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The Royal Voluntary Service Heritage Collection is the sixth largest collection of charity archives in the country. If you stacked all the boxes in the collection one on top of the other they would be 108m higher than the Glasgow Tower. In those boxes you will find over 2 million documents, 30,000 photographs and more than 1,000 objects and uniforms. These archives tell the story of Britain and its people, not through the eyes of those who ruled but through the eyes of a hidden army of women (and men) ready to volunteer their time and energy where they were needed, ready to give compassion in crisis.
The tellers and protectors of this story are known as the Keeper of Heritage and the Archivist. Over the last eight months Jennifer (our Archivist) has had the monumental task over of choosing 8 objects, four photographs and three posters as well as producing a film to represent the compassion of Glasgow’s volunteers in times of crisis. In this month’s blog Jennifer is going to expand on and share with you just some of the stories behind the archives featured in the Compassion in Crisis Exhibition at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum (running till 31st January 2020).
Hello my name is Jennifer and I am the Archivist for the Royal Voluntary Service, many of you who are regular visitors to this blog will know me but for those who aren’t essentially I am the protector and story teller of the (somewhat hidden) history of one of the most important organisations in Britain’s social history. Did you know that since 1938 over 2 million people have volunteered all over the UK for Royal Voluntary Service. They have done everything from making “magical” cups of tea to telling people how to build a refuge room in case of nuclear attack to supporting soldiers on army bases all over the world. This week I would like to tell you a story, the story of how Glaswegian volunteers have helped their local communities and people worldwide with their compassion in times of crisis.
In 1938 Britain was on the edge of another war with Germany, in anticipation the government wanted to mobilise women to help in the event of an air raid. These women could sign up to Air Raid Precautions (ARP) as wardens however the men enrolling them didn’t know what to do with them. Que Lady Reading and a revolutionary idea called the Women’s Voluntary Services for ARP. To bring this revolution to Glasgow Lady Reading enlisted the help of Lady Ruth Balfour, appointing her chairman of the WVS in Scotland in May 1938. By the autumn she had established an office in Glasgow with a team of volunteers to run it. As I have said the original aim was to recruit women for ARP work such as fire watching and getting people into shelters.
However volunteers in Glasgow were soon being asked to help wherever they were needed. You have to imagine the original organisation was like a very large recruitment agency. By 1939 WVS had evolved radically and was involved in many activities to plan for the war effort including evacuation, salvage and mobile canteens. By then they had become known as ‘the women in green’. This was due to the colour of their uniform an example of the jacket and blouse can be seen in the exhibition.
Their role was ever expanding as was the number of volunteers involved; over 4,500 Glaswegian women were joined WVS during the war. Can you imagine that many focusing all their time and energy on the war effort. Nearly half those volunteers were focused on services for his majesty’s forces including clubs, canteens and hospital visits. They weren’t just giving their time to do these roles they also gave their skills and thoughtfulness.
One volunteer called Margaret Miller, a member from 1939 to 2015, was such a woman living in Glasgow. During the war she visited soldiers in hospital. Many of the men she visited couldn’t see their families as they lived to far away so Mrs Miller wanted to do something special for them. She convinced her local grocer to give her some oranges’ those of you who know of the shortages during the war will know how hard this would have been to come by and the soldiers were delighted with these gifts. The WVS didn’t just looking after service men staying in Glasgow they also helped those who were passing through. In 1940 station guides were established in all stations in Glasgow.
We don’t know how many women volunteered to be station guides during the war although the statistics show that in 1943 158 where engaged in other work for HM Forces. One of these women was Mrs Wyle Young. She kept diaries of her time in WVS and her wartime entries focus on this service. Here are two extracts from those diaries.
I hope that this gives you an idea of the sort of situations volunteers found themselves in and how through compassion they managed to help ease peoples suffering.
Throughout the war WVS volunteers continued to support the people of Glasgow as well as visitors and new communities moving in to the city. At the end of the war however it was thought that volunteers would not be needed to continue in many of the roles WVS had created or taken on. Thinking about your own experiences in relation to volunteering can you conceive of a world without them?
Before the welfare state was established the Poor Laws provided support for the poorest in society including work houses. Throughout the early twentieth century the support offered by these laws was declining as they were slowly replaced by new support mechanisms which helped to create the welfare state such as national insurance and later the NHS. Between 1945 and 1948 very little support existed to help those in need and here WVS saw an opportunity to take the skills and services it used during the war and turn them to peace time activities; this included clothing, meals, transport to hospital and many more. They also identified that loneliness needed to be tackled and continued to develop clubs to provide people with the opportunity to make new friends. While volunteers were developing their roles in social welfare their role in Civil Defence appeared to have come to an end.
