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This week the Heritage Bulletin Blog comes to you in the form of our first podcast. Have a listen to Matthew McMurray talking about his inspiration for the archive's upcoming (2018) museum exhibition and journey to get there.
For those who can't listen to the podcast, which I modestly recommend, the transcript is below.
This last week I have been putting together my first ever museum exhibition plan and it’s fascinating how the approach of museums differs from that of archives. I had merrily sat down with the idea that I was going to come up with a story, nice and ordered and linear and then write some beautiful text and add some nice pictures; What my colleague rather inelegantly called the ‘book on the wall’ approach. This though, to misquote Mr Punch is ‘not the way to do it’!
Some research later and some sage advice from those with more experience than my none in museum exhibition design and I was trepidatiously ready to begin.
The key, apparently, with any museum exhibition is to start from the objects, let them tell your story. Hmmm I thought to myself as I visualised the towers of several million pieces of paper in our strong rooms and rather fewer objects and felt despondent.
While as an archivist I love nothing more than reading reams of text (preferably with footnotes) apparently not everyone else does, Horror I thought.
Visual impact is unsurprisingly the order of the day, with interactive displays for different levels of understanding from children to adults, short and sweet descriptions (in 25-30 words) and constant repetition. As a lover of detail, as someone who prefers to use ten words when one will do, and also someone who makes every effort to use the English language in all its glory, how was I going to inculcate my audience to the amazing work of the Royal Voluntary Service with so few words.
The answer was a single thread. Most great enterprises come from a small idea, and as a colleague said rather poetically in an e-mail today, quoting the 14th century proverb ‘Great oaks from little acorns grow’.
Much like a tin of Ronseal paint, Royal Voluntary Service has always done what it says on the tin, provided ‘Voluntary Service’. Our founder Lady Reading, whose portrait stares down and scrutinises my every action here in the archive, was the epitome of that ideal which she championed all her life with a zeal most could never hope to match. I have read volumes of her speeches, letters and writing and I find myself repeating her grand eloquent style frequently, in-fact this podcast is becoming a good example. But my point here is that a single bright thread came into my mind and I pulled at it.
In her 1970 treatise entitled simply ‘Voluntary Service’ she said
“Voluntary Service is a coloured thread in the fabric of a Nation and without that thread the fabric is neither as beautiful nor as strong as it should be”
That single coloured thread is literally going to run through my exhibition joining disparate activities and ideas into a story of voluntary service over 80 years; joining objects from wartime uniforms to models of Atlantic longboats and medals denoting a thousand years of service beyond self.
That single thread now has a lot to answer for and the ideas are coming thick and fast.
Today Her Majesty The Queen becomes our longest serving monarch, and Royal Voluntary Service, one of the many charities of which she is Patron, wishes her every happiness.
We have a long association with the Royal family, in fact back to before our foundation. Our first Patron in 1938 was Queen Mary, who was so instrumental in galvanising and leading Home front efforts in the First World War and who had a profound influence of on our founder Lady Reading encouraging and supporting her in the formation of the WVS ahead of that second terrible 20th century conflict. She would be followed later that year when Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) who consented to be our president, a position she actively held until her death in 2002.
It was not until 1953 on the death of Queen Mary and her ascent to the throne that Queen Elizabeth II became our Patron. But this was not the first or the last time that the WVS would be associated with our current reigning monarch. As Princess Elizabeth, our members were always ready to help, and in early 1948 were responsible for sorting, packing and sending out over 1,0000 parcels a day of gifts of food sent to Princess Elizabeth from the Dominions and Colonies at the time of her wedding. WVS was also entrusted with the task of dusting the Royal Wedding Presents while they were on view at St. James's Palace.
The Royal Wedding was a huge occasion in the long hard years of recovery after the war and one celebrated to the fore by members of the WVS. In all they collected £901 18s 10d, the majority of which was used to buy the Princess a refrigerator.
In 1966, on August 4 to be precise, Her Majesty conferred on the WVS the honour of adding Royal to their name, a thank you for the sacrifice of members during the Second World War and in the long recovery afterwards. It is a title we still treasure to this day.
Posted by Matthew McMurray, Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 09:00
Wednesday, 09 September 2015.
Heritage Bulletin Blog,
This week I thought I would bring you something a little different from the ordinary.
As regular readers of this blog may know I have been (for nearly two years now, in between other things) working my way through and digitising for preservation purposes copies of our WVS/WRVS Bulletin. I have now got to the 1970s and the issues from these years are dominated by the beautiful illustrations of Molly Blake.
Molly worked for WRVS for many years in the property department at our offices in Old Park Lane, London, but also provided illustrations for posters, books, and not infrequently on her memos.
