There was great excitement in the RVS Archives last week when a large bubble wrap envelope arrived, along with a small card reading, “Do please use anything you deem suitable and dispose of the rest”. It was my second week volunteering at the archive and a perfect opportunity to learn about ‘accessioning’, in other words, processing new items as they arrive, recording the content and the circumstances, making decisions about what to preserve, packaging it, and putting it safely into storage.
In this instance, it was very clear that our anonymous donor wished to make an outright gift to the archive. Frustratingly, though, there was nobody to whom we could reply to thank them for their kindness. The only clue we had was the postmark, which indicated that the donor came from the Greenwich area.
We carefully leafed through the package, appraising and itemizing its contents. It contained the history of a WVS member, Miss Emma Yellowley, who served with WVS Welfare Services from 1945 to 1952. In addition, the package contained previously unseen reports of the WVS Welfare Services in South East Asia. What a treat for the archivists! Many of the new items processed by the team at the archives are formal documents produced by the WVS offices, so it was a real privilege for me to share their genuine enthusiasm for this significant personal collection.
Emma Yellowley was born in Chester le Street in 1903. By 1945 she was 42, unmarried, and living in Chipstead, Surrey. Perhaps she was attracted to the RVS by an advertisement offering the opportunity for travel and adventure? She applied to join the WVS Welfare Services Overseas and in October 1945 she set off from Euston Station to start her new life. She wrote in her diary, “All the girls and myself were thrilled to bits and very excited.” Emma was one of 60 girls alongside the 6000 troops who set sail for Rangoon (now Yangon), in Burma, on board the Mauretania.
Between 1945 and 1948 she worked in Rangoon, at the Sappers Club in Singapore, and in Hong Kong. They say life begins at 40, and Emma seemed determined to prove the rule. She had a marvelous time, her stay liberally peppered with parties, picnics, swimming, amateur dramatics and outings. She also enjoyed five weeks’ holiday in India. As she left Hong Kong she remarked “It’s very sad leaving all the nice friends we have made.”
She was eager to return to the Far East, and after four months in England, she was given a second two year contract. She was posted to Kuala Lumpur, Malaya, where she helped at the Galloway Club, at the Reception Camp Canteen. Emma’s third and final contract was with the Middle East Land Forces in Cyprus, from 1950 to 1952. Here she was posted to Pine Tree Camp, a holiday camp in Troodos, a mountainous retreat near the centre of the island.
We would like to pass on our sincere thanks to the unnamed donor who gave us the opportunity to redscover and share Emma’s story. It would be wonderful to find out who this generous person was. Can you help?
Posted by Sheridan Parsons at 00:00
Tuesday, 27 January 2015.
Heritage Bulletin Blog,