However as the cold war began to heat up in the late 1940s the Civil Defence Corps was re-established and asked WVS to form the Welfare Section of this service. In the event of a nuclear attack volunteers would be a first aid point and source of comfort. Volunteers also joined the Food Flying Squad Convoys; fleets of blue vans ready to fly into action during a disaster. There were 20 convoys across the country and each convoy could serve 3,000 people. Fun fact each convoy had a motorbike apart from Scotland I have never been able to find out why; a set of dinky toys have been displayed as part of Compassion in Crisis to represent the convoy. The Scottish convoy was kept at Kirkintilloch and used on a number of training exercises.
In 1953 the biggest Civil Defence exercise in the UK was held at Kelvin Hall opened by the Lord Provost of Glasgow, it was named Thistle. On the last day the WVS fed 4,500 Civil Defence personnel in ¾ of an hour. The WVS was very keen to boost morale in a time when people lived in fear of the world ending.
In 1955 the WVS established the One in Five department, the aim was to tell one in five women, a fiftieth of the population what to do in the event of a nuclear attack. Over the years I have spoken to a number of volunteers who gave these talks and many have told me that looking back the information was useless “but it did make you feel a little bit better”. Information included hiding in a field with a coat over your head, filling the bath and covering it with a door to keep it fresh and building a refuge room. One volunteer decided to be very practical about this and cleared out her pantry, built herself a refuge room and then gave tours to local women so they could do the same. For Britain the Cold War began to thaw in the late 1960s and in 1968 the Civil Defence Corps were disbanded.
However WRVS as it was known by then decided to keep providing assistance in times of great distress. We’re very lucky they did the late twentieth century saw a number of disasters which were utterly devastating including Piper Alpha and Lockerbie. WRVS was at them all wearing an orange tabard, a cup of tea in hand as well as a willing ear to hear any problem and to help solve them however they could. On 21st December 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 was destroyed by a bomb killing 270 people it is the deadliest terror attack in the history of the United Kingdom. This is an extract from a Report on the work of the WRVS Emergency Services Department after the bombing.
While all this work to help people at home affected by the Cold War and the actions of others the WVS of Glasgow was also very involved in supporting people in distress all over the world.
Imagine that you have lost your home through natural disaster, war or your just no longer welcome your own country because a new political regime has swept in and they simply don’t like your beliefs or lifestyle. This was the situation facing 1000s, in Twentieth century, who simply had to flee their homes. Imagine how they must have felt arriving in Britain who would they turn to, can anyone guess who I’m going to name?
Yes absolutely the Royal Voluntary Service or WVS/WRVS as they were known in the past.
The WVS in Glasgow had a vast wealth of experience caring for refugees, during the war they helped Polish, Belgian and Dutch refugees settle in the UK and afterwards they supported EVWs who had volunteered to come and work in jobs which couldn’t be filled due to the loss of life in the Second World War. We’ve already spoken about the cold war and the boiling point it reached in the 1950s and 60s. In 1956 there was an uprising in Hungary which was crushed by the Soviet Union, many had to leave and 21,500 arrived in the UK. The WVS provided clothing, translators and advice to Hungarians who need help and support. I mention clothing as this was the main focus of the refugee part of our exhibition. You’ll have seen or hopefully you will see the clothing store model from East Kilbride. WVS set up 1,000s of clothing stores across the country to supplier good clean second hand clothing to those who couldn’t afford new or to those who had lost everything.
They were also experts in mass clothing drives, 1959 was World Refugee Year and WVS was tasked with collecting clothing to send to the Middle East to displaced Palestinians. In one year WVS Scotland collected 2,693 bales of garments weighing 105 tons. Support from Glasgow to Refugees around the world didn’t just end with World Refugee Year in 1960; members made layettes through the 1960s to send abroad and from 1961-1974 adopted Refugee families in Germany and Poland sending them letters and small gifts. This work formed the main focus of this section of the exhibition displaying the model East Kilbride Clothing Store, a souvenir booklet about the drive and a poster encouraging donations.
Volunteers in Glasgow were particularly keen to adopt families from Poland and their kindness and hospitality didn’t just involve sending gifts and letters. In 1962 one two of Glasgow’s adopted families arrived in the city. WVS had found them two council houses side by side in Milngavie, on arrival they found the table laid and a home cooked meal waiting for them as well as their friends from the WVS.
If you volunteer I want to think about why you decided to volunteer. In my case as with many it was an enthusiastic caring person who inspired me to take on a voluntary role. For girls at Park School the Glaswegians of the WVS inspired them to adopt a refugee and helped her to complete her education. They corresponded for 4 years between 1968 and 1972 but unfortunately as with the two families we don’t know what happened afterwards. Hopefully the support from volunteers gave them everything they needed for their future lives.
