Easing the plight of refugees

Listening to the news reports on the refugee crisis this morning, we thought we would share with you some of the ways in which WVS volunteers have helped refugees, both in this country and abroad, over the years.

The Refugee Department of the WVS was opened in May 1940 to meet the needs of War Refugees on the invasion of Holland and Belgium and later on the collapse of France, and the invasion of the Channel Islands. WVS helped with the meeting and transport of refugees and their care at reception centres in the London area. After billeting, support continued at local WVS Centres, providing temporary homes, clothing, activities, and employment. For example in 1940 a refugee from Guernsey, who was a dressmaker, was provided with a sewing machine so that she could earn a living in Britain. The WVS continues to help thousands of refugees from Poland, and in 1956 some 12,000 Hungarians.

In 1959, World Refugee Year, the WVS set up an adoption scheme, through which individuals and WVS Centres could support refugee families, particularly in Germany, Africa and the Middle East. They provided gifts of money, food, fuel, and clothing, but as relationships formed they were able to send more personal gifts such as paints for artists, wool and knitting needles, soap, razor blades, and handkerchiefs.

In 1961 many refugees from Tristan da Cunha were housed in an ex-army camp in Caterham. Caterham and Godstone WVS, with the help of Oxted, Sevenoaks Rural, and Reigate, cleaned, furnished and equipped the camp, and undertook all the cooking for the first ten days. They were responsible for welfare, daily social activities, and games for the children, and they ran a shop in the old NAAFI.

The WRVS Settlement Section were on hand to support the arrival of some 2,500 Czechs in 1968, and some 2,000 Ugandan Asians in 1973. Many arrived almost destitute, knowing little or no English, and friendless. The WRVS provided free English lessons, venues to meet fellow exiles, help with Social Security, furniture, jobs, and education.

In many case members set up lasting friendships with the individuals and families. Here at the archive we store several items of memorabilia and gifts connected with these relationships including the beautiful model boat from Tristan de Cunha pictured here.

Posted by Sheridan Parsons, Archive volunteer at 00:00 Thursday, 03 September 2015.

Labels: refugees, Baroness Warsi, Today programme, Radio 4, Hungarain, Trisan da Cunha, Poland, Holland , Belgium , Ugandan Asians, Czech, Caterham, Godstone, Oxted, Sevenoaks, Reigate

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