Not only do we have the published versions of her illustrations, but also some of the originals. One might naturally assume that the originals will be better than the printed versions, but this as you will see is not the case.
Like many artists and illustrators (myself included, I was an archaeological illustrator in a former life) we cheat a lot of the time. Molly’s drawings, usually in pen and ink on drawing film or paper provide an interesting example of the ravages of time, on both ink and glue. Changes to drawings, like in the example below, often involved drawing a new character and then literally pasting it with glue into the scene. The completed drawing could them be copied by the printer and it would look like a seamless illustration done all in one.
Unfortunately in the 40 odd years since these illustrations were done the glue has yellowed, ruining the illusion and in some cases the characters are falling out of their scenes as the glue has become brittle and ineffective. The other issue is bleeding of the ink, as you can see below, where the illustrations have got damp, not being stored in the best conditions for much of their life.
Printed copy from the WRVS Magazine
Original version, with bleeding ink
We are doing our best to preserve these precious illustrations for the future and properly packaged and stored hopefully the ink won't bleed anymore, the glue though is another problem!
I hope you liked this brief look at Molly’s work, and hopefully I can bring you some more in the future.
All illustrations copyright © Molly Blake.
Posted by Matthew McMurray, Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 09:00
Tuesday, 18 August 2015.
Washing up ,
Heritage Bulletin Blog,
This week's Diary of a Centre Organiser comes from the WVS Bulletin, November 1951
Matron is always glad when a young son or daughter, nephew or niece, accompanies one or more of our Trolley Shop team on their weekly rounds at the Old People’s Hospital. The patients enjoy seeing the children and one of them, 86 year old Mr Croke, gives great joy as a rule by moving sideways on his water-bed so that a glup-glup noise is made as he rocks the contents. Today, however, no smile broke the solemnity of a young visitor’s face when Mr Croke did his trick. Instead, overwhelmed with curiosity, the small boy took a step forward and asked anxiously : “If I put my finger in your mouth, would I feel the water?”
Have not yet found a niche in W.V.S. for Miss Pheckless. Had wondered whether she could deliver some of our Meals on Wheels, but my eye happened to light on an entry for August (when I was away) in our office Day Book which read : “Police called to ask us to remove some containers which had been standing outside No 5 London Street (an empty, boarded-up house) for some days and which were causing annoyance to the neighbours. Sent Miss Brown to collect them.” A later entry stated : “Miss Brown reported the containers were without lids, were buzzing with flies and smelling violently. Have traced that the meals were left by Miss Pheckless instead of at No 5 London Road.” Felt ashamed of myself for not reading the August entries before: what is the use of keeping a Day Book if nobody reads it? Was glad to discover due apologies had been sent to No 5 London Road.
Tunny Fish en Casserole
1 medium size tin tunny fish
1 medium size onion (chopped)
3 packets potato crisps
Pepper and salt
1 tin mushroom soup
Line a casserole dish with one packet of potato crisps. Break the tunny fish into small pieces. Place part of it in the casserole, then a small quantity of the chopped onion; repeat until supply of tunny fish and onion are exhausted. Pour into the casserole the tin of soup (which has previously been heated) and put into a moderate oven for about half an hour. Cover the top with a layer of potato crisps, return to the oven for another ten minutes, garnish with parsley and serve.
Posted by Matthew McMurray, Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 00:00
Tuesday, 11 August 2015.
heritage Bulletin Blog,
Meals on Wheels ,
Tunny Fish casserole,
This week’s blog commemorates the beginning of the battle of Britain on 10 July 1940 and one of the many roles that the WVS played in helping to defend our shores from the Luftwaffe.
THE APPEAL FOR ALUMINIUM made by Lord Beaverbrook, Minister for Aircraft Production, to the women of Britain ended with these words; "The need is instant. The call is urgent. Our expectations are high".
The Chairman said in her broadcast on July 11: "Remember too, it is the little things that count - it was the little boats that made the evacuation of Dunkirk possible".
Once again the little things achieved great results; the response to the appeal was immediate, and to the staffs of the W.V.S. offices it appeared overwhelming. Pots and pans and aluminium objects of every conceivable description poured in to the depots which were filled as soon as they opened. Every household, from Buckingham Palace, the smallest cottage, made its contribution, and in some cities the traffic was held up by mountains of aluminium. The gifts of a free people made it unnecessary to set an unwelcome precedent by requisitioning stocks in shops, and the lengthy processes necessary to recover high grade aluminium from mixed and inferior quality scrap metal were avoided. The aluminium which was brought to the WVS offices by men and women and children could be sent straight to the aircraft factories after being smelted and some donors had very definite ideas as to the allocation of their gifts.