WRVS volunteers continued to support refugees through the 1970s including Ugandan Asians expelled by Idi Amin in 1972. Although no refugee camps were established in Scotland volunteers travelled all the way to the South West of England to help. Other refugee crises supported by volunteers also included Chilean Refugees in 1974, Vietnamese Refugees in the 1980s and in the 1990s Kosovan Refugees.
The twenty first century still sees many of these same problems, people losing their homes through war and politics. However attitudes have changed, or those displayed by the media makes it seem like they have changed. For those willing to help it is becoming increasingly difficult and with a change in focus for WRVS in the late 90s early 2000s major crisis is no longer an area we are seen.
So far I have been telling you the stories of volunteering in cases of emergency, extreme circumstances and times of war or political turmoil. While these problems still exist in the twenty first century the meaning of crisis has broadened to include circumstances in people’s everyday lives. Due to changes in funding and a move from crown service to charity through the 90s and 00s WRVS began to develop the areas in which it focused – mainly health and wellbeing in hospitals and communities.
Volunteering to enhance social welfare, health, wellbeing and fight loneliness have already been alluded to. Today in Glasgow you’ll find 300 volunteers involved in hospital shops, cafes and trolleys. For over 80 years our volunteers have been helping in hospitals in many ways from making supplies to promoting blood donations to providing tea and comfort. Lady Reading worked closely with the Ministry of Health to support the creation and establishment of NHS in 1948, a support role which is still very important today. This leaflet from 1951 has a very interesting introductory paragraph.
I think this applies as much today as it did then and over 70 years later we are still supporting the NHS. Last year volunteers were on wards not just supporting patients but staff to easing the stresses brought on by the time of year. Our volunteers love their work; in our exhibition is a long service medal and clasp which together represent 27 years of voluntary service and over 1080 shifts in the Glasgow ambulatory hospital. This particular medal and clasp represent the dedication of Wilma McDonald who has actually volunteered for 31 years. Wilma doesn’t just provide teas and coffees to people; it’s here time, her smile and listening ear which they really appreciated. It’s all about that human contact; but what about those in crisis in the community, how do we help them.
There are around another 1,100 volunteers in Glasgow working in the community tackling loneliness, keeping people active and involved. Every day in the news we see stories about people not seeing anyone for days and living alone. This doesn’t just apply to older people the epidemic of loneliness has spread across the whole of society. Loneliness and our awareness of it is nothing new, I think we just treat it more like a crisis than we used to. As early as 1946 WVS volunteers were running clubs to support older people in their communities and help them make friends. In 1970 WRVS’s guidance for club organisers stated:
“The purpose of the clubs is to provide companionship in comfortable, cheerful and warm surroundings, to help members to continue to play a role in the life of the community, to keep up or awaken their interests and to give them the opportunity to put to account their aptitudes and skills.”
These ideas have evolved today and clubs are taking the concept of awakening interests and using skills with clubs that focus on specific hobbies such as fishing, art and wood work. As part of the exhibition you’ll see a tenement house covered in different pieces of art work covering it. You might think what does this represent? Well I have shared with you some traditional types of archives so now I’m going to share an extract from a much more modern one, it’s an email form Jennifer Hanlon who runs Art Club 1 who created this piece called OOT Tha Box.
This club was set up as part of Drink Wise Age Well a special initiative run by Royal Voluntary Service to support health and wellbeing in relation to drinking enough water and not too much alcohol. Originally this club was setup to help older people but now has a range of members enjoying art, long may it continue.
While these clubs aren’t preparing us for nuclear war or helping in major disasters they are still tackling more personal everyday crisis; loneliness; wellbeing and many other challenges of today. All this is done through compassion and willing volunteers wanting to help others.
I hope that you have been inspired by the stories of some of the thousands of Glaswegians who have volunteered since 1938. Through this whistle stop tour of our history I hope I have expressed just how much:
And Dedication there is and has been in Glasgow, Scotland and Britain over the last 80 or so years
Today I thought I would share with you all a poem that one of the volunteers found this morning and had them all chuckling away at how true it was. It was written by a member of the WRVS CAMEO. Luncheon Club, Lytham St. Annes for their Christmas party in 1973. The club was run for the physically handicapped and elderly people of the town. Its name means ‘Come And Meet Each Other’
I'M FINE, THANKS!
There is nothing the matter with me,
I'm as healthy as can be,
I have arthritis in both my knees
And when I talk, I talk with a wheeze;
My pulse is weak and my blood is thin
But, I'm awfully good for the shape I'm in.
Arch supports I have for my feet
Or I wouldn't be able to be on the street,
Sleep is denied me every night,
But every morning I find I'm all right.
