Give and take

On Twitter the other day I noticed a tweet from the Royal British Legion saying that Remembrance Day was not just for the fallen but for those who have lived through conflict as well. While Royal Voluntary Service’s blog on 10th November focused on remembering the 245 WVS women who died during the Second World War, this week I thought we’d look at how the WVS fought on the home front to keep everyone safe from harm.

When we think of evacuation we often think of the process from escorting evacuees to the country side to billeting them in the reception areas; we don’t think always think about the effects on the householders and the relationship they had with evacuees. There are always two conflicting view points on how evacuees where received by people in the country side.

Evacuation broke down class barriers and evacuees were received with love affection and treated as one of the family.  

Or

Ideas of class continued and evacuees were seen as dirty or verminous and were mistreated by their hosts and hostesses.

There is truth in both opinions and as our Archives show WVS were ready to smooth out any problems which arose even from arrival they took care of evacuees cleaning them up and providing clothing when needed. They also produced a number of publications which didn’t take sides but advised everyone in the art of diplomacy or allowing for as one leaflet was titled give and take. This was a leaflet designed to inform housewives and visiting mothers on how to behave while relatives are visiting evacuated children. It was a way of advising both parties without taking sides and helping to easy worries and tensions; breaking down class barriers and dispelling myths.

Another example comes from a circular on advising householders on bed wetting stating ‘do not punish the child or do anything to humiliate him and do not let him think he is a "problem" child and of special interest’. Again WVS were trying to change public attitudes before bedwetting was viewed as a dirty habit and the organisation worked towards changing this view wanting people to see it as an effect of being removed from one’s home, a result of a traumatic experience.

All the WVS’s hard work to bring communities together and change opinions of town and country must have had an effect. By the end of the war when it introduced its furniture scheme those areas which had been less affected by the bombing were ready and willing to send tons and tons of household items to blitzed areas. Also WVS was able to pioneer its Children’s Holiday Scheme in Post-war Britain where children who would not have otherwise had a holiday spent a week with a hostess family either by the sea or in the country side.

So do remember while the men were away fighting to stop our society changing for the worse over a million women on the Home Front were working to transform it for the better.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 14 November 2016.

Labels: WVS, Evacuation, Evacuee, Reception, Billet, Second World war

Back to list