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During the war WVS ran/organised a number of services and activities for children. We mentioned one of these services in a previous blog Tales of under-fives nurseries were
authors had written about their experience when visiting the nurseries.
WVS always strove to make children’s lives a happy one
during the War particularly when it came to providing toys. In the 1944 December Bulletin this article appeared:
TOY MAKING IN A VILLAGE
FROM the early months of the war our W.V.S. working party had knitted every kind of comforts for the Services and Merchant Navy. We had also sewn all sorts of garments for evacuees, but making toys we had never even thought of, and when the appeal came for soft toys for the new day nurseries, we felt rather dubious as to our capabilities in this direction; however, we said we could but try. To commence, patterns, materials and a demonstrator were sent to our village from the County Office, and we were duly launched as toy makers. Dolls were our first efforts; the bodies and clothes were simple, but the painting of their blank faces was a real work of art. We all tried our skill and the results caused much amusement. We decided we could not send out dolls dressed like a six-year-old with an expression of eighty years old, so this job was given to the one person who seemed able to paint the right look. After the dolls we became more ambitious and begged all kinds of materials to make various animals. From old grey flannels we made elephants and donkeys, and from the bits little mice with hairs pulled out of an old brush for their whiskers. Bits of fur were used to make cats and dogs, white felt hats made beautiful polar bears, even an old silk hat was trimmed into a seal. Woollen materials of the appropriate shades were used for giraffes, their spots being embroidered in brown wool. Horses had fur manes and tails, dozens of little rabbits, some sitting, were made out of real scraps of material, and lambs from old Turkish towelling. Besides the recognisable animals we produced a large number of cuddly soft toys which, we hope, though unlike any known species of animals, will be loved by and give pleasure to the little ones they were made for by the novices of our W.V.S. working party.
As is evident from the above article presents and toys
were already being made and collected by WVS but the organisation also encouraged people, even those without
carpentry skills to make toys themselves in a booklet produced in 1941 and
reprinted in 1944, WVS GUIDE TO SIMPLE TOYMAKING FOR WAR-TIME DAY NURSERIES.
Like the Elves who work in Father Christmas’ work shop the WVS were busy making
toys here are just a few examples:
“Clothes pegs painted to represent funny men in variously
coloured clothes. These are fitted by the children on to the open end of a tin
which has been attractively painted e.g. as the funny men’s house.”
“Bobbin Toy, a solid base, square or oblong. Uprights on to
which bobbins will slip easily (e.g. meat skewers) should be glued firmly into
the base, and coloured to match its bobbins e.g. red stick red bobbins, green
stick green bobbins etc. The whole can be mounted on bobbin wheels and a hook
screwed in front of the drawing it along. Or using pegs of different lengths,
this can be made into a counting toy, putting one bobbin on the first peg, 2 on
the second (of the same colour) and so on –up to five or six.”
“Mosaics, these may be either loose pieces of different
shapes (squares and half squares of different colours are best), which can be
freely used for pattern making, or pieces which make a definite pattern, and
fit into a tray. Plywood should be used for pieces, but the tray may be made of
Perhaps you will be inspired to make some toys for next Christmas.
Our archives are quite literally a feast for the eyes and soul most of which surfaces when we are looking at material to make accessible as part of our ongoing work to develop the archive. This week Matthew our Archivist was cataloguing some of our Miscellaneous Memoranda* collection when he came across a set of very interesting letters written by the cream of the crop from the word 1940s of literature.
Writers included Olaf Stapledon, a creator of science fiction; Noel Streatfield and Dorothy Whipple, children’s authors; Daphne Du Maurier, romantic novelist; Cynthia Asquith a teller of ghost stories; Margaret Lane biographer of the Bronte Sisters and Beatrix Potter and Joanna Cannon writer of Pony Books and detective fiction. All these writers put pen to paper to tell Americans and Canadians, who through the Red Cross supported Nurseries for Under Fives run by WVS during the war, how children under the age of five who could not be evacuated with their families were being cared for.
Each of the letters tell a different story of visits to nurseries in Kettering, Lewes, Lyme Park, Regents Park, Sandford Park, Ringwood Hampshire, Culham Court Oxon and Shephall Bury. Inspired by the work in these nurseries they formed very detailed depictions, excitedly explaining how funds and gifts from the American Red Cross gave the children, as Daphne Du Maurier described it, “enjoyment and complete unconcern”. They also enlighten the reader describing how the children are cared for, the matrons roles in the nurseries, Christmas celebrations and the importance of meal times.
Each letter is almost like a short story or chapter from a novel displaying the writers’ individual style so this week I will end with two quotes to give your eyes a glimpse at our cave of wonders.
"At Miss Brady's call, the children came tumbling in to get ready for their mid-day meal. The shining gadgetted bathroom, with its ordinary dozens of everything - twelve towels, twelve named toothbrushes, etc, etc, reminded me of Snow White's establishment."
Cynthia Asquith writing about her visit to Court House near Lewes, Sussex
"The door opened and in came a magnificently fat Father Christmas led by two of the little boys. Father Christmas, very properly, was an American Father Christmas, Mr Bernard Carter, your Red Cross Deligate over here."
Noel Streatfield writing about her visit to the Day Nursery in Regents Park, I feel that I should point out that in scene she describes before Father Christmas appears the Matron was seen leaving the room with a number of pillows.
* (yes I know fellow archivists are shuddering at the mere mention of the word Miscellaneous but we need to respect original order and des fonds, don’t we!)