My memory is failing, my head's in a spin
But I'm awfully well for the shape I'm in.
The moral is this, as this tale I unfold,
That for you and me who are growing old,
It's better to say ''I'm fine" with a grin,
Than to let folks know the shape we are in.
How do I know that my youth is all spent?
Well, my "get up and go" has" got up and went",
But I don't really mind when I think with a grin
Of all the grand places my "get-up" has been.
Old age is golden, I have heard it said,
But sometimes I wonder as I get into bed,
With my ears in a drawer, my teeth in a cup,
My eyes on the table for when I wake up;
Ere sleep comes to me - I say to myself
Is there anything else I should lay on the shelf?
When I was young my slippers were red,
I could kick my heels right over my head,
When I grew older my slippers were blue,
But I still could dance the whole night through.
Now I'm old - my slippers are black,
I walk to the store and puff my way back,
I get up each morning and dust off my wits,
Pick up the papers and read the Obits.,
If my name is still missing, I know I'm not dead
So I get a good breakfast and go back to bed.
This week’s blog is an
updated version of an article from Volume 6 of the Heritage Bulletin and The
Good Neighbours Fact Sheet on the Voices of Volunteering School Resources pages.
During the Second World War WVS started to develop its work
to help people be active in their communities such as setting up Darby and Joan
Clubs. WVS also realised that they needed to provide services for those who
were housebound or needed help in their homes. Over the years there have been
different schemes before the current service Community Companions. The first
scheme to develop was one which doesn’t really resemble the visiting service
which provides practical help. Home Helps was setup to provide help which would
eventually be given by the NHS after it was established in 1948.
Originally intended to be the Home
Workers Scheme, Home Helps assisted those in need of domestic service for
thirty years. During that time it was an essential part of social welfare in
In 1944 the WVS Centre Organiser
for the City of Oxford, Theresa MacDonald, asked the Local Authorities
permission to pioneer a new scheme, Home Helps. Its purpose was to work
alongside and form an attachment with the Local Health Services. At first it
dealt with maternity as its top priority and then concerned itself with old
people as well as chronic cases. Eventually the Helps took on any cases which
were a health emergency.
As a public health service, Home
Helps took on jobs such as washing, cooking and child care. They were employed
by the Local Authority but administration was in the hands of a voluntary
organiser. The WVS trained the Helps and promoted the scheme, at first very
little formal training was given but later Helps could work towards the
National Institute of Houseworkers’ Diploma.
WVS Bulletin January 1947 p5
In 1946 WVS opened a Home Helps
Department at headquarters in London and used its network to publicise the
scheme. The department also ran residential training for Home Help Organisers.
Different local schemes added their own flare to training meetings including
celebrations such as Christmas, birthday and anniversary parties.
Buckinghamshire went further and held a county rally for its Home Helps.
When the National Health Service
Act (1948) came into force the Ministry of Health stated that Home Helps was
vital to the new service. Many Health Services however wanted to take full
control of the scheme. In some areas the WVS remained very involved with Home
Helps, though over the years many handed over to Local Authorities and paid
organisers. By 1964 only a few WVS run schemes remained in counties such as
Cornwall, Worcestershire and East and West Sussex. Home Helps was finally
wrapped up in 1974 with the closure of the final scheme in East Sussex. However
this wasn’t the end of WVS visiting people in their homes and providing support
From the late 1960s onwards WRVS
tried to get a scheme off the ground to help people who were having difficulty
with running their home. Good Neighbours was originally called Good Companions
and had a number of forerunners and names including: the Home Aid Scheme (in 1967
it was merged with the Home Helps Scheme) and Voluntary Daughters. Pilot
schemes were launched in East Sussex in 1971 and by the end of 1972 the 12
regions had at least one scheme each.
The aim of the scheme was to
alleviate loneliness and encourage people to help others in their local
community. Volunteers did not need to sign up as WRVS members but were assigned
people to help by the organisation who were usually referred to them by Social
Services or Doctors. Good Companions
were drawn from a range of people including men, women with young children,
young people (mostly from the WRVS London Evening centre) and even Darby and Joan
club members. Those who need them as a Good Neighbour were usually older
people, disabled, housebound or anyone in need of help.
Good Neighbours allowed people to
stay independent and continue to live in their own homes. Volunteers would
often escort people on outings, go shopping, collect pensions, send post, mend
clothes, change lightbulbs, cook, and do other odd jobs around the home as well
as taking time to talk to the person they were visiting.
From 1977 to 1985 the service
also ran campaigns with the Department of Health and Social Security to raise
awareness of the needs of older people and the disabled. These campaigns also
included work with the police to raise awareness of ‘bogus officials’ calling
on older people.
