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Five images of WVS in the 1950s

The 1950s was the decade which saw Britain start to really recover from World War II and entre the Cold War with involvement in the Korean War 1950-1953 and Suez Crisis in 1956. For the WVS there was the 1953 East Coat Floods, The Lewisham Train Crash in 1957 and a 21st Anniversary in 1959 to keep volunteers busy. In the Archive we have a collection of over 1,400 photographs from the 1950s; you can see their full descriptions on our online catalogue.  For this week’s blog I have chosen five which I think represent the work of WVS in this decade.

Judging a garden provided by Garden Gift Scheme, London 1951 WRVSA&HC/WRVS/HQ/P/COM/GGS056

The Garden Gift Scheme was started in 1945 to collect plants and shrubs to replenish gardens destroyed by the bombing. In 1947 Queen Mary presented a Challenge Cup in a competition to find the best pre-fab garden created from donated plants. These competitions continued into the early 1950s with WVS Judging gardens like the one in this image. Here you can see four WVS members with the man who planted the garden looking at the flowerbed and lawn in an unknown location in London. 


Food Flying Squad, Lancashire 1953 WRVSA&HC/WRVS/HQ/P/CD/FFS063  

Although in January/February 1953 the WVS volunteers involved in Emergency Feeding, Food Flying Squads and Civil Defence had been called out to help the thousands of victims they still had much to do during the rest of the year. This including training with the Food Flying Squads a service which was established by the Ministry of Health to provide food during large scale emergencies such as flood or fire. There were 20 convoys in Britain, including two in Scotland working with the Scottish Department of Health. Volunteers, like the ones in this picture from Lancashire, would train with groups such as the Army in preparation for an emergency.

WVS Van Distributes Welfare Foods, Scarborough 1955 WRVSA&HC/WRVS/HQ/P/F/WELF031  

At the request of the Medical Offices of Health WVS was responsible for the distribution of welfare foods including codliver oil, orange juice and dried milk. Before the end of rationing in 1954 this service was very important for providing mothers, babies and children with adequate nutrition. This service continued into the 1960s; as you can see from this image WVS members were very proactive in their campaign to provide the nations children with the vitamins and health foods they needed. In this image two children have just received welfare foods from WVS on Eastfield Estate, Scarborough, North Yorkshire.   

Emergency Feeding at Lewisham Train Crash 1957 WRVSA&HC/WRVS/HQ/P/CD/EMF053  

The Lewisham rail crash occurred on the Lewisham by-pass line in London at about 6:20 pm on 4 December 1957. In dense fog, an electric train to Hayes stopped at a signal under a bridge and the following steam train to Ramsgate crashed into it, the collision causing the bridge to collapse onto the steam train. Of Course WVS were on the scene to feed rescue workers, in one week they cooked 4,000 meals and provided countless cups of tea. Here four WVS Civil Defence members carry a tea urn and polystyrene cups on the tracks near St. John's Station, Lewisham, London after the train crash. The damaged bridge, wreckage and workers can be seen in the background.  

WVS services welfare barbecue, RAF Sylt 1959 WRVSA&HC/WRVS/HQ/P/SWO/GER104  

In the 1950s the WVS Services Welfare Department worked with NAAFI to organise leisure activities for men based overseas in the Armed forces. In 1959 WVS celebrated its 21st Anniversary in many of the traditional ways with a service at Westminster Abbey and an Exhibition. However by 1959 WVS didn’t just have members in Britain but all across the world. WVS Services Welfare Members based at RAF Sylt North Frisian Islands, West Germany organised a barbeque to celebrate with the soldiers in their care.

Of course WVS provided many other services in this decade including Hospital canteens/shops and trolleys, Older People's Welfare such as Darby and Joan and Lunch Clubs and of course preparing people for nuclear attack through the One-in-Five department established in 1955. Today Royal Voluntary Service are still providing practical and emotional help where and when it’s needed.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 22 May 2017.

Labels: Garden Gift Scheme, Food Flying Squad, Lewisham Train Crash, Welfare Foods, Services Welfare, WVS