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A Wartime Paper Journey

Throughout the Second World War, rationing became an integral part of British society. Unknown to most, paper rationing had a significant impact on the manufacturing of the WVS Narrative Reports. As I hope to illustrate this week the differences, in the layout and quality of the paper they were written on between 1939 and 1941, are particularly stark.

Above is one of the WVS's earliest reports from Middlesbrough written in November 1938. Interestingly, the original orientation of a WVS Narrative Report was landscape unlike the familiar portrait reports of later years. Under  imperial paper sizes, an original report was classified as foolscap as it measured 13 x 8 inches. The weight and quality of this pre-war paper is also particularly noteworthy as it retains an almost card-like feel compared to later reports.

Looking at this 1939 report above, it is clearly apparent that the layout and quality of the Narrative Report has changed. After its inception in May 1938, the WVS became increasingly prominent in society. The design of the Narrative Reports’ reflect this change as they start to look more official from this year onwards. Due to the outbreak of war, the paper quality of the diaries also begins to decline from around September. As a result, the majority of reports from 1939 have significant differences in paper quality.

1940 brought the introduction of the portrait report. It is clear to see that the WVS has established itself as a formidable organisation, as the top of the report  contained a list of set criteria to help the Centre Organiser write her account. As the WVS were the masters of make do and mend, the new portrait reports returned to the high quality paper of 1938. Whilst we are unsure exactly why this is, it is suspected that the WVS started producing the reports themselves as opposed to outsourcing the printing. With Lady Reading at the helm, it is almost unsurprising that they returned to paper of substantial quality.

1941 marks the most important transition for the design and feel of an original WVS Narrative Report. The organisation continues with the foolscap portrait design until September of that year. After this, the WVS moved to a smaller quarto sized document (10 x 8 inches) that was produced out of thin, poorer quality repulped wartime paper. Naturally, the main reason behind this decision was to ensure that more paper could be produced nationally by trading off the quality of the material. Somewhat ironically, these later reports are substantially more fragile than their earlier counterparts.

Despite this, their stories are of equal significance. To make sure of this, a lot of WVS Centre Organisers were much more inclined to write on the back of the document to ensure everything had been recorded.

After 1941, the quality of the paper remained unchanged until the end of the war. Occasionally however, you do see an original design pop up in later years. The ideas of salvage and recycling were of course still at the back of members minds. I hope you have enjoyed this short Journey through wartime paper and for more stories from the Narrative Reports you can visit and search Archive Online.

Posted by Jacob Bullus, Archives Assistant (Digitisation) at 09:00 Monday, 28 August 2017.

Labels: WVS, Narrative Report, World War II, Paper