Royal Voluntary Service continued
to provide Good Neighbour schemes for older people through the 1990s and into
21st Century which included practical help, home visits and telephone calls. In
March 2019 with the ASDA Foundation they launched funding for Community
Companions to continue the work started by Good Companions in the 1960s and
1970s. You can find out more about today’s Community Companions service on thiswebsite.
Originally known as Luncheon Clubs, Lunch Clubs were a place where ‘older people, not housebound or in need of Meals on Wheels, may get a good nourishing meal on several days each week, find friendship and help whenever they ask for it, and where they can enjoy a hot meal in the company of others, always a stimulus to those living alone.’
During the Second World War
WVS provided meals for older people in British Restaurants. In the immediate
post-war period meals were provided through Meals on Wheels services to some Darby
and Joan Clubs.
The first mention, in the
Archives, of a dedicated Luncheon Club is the Malvern Luncheon Club in 1949 it
had 220 members and met once a month. Other Luncheon Clubs appeared through the
1950s in different areas including St Marylebone, Bakewell Rural and Mablethorpe.
However it was not until
1962 when the scheme really took off and WVS realised the need to increase the
number of clubs providing midday meals. Clubs provided tea,
coffee, a two or three course meal and in some clubs activities such as Bingo,
a quiz or a raffle.
Every Luncheon Club had a
club leader, cook(s), pot-washers, and servers, all of whom were volunteers
though in some cases the local authority paid for permanent cooks. In some clubs
members who came for a meal would help volunteers with the washing-up. However
in some areas the meals were cooked in kitchens outside the clubs, such as Guys
Marsh Open Borstal for the Parish Centre luncheon club in 1974.
WRVS continued to provide Luncheon Clubs all over Britain for older people to enjoy a hot mid-day meal into the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. Today Royal Voluntary Service volunteers still run Lunch Clubs and there is now a Cooking for a Crowd cookbook, a collection of favorite Royal Voluntary Service Lunch Club recipes.
 RVS A&HC, Luncheon Clubs, 812, 1967
 RVS A&HC, Report on 25 Years Work 1938-1963, 1963,
Report of Ten Years Work for the Nation 1938-1948
 RVS A&HC, Bulletin, WRVS/HQ/PUB/BUL/BUL-1949-04,
April 1949, pp10-11, Bulletin, WRVS/HQ/PUB/BUL/BUL-1953-01, p15, Bulletin, WRVS/HQ/PUB/BUL/BUL-1954-06,
June 1954 p14, Narrative Report, WRVS/HQ/NR/R3/1958-LINC/MTP, Mablethorpe,
Lincolnshire, May 1958
 RVS A&HC, 807, Work for Old People, 1962
 RVS A&HC,
WRVSA&HC/WRVS/HQ/PUB/BUL/BUL-1974-09, Sept 1974 p11
Today we all know the importance of keeping fit and moving
around at any age. As usually Royal Voluntary Service have a history of
pioneering activities for older people before they become popular. In the 1970s
WRVS was pioneering Music and Movement classes in local communities One WRVS
volunteer who helped with this was Elizabeth Kay. In 2014 I interviewed her for
the oral history project Voices of Volunteering
. Elizabeth had first joined
WVS in the late 1960s to be a speaker giving talks about Drugs, volunteering
helped her develop this skill and she gave talks on many other topics which
also led to training as a keep fit
instructor skills she used to help WRVS set up local Music and Movement classes
in Hounslow. This is Elizabeth’s story in her own words:
“I gave a talk on history of nursery rhymes, and most people didn’t know
how nursery rhymes started and why. Oh, and I’d talk about tortoises because my
son had a tortoise which I was looking after, again people didn’t know about
tortoises and how they were creatures of veneration. When I was in China I went
to see this enormous marble tortoise which was a symbol of longevity. So yes
as, I did find giving those talks were very interesting and because my husband
had died I had to make an income from somewhere and so that’s what I did.
It [WRVS] gave me more that, it gave me more than just, mm, learning to
do the drug talks, it gave me a feeling that people liked to listen. … While I
was in the WRVS I decided because I was a keep fit teacher, I thought these old
people sitting all day in chairs not talking to anybody, long before local
authority had started, which they do now, and movement classes.
I went to our local care home and asked the matron there if she’d like me
to go in and, and do some musical movement. And so, and I used all the old
songs that they knew. Some of them I had to learn, I didn’t know there was a
song called He Played His Ukulele As The
Ship Went Down, and I got the songs from these old, I say ‘old
people’, I mean heavens some of them are younger than I am now. But, but they
were and they sat all day and they did nothing, and so I felt that this was a
really good idea. And so I, I went and we used these songs that they knew and
we did actions to the songs. Now it’s done, local authorities are doing this
all over, but at that time it was quite revolutionary and nobody had done that.