One old lady, parting with her only hot water bottle, was clear that she wanted it made into a Spitfire, not a Hurricane, because, after careful study of the papers, she had decided that they were the best planes.
Lord Beaverbrook wrote to the Chairman: "I send you my warmest thanks for the magnificent work which your organisation is doing in the collection of aluminium pots and pans. I have been most impressed by the energetic and efficient way in which the task is being organised, and I hope you will convey to your assistants this expression of my admiration and gratitude".
[published in the WVS Bulletin August 1940]
I had been waiting for years (literally) for the Antiques Roadshow to visit somewhere near the archive in Devizes, and last Thursday was our big opportunity and we took it! But having decided to go, what should we take from over a million items in the collection? There is so much rich history in the archive that it really was a very tough decision.
As an avid fan of the Roadshow I knew that it would have to be either something which was valuable, beautiful or could tell a fantastic story, or preferably all three!
As wonderful as the archive is, we have very few things that are intrinsically valuable, and certainly nothing which is worth the tens of thousands of pounds like some of the beautiful items which we see on Sunday nights. The value of the items in our collection is almost entirely in the fascinating stories they tell, of those millions of women (and later men too) who gave so much for society, but whose action on the whole were relatively mundane but completely vital.
Documents tell wonderful stories, but are mostly rather dull to look at, so what could we take? What had a great story, looked good and might be worth something?
The answer had of course been rolled up in unbleached cotton calico and sat safely on a shelf unseen for the past five years. It was Lady Reading’s Tapestry!
The opportunity to tell Lady Reading’s story, who I strongly believe to be one of the most important women in the 20th Century, (right up there with Marie Curie, Emeline Pankhurst and Eleanor Roosevelt) was too good to miss.
It combined not only our founder’s story, but also the story of the WVS itself in its twenty half cross stitched panels.
What is that story and how much was it worth I hear you ask! Well, you will have to tune into the Antiques Roadshow from Bowood House next series to find out!
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,
Well it has been a very busy and exciting few months collecting oral histories for the Voices of Volunteering: 75 Years of Citizenship and Service. It’s been nearly six months since I last added material to our online catalogue so another 20 volunteers’ voices have now been uploaded to the 14 I told you about in the blog post ‘Voices of Volunteering goes online’. We have also added the text transcripts of 15 of the oral histories which are downloadable as Pdfs.
You can now listen to all 35 oral histories on our online catalogue, here is a flavour of what to expect:
Find out from Jill Walden-Jones how the Social Transport Scheme was started in Dyfed in 1974.
Mary Gibbons will tell you what it was like to go on a Children’s Holiday at Atlantic College.
Winifred Simpson talks about her time as a WVS member from 1940-1964 in Coventry when she helped at the Police Station Tea Bar.
What was it like to volunteer in a WRVS Hospital Shop in Scotland? Moira Trotter has the answers.
Sandra Taylor has had many different roles as a volunteer including delivering Meals on Wheels and being a District Organiser.
Sheila Lamont discusses what it was like to be a Services Welfare Officer on the Falkland Islands.
Cyril Barnes talks about helping with Meals on Wheels and Books on Wheels in Melton Mowbray.
Want to know more about WRVS’ Emergency Services work in Cumbria? Pat Gill is the one to listen to.
Setting up a rest centre was all in a day’s work for volunteer of 20 years Jill Fawcett.
Find out what it was like to be a Services Welfare Officer in Fleet, the Falklands, Germany, Cyprus, Blandford, Litchfield, Canada and Abourfield from Jean Crosley-Ingham.
Listen to why Mary Smalley said ‘that started me on what I consider to be, in a way, the most important thing I have done outside my home and family ever’.
Also hear one of our Heritage Champions talk to Peterborough volunteer Diana Setchfield about the Gloucester Centre and the Senior Stop Café.
In other news I now have some company while on my travels around Great Britain in the form of Stella our Royal Voluntary Service knitted doll and you can follow her adventures on Twitter @RVSarchives.
A small group of rug-makers is meeting twice a week at Grimsby to make rugs for London homeless.
Kingsbridge have started the keeping of certificates for domestic poultry keepers, to obtain wire-netting.
Biggleswade salvage stewards collected 2,500 old ration books during December.
In 1944 a Bath member did 1,170 hours of hospital work, in addition to being a VCP driver, a mobile canteen driver, and a worker in a static Services Canteen.
At Tavistock a WVS member, refusing to be beaten by the weather, went out on a sledge and collected 450 articles for the Re-homing Gift Scheme.
Henley Services canteen recently served 20,714 hot beverages, 249 soft drinks and 21,685 sandwiches during one month.
During the last three years WVS as voluntary telephonists have done 10,000 hours of duty at the Royal Sussex County Hospital.
