The Heritage Bulletin Blog ran from July 2012 to January 2020, covering a huge range of subjects, from a day in the archives, to extracts from the WVS bulletins, and histories of various WVS/WRVS services.
It’s 219 articles have become a valuable resource in themselves, why not search them or just browse to discover something new.
A new arrival at the archive yesterday has prompted this little look at British Welcome Clubs. The arrival was a very nice minute book, which a member of the public found in a junk shop, bought and donated to us via Warwickshire County Record Office. It is for the Leamington Spa British Welcome Club and dates from July 1944 until April 1946 when the club closed. ‘What is a welcome club!’ I heart you cry [not all at once please!].
The first British Welcome Club was set up by the WVS in Sunbury on Thames in 1942 as an experiment after the first American troops began to arrive on these shores. The idea was that it was a way of helping to smooth relations between local residents and the new arrivals, and give a ‘safe’ environment for local girls to meet GI’s, with ample supervision! The line ‘oversexed and over here’ was not unfounded!
WVS ended up running over 200 of these clubs, the Ministry of Information giving a grant of £30 to each one opened. Some would be opened for a short period as troops arrived and then moved on from areas, others stayed open for the remainder of the war, with most closed by 1946 as the troops returned home and the need for the clubs evaporated.
They had been trying unsuccessfully to start a Welcome Club in Leamington since February 1944, but they could not find suitable premises. It was not until 8th July 1944 that they succeeded, but their efforts were somewhat hampered by a huge influx of evacuees to the town that month which took up all their efforts. That coupled with what is described as an ‘un co-operative town committee’ and the resignation almost immediately of the Honorary Secretary of the club due to the administration load, meant an inauspicious start.
The opening night, programme started at 7:30pm, with dancing to a band from Stoneleigh from 7:30-8:45pm, followed by speeches, refreshments (which included home baked cakes ) from 9:00-9:30pm and then more dancing ‘till 10:30pm.
All though was not a total success, with the Master of Ceremonies not turning up due to his family being bombed out, the band had to leave early and the Mayor did not turn up! But all in all it had been ‘an encouraging start’.
This is just the start of the story, and hopefully we can return to Leamington in a few weeks time …