I always wore my uniform and as you can see one or two of them are
actually lifting their arms but they used to like singing the songs as well.
That was actually breaking new ground because it hadn’t been done until
then. I had a woman who played the piano for me and I went to all kinds of old
people’s clubs and she played the piano and I did the movements, mm, and it
was, that was then sponsored by the local authority.
One of them [the Matrons in one of the homes] apologised to me because I
used to go in to this particularly [home], if they sit in their living room,
the social room, in chairs all around because I used to say ‘Don’t put them in
rows, I like them all round me’ because I work to every single one, which I do.
And every week when I used to go in one woman used to get up from her chair,
look at me and say ‘Stupid cow’ and walk out. And matron said ‘I’m so sorry’. I
said ‘Look, if that’s the only exercise she gets all week it’s exercise, don’t
worry, she’s moved’.
It was, it was so satisfying because I felt that the, they just loved
having somebody to be with them and do these and think about how it used to be
when they were young, the songs that they could sing. And we used some wartime
songs as well. And before, as I say, I never knew there was a song entitled Three Pots a Shilling which is about a
gypsy selling honey from door to door. And I learnt these, I actually looked
them up. I went to Charing Cross Road to
the, the archive shop there and looked up all these songs and bought the music
so that my pianist could play them for me. And it was great. And then sadly
Greta, who was much older, was not able to do the playing anymore and so
another, another lady took over and she didn’t need music at all, and it was
lovely because she used to play for my keep fit classes.”
Elizabeth Kay WVS/WRVS Volunteer July 2016
Stories from volunteers really helps to tell the story of Royal Voluntary
Service and how volunteering has benefited society in many ways. If you would
like to hear Elizabeth’s story or those of many other volunteers in full you
can visit Archive Online
and search our Voices of Volunteering
You can also listen to the story above on SoundCloud
The second image in this week's blog is taken from WRVS Magazine No.371 December 1970
After its creation in 1938, the Women’s Voluntary Service’s main focus was the war effort, recruiting women to assist civilians during and after air raids. After the war, however, the aim of the organisation shifted, and more attention was focussed on the older generation. Since then, the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) has worked closely with older people, hoping to improve their lives in every way possible. Today we will look at the achievements of the Royal Voluntary Service and how its efforts have changed over time.
After realising the ever increasing population in the older generation, the WVS set out to assist them in a number of ways, many of which are exist in some form today. These included Darby and Joan clubs
, residential clubs and the Meals on Wheels
. Special clubs were set up for old people in a few places during the war, but after seeing its success, the number increased rapidly after 1945. By 1962, there were over 2,000 Darby and Joan clubs, with membership exceeding 150,000. In this friendly atmosphere, the old people enjoyed spending time with each other, dancing and going on regular holidays throughout the year. Mary Curtis, a former club leader who spent 45 years with the WVS, talked about her time spent on holidays with members in 2015 in an interview with Jennifer Hunt. She said that she went in a variety of places across the UK, starting from 1970 – with the last holiday taking place in 2008. These included Morecambe, Llandudno, Newquay, Ayr and Bournemouth. But these places did not come without excitement. “On one occasion our coach skidded off the road and went into a ditch” she quotes, when speaking of a foggy morning in the Isle of Wight. “Nobody panicked” she says and “it was a lovely holiday”.
Residential Clubs were also established, where members would assist permanent staff in homes for the pensioners. By 1963, 23 homes were established by the WVS. As purpose-built flats and bungalows were being provided by the government, the WVS also helped with re-housing the retirees. Some would lay carpets, whilst others would hang curtains, making life easier for people who were moving house.
The changing role of RVS
In 1960, it was estimated that around 12.5% of the country’s population was of a pensionable age. This has since increased to 18%, an increase of over 5 million people. As a result, through the 1970s WRVS established many other services; transport schemes
(Country Cars 1974/1975) have also been put in place whereby volunteers undertook thousands of journeys each year and still do, taking people to and from hospital, trips into town or shopping trips, adding to the pleasure of day to day lives and allowing people to be closer to their local community. Other opportunities include the Good Neighbours Scheme
(1974), which started as a visiting scheme but has now developed to offer help, whether it’s walking the dog, changing a lightbulb or collecting a pension. Helping an older person in small ways can make life much easier for them. Home library services started in the 1960s but took off in the 1970s. Today, volunteers still bring a range of books
, as well as DVDs and CDs to older people who wouldn’t normally be able to get out of the house. In 1992 WRVS became a charity and as a result became more focused on the welfare of older people. The Charity works today to meet the very different needs of older people, including more community focused schemes such as Cafes, Lunch clubs
and social events, encouraging people to get out and about and meet new people. In every way we are working to support changing lifestyles and tackle loneliness later in life.
