December 1942.
This week’s blog has focused on WVS Rickmansworth’s work during the Decembers of 1939, 1941 and 1942. Unfortunately in our Headquarters collection of Narrative Reports there are not many for this area in Hertfordshire and we haven’t been able to look into the Christmases of 1943 and 1944. It is more than likely that these missing reports were written and one of the quadruplet copies arrived at Headquarters. However in 1970s Region 4 was heavily weeded as all regions had different rules for what was kept at that time we have less information about local offices in the Home Counties and East Anglia areas. Although this is the case for Rickmansworth you can see from just a few reports how much was going on during the Second World War and how much time the women of Rickmansworth were giving to help people keep up moral at this time of year.
Reading a number of articles, social media posts and calls
for papers once again archivists seem to be obsessed with the idea of identity.
The Oxford English Dictionary gives two definitions “The fact
of being who or what a person or thing is.” And “A close
similarity or affinity”; synonyms include: character, originality and
specification. Previously in this blog we have explored what archives are, what is an archivist and how that has changed in 20th century. There are
many topics which could be explored surrounding archives and identity; Archives
themselves are the keepers of identity for particular communities, groups or
organisations. In this week’s blog through the Royal Voluntary Service Archive
& Heritage collection we’ll explore how a charity’s identity can be
projected by its archive.
In Charity Archives in the 21st Century Matthew
our Archivist described Charity Archives as holding “the collective memory of
this vitally important part of our history” in reference to philanthropy and
charitable work in previous centuries when volunteering started to develop in
the form it takes today. So what do charity archives tell us about identity in
terms of the charity, the nation and in case of RVS in particular the character
Of course this isn’t the place for an in-depth discussion on
identity so these are just some examples of identity in archives; the whole blog is a refection of parts of Royal Voluntary Services identity and many more can be found in the archives and the work it does today. The
development of WVS to Royal Voluntary Service can be traced through its
documents but also the items of clothing it holds. Since the rise of the
teenager in the 1950s part of people’s identity has been their clothing, their
unique style. Looking through our extensive collection of uniform and how it
has changed over the years you can see why WVS was referred to as the ‘women in
green’. Over the years styles changed but not the colours showing how
recognisable the WVS and later WRVS wanted to make itself through a physical
identity and that it was an organisation that moved with the times. Along with
other organisations in the 1980s and 1990s it moved towards more casual wear.
In 2004 WRVS changed its brand identity completely losing the red and green and
going for orange and purple; a physical representation of the twelve year
transition from crown service to charity. However during 75th
anniversary celebrations WRVS became Royal Voluntary Service and went back to
red and green identifying with its roots and heritage. While the archive
represents the identity of the charity it also epitomizes the identity of a
Our archives do not just signify the identity of the charity;
it represents the story of welfare for a nation. WVS was founded at a time when
the nation was preparing for war but also at a time when ideas about how to
care for society’s most vulnerable were changing. The poor houses and work
houses were disappearing but there wasn’t yet the provision of the welfare
state and the NHS but they were on their way. The Records of the Royal
Voluntary Service’s Archives show how WVS bridged the gap through 1939-1945
with clubs, feeding, clothing exchanges, welfare foods and many others.
Posters, Photographs, Narrative Reports and documents on policy all demonstrate
the identity of Great Britain as a philanthropic nation with many people
wanting to give their time to help those in need. Today Royal Voluntary Service still enables
people across Great Britain to give their time to help others.
A prime example is work in hospitals particularly Trolley Shops,
this year some hospitals are celebrating 70 years of having a trolley run by
our volunteers. WVS covered a whole range of hospital services during the
Second World War including supply depots, food, fundraising and domestic work.
When staff started to return at the end of the war WVS were asked not to
overlap but to still support hospital services. WVS developed a
range of services for the benefit of patients’ physical and mental wellbeing as
well as supporting the hospitals’ needs. While developing the NHS, the Ministry
of Health asked Lady Reading for support where hospitals would not meet
patients’ needs. Lady Reading of course agreed; while personal shopping
services had existed since 1946 Trolley Shops were one of the first WVS
services to appear within the NHS in 1948 by 1949 there were 183 trolley shops
across the country. For members then and volunteers today trolley shops
were/are all about providing a service to make patients feel special, to give
them independence and connections with the world outside and supporting the
NHS. A pivotal part of our national identity and in the archives this identity
can be found in photographs, publications and central registry files which help
us give local services a clear identity and heritage. The Archive
represents many identities and another of these is the character of the
The Character of the
Founder Chairman Lady
Reading was one of the first women to sit in the House of Lords, in 1958 she
had a coat of arms designed for her title Baroness Swanbrough. She wanted it to
epitomise WVS and the motto was “Not why we can’t but how we can”. Lady Reading had many strong views on the
subject of volunteering which have informed people’s own beliefs today about
giving their time for RVS services, in an interview in 1960 she said:
“Voluntary service, to my mind, is
the proud expression of responsibility undertaken by an individual as an
The shelves of our archives are full of examples of that
proud expression, many selfless acts of volunteering and what it means to be a
volunteer. Oral histories and reports written by centre organisers on a monthly
basis provide us with first-hand accounts and memories of service beyond self
over 80 years of history. I know of many examples which would show you the
character of volunteering but I have chosen the following:
Narrative Report, members of Sheffield WVS after an air raid
12th-15th December 1940
Oral History Barbara Statham, rebuilding the Hospital Canteen
at Bromham, Bedfordshire (1990s)
To me these examples show how volunteers will try and help
where ever they can and shows how we can use archives to find the identity of
the concept of volunteering and use it influence us today.
Having a strong identity helps us to make decisions and being able to identify it from their archives can allow charities to learn about their past and look in to their future. The Royal Voluntary Service represents three identities that of the charity itself, the nation and the character of volunteering. All of these identities of course represent a charity which has been part of the fabric of the nation for 80 years. This blog has given just a few examples of the records and objects which can represent these identities; there are many more to be discovered on the Archive Online
and Our History
pages of the website.