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In 1939 WVS first began to recruit volunteers to work in mobile canteens which were largely used to feed Civil Defence workers and civilians in need. WVS volunteers also gave their support within hospitals during the war, working in hospital canteens, answering telephones, doing domestic jobs and completing other duties of every kind to help assist with staff shortages. When the NHS was established in 1948 Lady Reading and the Minister for Health, Aneurin Bevan, agreed that WVS would expand into running out-patient canteens.
Towards the end of the 1960s there were three types of hospital canteens: two of these were static, the first situated within the hospital building and the second in separate buildings in the grounds. Finally, trolley services were provided which toured wards selling goods and refreshments to bedridden patients.
The canteens provided an area within hospitals that allowed patients and visitors to escape from the wards. A 1969 Health and Hospitals News Sheet stated that WRVS offered the opportunity to experience a place run by ‘“normal” people, i.e. non-professionals’. It allowed long term patients to feel independent and to have real connections with the outside world.
Over time the food served at the hospital canteens changed from simple snack foods to hot meals. In the early years the canteens’ leading provisions were sandwiches with lentil, pea or bean spread and cream cheese fillings. However, by the 1970s the food provided had changed to include meat pies and sausage rolls, available due to the introduction of hot counters and freezers.
Any profits made were gifted back to the hospital to enable them to purchase new equipment needed to help the patients. One example of this was the WRVS shop and canteen service in Bedford’s South Wing Hospital. They were able to raise £148,522 in the 12 years before it was refurbished and expanded in 1994. These profits allowed the WRVS to gift the following equipment to Bedford’s South Wing Hospital:
• Aesculap drill - £4014
• Surgical telescopes - £720
• Two heart monitors - £6000
• Many smaller items such as furniture, patient trolleys and medical utensils
Today there are approximately 900 hospitals in which the RVS provides its services ranging from shops to canteens and trolley services. The proceeds from these are still gifted back to the hospital in order to provide better care for patients as well as better standards for staff and visitors.
This week we bring you another Heritage Bulletin Vlog, the script can be seen below.
Hello and welcome back to another Heritage Bulletin Vlog we’ve been very busy over the last few months with lots of exciting projects like the launch of our Narrative reports on our online archive.
In 1950 a report called WVS Work in Hospitals, said that “the effect of a cup of tea is magical” and looking at the many objects which represent tea and its importance to the organisation is like looking down a rabbit hole, you never know what you might find. Here in front of me are just a couple of examples of the mugs and tea pots we have produced over the years.
Providing tea and food during World War II was a main feature of WVS work so I thought I’d share a tea related story with you this week called Caravan Canteen.
“A hospital train pulled into the siding. Stretcher-bearers clambered out. They set their stretchers down and the casualties came to life and converged upon us. We were surrounded. “Coffee? Tea? Soup?”
The soup came out of the tap in a reddish gush into the white mug. An aged man conspicuously labelled fractured femur sniffed at it with the sagacity of an ancient foxhound. “Tomato soup”, I improvised. “Or would you rather have tea?” fractured Femur nodded. I drew off a mugful from the other urn. It swirled into the mug with a deep and greenish look, as if from the dark backward and abysm of time.
“WVS colours, huh?” said a voice in the crowd”. But they drank up, and after the first urn was emptied the tea came out a better colour."
That’s all we have time for but you can read the full story by clicking on the link below.
WVS Bulletin March 1940 page 7
With VE Day just gone and the new ITV series Homefires, about the Women's Institute, (WI), on our Sunday night television sets, you might be forgiven for thinking that the WI was the only women’s organisation working on the Home Front in WWII.
The WVS during WWII was led by a grand coalition of over 60 women’s groups, but not including the WI (except for on matters relating to evacuation). This seems to have been caused by a clash of personalities between Lady Denman and Lady Reading, the leaders of the respective organisations. This however did not stop the WI and the WVS co-operating closely together at a local level, where central politics was of little consequence to winning a war!
As a follow on to this I thought we would look at the contribution of the WVS to the war effort in and around the Village of Bunbury in Cheshire, where Homefires was filmed.
Bunbury did not have its own WVS centre, but was part of the Nantwich Borough and Rural District. The Rural District which covered all of the villages around Nantwich and had representatives in 41 villages and hamlets. In total nearly 500 WVS members served the area, specialising in canteens for the troops (which on occasion fed over 1,500 troops in a day) first aid post and rest centres, work parties and rural transport. With 20 members touring the villages collecting for National Savings.
The WVS did, as everywhere else, just about anything; distributing ration cards, darning socks, undertaking billeting surveys, and providing food and entertainment for troops. The WVS even had a ‘herb committee’ which was tasked with collecting nettles herbs, rosehips (if which in September 1943 they collected 1 tonne) and other forage.
Transport in rural counties was also a big issue, as it is today, and over 1,500 passengers were transported by the Volunteer Car Pool (VCP) every month. This on top of knitting over 300 comforts every month for troops and 30 camouflage nets were woven (when the webbing was available!).
Jam making is never mentioned, but it may be that in this area the links between the WI and the WVS were not so strong. Whatever the case, women made an amazing and often unsung contribution to the war effort, and without their sacrifice things may have ended very differently.
Posted by Matthew McMurray at 00:00
Monday, 04 May 2015.
Heritage Bulletin Blog,
The news for the past few weeks has been mostly dominated by horrendous events happening all over the world. While today the Royal Voluntary Service’s purpose is to help older people, in Great Britain (as anyone who has been reading this blog will realise) this wasn’t always the case.
WVS had a presence or connections, especially during and after the second world war in both the Middle East and West Africa, doing all manner of works as these extracts from the WVS Bulletin for May 1946 show.
“In Iran and Iraq there was naturally a great deal of Services welfare for WVS to do, and canteens, clubs, hospitality, knitting and mending for the Forces formed the chief part of their work.
In Abadan (Iran) the WVS consisted almost entirely of the wives of the officials of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, who knitted and mended for the troops, did canteen work, raised money for war charities, made clothes for Polish refugees and organised parties for Servicemen.
Iraq also had working parties in Bagdad, and produced hospital supplies for the Middle East, clothes for Greece and for the bombed-out people at home, as well as parcels for prisoners of war. They ran hospital libraries, visited men in hospital and arranged private hospitality for the troops.
In Sierra Leone Services welfare was the main activity of WVS, who ran clubs and canteens for the Allied Forces in Freetown. It also had an information bureaux and organised drives for the raising of money and the collection of rubber.
Nigeria, for instance, felt that some good use should be made of the large quantities of goat and sheep skins which were available in the country, so—over a dinner table at an evening party in 1940—it was decided by a small group of friends to try to raise a little money to produce leather jackets to send to England as comforts for the Fighting Services and Civil Defence. The Fund flourished and the work grew: it christened itself the Windcheater Leather Jacket Fund and it eventually produced an average of 1100 jackets per month, which were sent to England and distributed”
Posted by Matthew McMurray at 09:00
Monday, 08 September 2014.
Anglo-Iranian Oil company,