Over the years WVS and WRVS has worked to improve the lives of older people with a range of services including the home library service and befriending. The RVS has adapted to provide for the ever increasing population in the older generation. By introducing and continuing schemes such as the Good Neighbour scheme and Lunch Clubs, the RVS has encouraged people to socialise with one and other, an essential part in anyone’s life that boosts morale and mental wellbeing. The RVS has continued to support the elderly and the Archive holds lots of records about the welfare of older people from 1938 to the present day. This demonstrates our success in providing needs for older people, from 80 years ago and for many more years in the future.
Credit First photograph, R44353/80 - "Old People Dancing" taken by CH Wood, published by the kind permission of Museums and Galleries, Bradford MDC
Work in the field of welfare for the disabled was part of
WVS from the beginning through Health and Hospitals, Meals on Wheels, Clothing,
Children’s Holidays and Old People’s Welfare, among other services. In the late
1960s WRVS set up the Welfare for the Disabled Department. This was a reflection
on growing public awareness, the requirements of the Chronically Sick and
Disabled Persons Act (1970) and advances in medical science. WRVS provided many
services through the department including clubs, handicrafts, holidays and
diversional therapy. In this week’s blog we’ll explore the work of WRVS
providing these services.
After the war the welfare state became a prime focus for the
nation including social care for those in need of it. As usual WVS was at the
forefront of any developments. In 1956 the Government produced the Piercy Report, it considered the rehabilitation of disabled people and accounted for
what they could expect from the welfare state. Local Authorities responsibilities
included catering “for the social need of the disabled in employment” and
meeting “social and occupational needs of other disabled persons”. In some
places WVS was already running clubs or helping Local Authorities with their
own clubs. WVS also aimed to help people become as self-reliant as possible in
their own communities and complete any medical care which would allow them to
go home from hospital.
When WVS established Evening Centres in the 1960s to
encourage younger people to join the organisation one of the tasks they gave
them was to run clubs for the disabled. In London in 1962 the Bermondsey
Evening Centre ran a club. Also in the 1960s the WVS Winged Fellowship Holiday
Scheme this allowed anyone with a disability to go on holiday. WVS also
provided services such as transport to clubs, activities and appointments for
example in 1964 WVS in Golborne (Greater Manchester) took a lady who had
suffered from polio on a walk (c.1.5 hours one way) and shopping trip to Leigh.
Over the years Royal Voluntary Service hasn’t just provided services it has
also promoted the latest research into the areas it focuses on. In 1968 WRVS
raised awareness about a project at Edinburgh University into access for the
By the late 1960s WRVs had expanded its role in creating the
Welfare for the Disabled Department which included the diversional therapy,
reading, letter writing, mobile libraries, visiting, holiday centres and
providing flats as part of WRVS’s Housing Schemes. Nationally in the 1970s
there was a movement towards care in the community rather than keeping people
in institutions, hospitals and psychiatric hospitals. WRVS provided many
services which would help people being discharged from these places or moving
out as they were closed. Many of these
services listed above were already in place in many departments of WRVS. This
included clothing, the department produced a number of publications. The organisation
also ran sessions to discuss the clothing needs of people with disabilities. (WRVS Magazine 1971 p.14)
Through the Children’s Holiday Department WRVS Scotland
provided holidays for blind and death children in the Glasgow and Helensburg
area. They also informed the world on volunteering work and in 1974 told Japanese
visitors, connected with welfare work in Japan, on a visit to HQ about care for
older and disabled people in Britain. In the 1980s/1990s WRVS continued with
all the services it had gradually been developing for 50 years. This also
included arranging riding lessons for children with disabilities as Riding for
the Disabled began to establish centres in the 1980s. In 1992 WRVS established its charity status,
with the need to
fundraise and changing focus to Hospitals, older people’s welfare and
emergencies the Welfare for disabled people’s department faded away. However
many of the services it provided for example home libraries, talking books,
wheelchair escorts in hospitals and clubs were continued and integrated into the
areas it chose to focus on to support the welfare of all and the welfare state
as Royal Voluntary Service continues to do today.
Of course in a fortnightly blog there isn’t enough time to
discuss the huge amount of work done by Royal Voluntary Service in a single
area. This whistle stop tour is here to give you an idea of the work the
charity has been doing for society from a time of war to peace and beyond. You
can find more detailed information about services we’ve provided on ArchiveOnline, Schools resources and Factsheets page.