WVS members at Smethwick have collected 8,400 stamped envelopes and note paper for the use of wounded soldiers when they arrive in hospital, to notify their relatives.
Two National Savings Centres in Islington, entirely staffed by WVS, have during the past three and two years exceeded the £500,000 and £75,000 marks respectively.
An evacuee train en route through Taunton was able to stop only for eight minutes, but WVS managed to get 630 cups of tea and over 900 buns and sandwiches on board, during those few minutes.
The Army Welfare Officer at Peterborough has asked WVS to operate a “Get you Home Scheme” so that men on leave from overseas who are stranded at the stations at night can be taken home by car.
One work party member at Battle, who very specially “mothered” the relays of men manning a searchlight near her home during the fly bomb attacks, now has an average of seven letters a week from her men now serving overseas.
The WVS Village - Representative at Offley recently received a letter of thanks and congratulations from the Regional Commissioner for the “ excellent services ” rendered by herself and helpers when a Rest Centre had to be opened after an explosion resulting from a collision between two motor vehicles.
Bridgewater Welcome Club are very proud of the mural paintings done by one of the American members. D-Day came before he could finish his picture of the main street of the town, which is left incomplete without the Welcome Club. The Club hope he will come back and put in the finishing touches. He, like so many other of his countrymen, will be sure of a grand welcome.
A large number of gifts from Plymouth for the Re-homing Gift Scheme have been received from people who had been bombed-out themselves and whose offerings entailed real sacrifice. One woman gave some things which she had been treasuring in memory of a sister who had been killed in a raid ; she felt she ought no longer to be sentimental and that the things should be used now to help others.
Ipswich have started a salvage “Something for Nothing Scheme” in which small gifts are exchanged for a certain weight of rags or bones. A bead necklace, for instance, can be “bought” for 56 lb of bones, a teapot for 28 lb of rags, a bicycle bell for 56 lb of paper, etc. The response has been so enormous that the prizes have had to be “put up". Recently, in the same borough, a six-feet pile of bones, which had been stewed down for the dogs, was discovered rotting near a dog racing track and immediately collected !
Posted by Matthew McMurray at 09:00
Monday, 06 April 2015.
heritage Bulletin Blog,
Reports from everywhere,
This week we are travelling to Wales, to celebrate St. David’s Day. Enjoy ‘More News from Wales’ from April 1958.
The record of the past two months in day-to-day work has continued and developed in spite of every possible vagary of weather. Snow, rain, flood, fog, icy roads have been taken in the W.V.S. stride. Meals-on-wheels in the very hilly areas have continued without a break and drivers are becoming highly skilled in handling vehicles on the icy slopes. We feel that many would give an excellent account of themselves in winter car rallies.
We are very sad to record in the decision to close Tonfanau Camp, Merioneth, that the W.V.S. Centre has also closed. This job has been continued with one or two short breaks since 1949 until now and from the highly flattering remarks made by Western Command we are glad to realise that the Army has found the work valuable. The site is on the edge of the sea and even in summer high winds and driving rain are a constant feature of this part of the coast. There are no towns of any size for miles and the W.V.S. Social Centre has proved a real blessing for the boys who have passed through the Camp. W.V.S. in Wales has been delighted to have been associated with the work and we have found that for some members working there it has been splendid training- ground before going overseas.
Cardiff W.V.S. are very pleased that their Darby and Joan Club which has been formed in the Docks district recently appeared in an I.T.V. programme featuring the life among the black population of seaport towns. Some of the old men were shown playing games, and a recording was made of the women singing. This is a very happy club, and we believe unique.
Cardiff W.V.S. were recently entertained en bloc at the Mansion House by this year’s Lady Mayoress, who is a very valued member of W.V.S. As the Deputy Lady Mayoress is also a member it was a very Civic occasion indeed and a most happy party.
Neath members, whose versatility has always been of a high order, have now excelled themselves in the formation of a “ Saucy Skiffle Group.” Dressed in highly coloured costumes and wearing wide- brimmed hats, they made their first appearance in public when they gave the Darby and Joan Club a concert for St. Valentine’s Day. Their report states: “The piano and the guitar probably supplied the music, but the saucepan lids and the wash-boards, the tin of peas, the whistle, the clappers, the wooden box with the taut rope (the double bass), all supplied the rhythm and the volume.” As it was for St. Valentine’s Day, the concert repertoire consisted mainly of love songs and Darbies and Joans joined heartily in all the choruses. One of the Joans in this club has recently made well over one thousand leeks for fervid Welshmen to wear at international matches and on St. David’s Day.
Posted by Matthew McMurray at 00:00
Monday, 02 March 2015.
St. David's Day,
Heritage Bulletin Blog,
Darby and Joan,
Meals on Wheels ,