The Second World War ended on 2 September 1945 following the defeat of Japan in August. It concluded in August when America dropped two nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki causing the Japanese to surrender. However with the end of one war came the threat of another completely different type of war and one which played out on several different battlefields but didn’t result as some feared in nuclear armageddon but the fall of a political ideology and superpower. This was the Cold War which spanned four decades from 1947-1991. Of course in the unfortunate event that nuclear war would play out between east and west there was a volunteer army at the ready and well prepared to assist civilians; obviously it was the WVS.
At the end of the Second World War it seemed that the post-war years would be a time of peace and in Britain the Civil Defence Services were disbanded. However by 1949 the government and the people had come to realise that with large world powers making nuclear weapons the Civil Defence Corps needed to be brought back into action. This took the form of a voluntary organisation which incorporated the WVS into a special welfare section. In 1951 Home Secretary David Maxwell Fyfe declared the function of WVS in Civil Defence would be to:
• Running rest centres
• Helping in peacetime national disasters
• Providing meals for Firemen, police, members of the Civil Defence Corps and Cadet Camps
• Emergency Feeding and feeding at large scale events as part of training (also part of the Food Flying Squads)
• Home Nursing
• First Aid
• Liaison with Civil Defence in other countries WVS members trained women from Holland, America, Lebanon and Luxemburg to name a few.
• One in Five talks which aimed to talk to 3 million women about the dangers of nuclear attack and basic survival.
In the mid to late 1960s the Cold War between Russia and Britain had started to thaw and it was thought there was no longer a need for the Civil Defence Corps. The corps were disbanded in 1968, however the ever practical Lady Reading and WRVS members (by then Royal had been added to the title) saw a need for the welfare services they had been providing since 1949 as part of Civil Defence. In the early 1970s they started the Emergency Services Department. This new department continued in the following roles:
• Running rest centres
• Helping in peacetime national disasters
• Providing meals for Firemen, police
• Emergency Feeding and feeding at large scale events
One in Five, although part of WRVS’s Civil Defence work, had been established as a separate department and so work continued to train one fifth of women about the dangers of nuclear attack and basic survival. This service continued into the 1980s and as hostilities relaxed and the Soviet Union collapsed (1989-1991) the department faded away.
Even though parts of WRVS’s role in preparing the nation for a large national crisis ended with the fall of the Berlin wall and collapse of the Soviet Union some vital services were still needed. Volunteers continued to assist in emergencies and reassuring the nation in times of need in our next blog we will look at how WRVS provided compassion in crisis in a new era were the ideals of society and community were changing drastically.
You can find out more about the role of WVS/WRVS during the Cold War on our factsheet page or if you are in or near to Devizes before 24th June you can visit the Compassion in Crisis Exhibition at Wiltshire Museum.
It may surprise you to learn that for three days last week the Archivist, Deputy Archivist and Archives Business Manager were setting up a new exhibition at Wiltshire Museum in Devizes. The Archive team have been planning this since the middle of last year writing content, selecting objects and preparing resources. Finally it is already in place ready to be seen by the public, this is a taste of what to expect from Compassion in Crisis.
In 1938 Lady Reading started to mobilise an army of women who would be essential in winning the Second World War. By 1941 this was over 1,000,000 who were often referred to as ‘the women in green’ because of their uniform and they were known for offering tea and comfort to all who needed it in a time of crisis. At the end of the war dangers to civilians didn’t just fade away and a new threat of nuclear war was ever on people’s minds.
The exhibition looks at the emerging role of WVS inemergencies during the war and how this developed in the post-war world. Part of the exhibition explores the One-in-Five scheme which aimed to educate one in every five women on what to do in the event of a nuclear attack. Women also joined the Food Flying Squads part of the Civil Defence Welfare Section. These women didn’t just have training exercises they also provided relief to those affected by floods in 1953. There were also other skills and services providedby WVS during the war which did not become obsolete in the post war era.
Dutch and Belgium refugees as well as evacuees had been helped by WVS; with the war, revolution and natural disaster in other nations fresh waves of refugees arrived in Britain in 1950s to 1980s. WVS or WRVS by the time Vietnamese, Ugandan Asian and Kosovan refugees arrived were always ready to comfort those in need and give them a safe place to stay. Compassion in Crisis looks at how WVS/WRVS showed compassion to refugees and gave them comfort intheir time of crisis. It also reflects on how voluntary service and what itmeans to be a volunteer has changed as we have moved into the twenty first century.
The Exhibition at Wiltshire Museum will run from the 7th May to 24th June, we hope you will take the opportunity to get a rare glimpse at some of the objects, uniform and records preserved by the Royal Voluntary Service Archive & Heritage Collection. If you have children we also have an exciting trail to follow round the exhibit and the chance to build a model emergency cooker.
If you would like to know more about the history of Royal Voluntary Service or WVS in Devizes during World War II there are lectures from Matthew McMurray and David Dawson on 6th and 20th June.