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Personal letters can form a very
important part of an archival collection; often they provide an intimate look
into the life and times of the author. The 62 letters we received recently were
written by a member of WVS India Kathleen Thompson to relatives in Harrogate Yorkshire.
They tell us about Kathleen’s Journey on the SS Corfu to New Delhi and then on
to Deolali, Randu and Raiputana where she spent 18 months
looking after troops getting ready to leave India. Each letter is extremely
detailed, shows a range of emotion and are very opinionated and I think the
best way to show you this is to share a few extracts from those letters.
SS Corfu 5.2.46
“The little boats of course came around with all their goods ‘very
cheap’ ‘very dear’ etc but orders had been given and before purchases could be
made a hose pipe was turned on them. This was I think to prevent any epidemics
been brought on board. The CO troops told me that VAD’s last trip bought ice
cream and 40 were down with dysentery so it’s not to be wondered at that
measures were taken”
The other four letters carry on
in the same way detailing life on board, the food which often seemed to
Kathleen like more ‘than a week’s ration’ as well as the time she spent with
other WVS members and the troops. On the 10th February she sent her
first letter from New Delhi were she stayed till March.
WVS Headquarters New Delhi
“Oh I don’t think I told you how we all went to the Daily Sketch Club
last week. This is a hut colour washed and made very beautiful with a stage. The
floor was red tiles and very good to dance on. A Sargent attached himself to me
and we had a good talk. The men seem on the whole very tired of India, longing
to be home and very pleased to see us. When we said goodnight he shook me
warmly by the hand and thanked me very much indeed for a pleasant evening. Most
of the women went in long frocks but I wore my old white brown cotton frock as I
did not quite know what to expect. Actually
the men were all in clean khaki drills and looked very nice. They were so
pleased to see so many women and I think it is one of the things to guard
against, this feeling of being really important. I do want to remain interested
in people and not become blasé.”
Between March and August 1946
Kathleen ran a club with two other WVS members Bertha and Marjorie in Deolali.
They also had a shop there, went to dances, ran trips for the troops and helped
with the YWCA.
“I saw quite a good film on Monday. Two girls and a sailor light and
sugary but it was good entertainment. Albert Coates was in it too but there
wasn’t enough of him for my taste. I went with John Towlee the Major to Bangalore
to a conference and felt he was in need of a little feminine society – that was
the excuse anyway!!”
Kathleen spent the rest of her
time in Randu and Raiputana before returning to Deolali in July 1947. Her last
letter to relatives in Yorkshire discusses her time on leave before she was due
to return home.
“The rain seems to have arrived in real earnest this morning and is
coming down in good old plops. When it breaks just a little I shall put on the
cape and walk to the post. Afraid it is impossible to stay in all the time. I
am really lucky to have had so many fine days as the records say that Abu
should have had 10” of rain by now”
Kathleen left Deolali at the end
of her contract with the organisation in August 1947. References from the WVS India
Administrator it was written that “[Kathleen]
has carried out her duties conscientiously and efficiently, and I have every
confidence in recommending her as a thoroughly capable and reliable individual”.
There is no record of what Kathleen did next, but included with all the letters
was a WRVS membership card dated 1970, so perhaps she re-joined as a volunteer for
her local area. I’m sure that Yorkshire isn’t as hot as India or expecting 10”
of rain but these days you never know.
“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics” so goes the eponymous quote popularised by Mark Twain.
Every once in a while we all have to admit we have been wrong and so that is what todays blog is in part about. It is the wonderful thing about archives, especially large ones like ours, that we are always finding new things and new evidence, refining and re-writing history and making ‘new’ discoveries.
Here in the archive we have the most fabulous set of statistics for the period 1938-1945. The WVS were compelled by the Government to keep them for the purposes of assisting with Civil Defence. Early on this data tracks WVS volunteer recruitment and numbers monthly, and from 1943 quarterly, but in much more detail. But when the war ended, so did the statistics; the need was no longer there.
We know for certain that in November 1941 the WVS reached its zenith in terms of the number of women who it could call upon, with 1,043,423 members; the largest volunteer organisation in British history. But what happened at the end of the war and afterwards has always been rather sketchy.
We knew that there were very significant resignations at the end of the war, with speeches given by women at the closing of WVS centres about having done their bit and wanting to look after their homes, families and returning husbands, but no figures survived. In fact it would appear no figures were gathered from the end of 1945 until 1949, a period of rapid and dramatic transformation of the WVS from one centred around Civil Defence to one at the forefront of post-war social welfare development.
In 1949 however, with the re-establishment of the Civil Defence Corps after the Russian’s successful Nuclear test in August, the WVS formed the Welfare Section of the CD corps and the statistics started again. Unfortunately we only had a few glimpses of these through a few returns which had been kept by some local offices, which had found their way to the archive. The Headquarters summary books were missing. By comparing these few centre examples against the data from 1945 we made best guesses about the change in national volunteering numbers over the late 1940s.
We also applied that to the period up to 1982 (which were the first post war national statistics we had) and took into account significant events and the start and finish of major branches of work.
Our best guess was that after the war the WVS lost about half its membership to about 500,000, with an increase in 1949 with the formation of the CD corps and then a steady decline with some larger drops at the closure of the corps in 1968 and the death of Lady Reading in 1971.
We have recently been undertaking a whole collections review. I spent five weeks looking in every box in our collection, and managed to find many things I had ‘lost’ and some things which I had never seen before. One of these was the missing 1949-1970 membership statistical returns.
How wrong I turned out to be! After ten years of telling one story, I now have to tell another, but at least it is now more accurate. It just goes to show you what unintentional lies can be wrought from making assumptions based on limited data.
The graph below shows just how dramatic that end of war exodus of members was with the membership between 1945 and 1949 dropping by 88% from 968,242 to 118,960. The majority of that probably occurring in the immediate period after VJ day.
Membership, rose slightly with the onset of the Cold War in 1949, until fatigue set in in the md 1950s, with a flat membership until Lady Reading’s death in 1971 and then a very slow decline until the early 1990s.
The more pronounced decline in the early 1990s through to 2010, should perhaps be seen in the context of the professionalisation of the charity sector and wider social change. This included dramatic changes in the role of women in society and ideas and enthusiasm about volunteering. That said the 1990s and early 2000s were a particular turbulent time for Royal Voluntary Service as its role fundamentally changed from doing just about everything to focusing only on older people and its Government grant was withdrawn incrementally from 1997 - 2008 when it stopped completely.
I think Mark Twain had it just about right, but I’m glad I can put the record straight; at least for the time being.
It’s the second and final week of
Wimbledon and our story of how the WVS, WRVS and Royal Voluntary Service served
After the war WVS was still going
strong but had moved away from its role in supporting a nation at war to sustaining
a nation in peace time, proving welfare for older people, taking children on
holidays, providing clothing, serving in hospital canteens and helping out in
an emergency and Wimbledon volunteers were no different.
In the 1950s Wimbledon WVS were
involved in clothing trolley shops, Civil Defence, Meals on Wheels, National
Savings and Hospital Services to name a few. As well as the usual activities
volunteers were engaged in occupational training clinics, canning fruit and in
august 1950 190 tins were completed. Most of our knowledge of their activities
comes from the Narrative Reports in March 1950 it was reported that the WVS
Exhibition had received a visit from Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) and the
Centre Organiser was honoured to be part of her guard. The first coach trips
for older people were organised in the mid to late 1950s, mostly residents from
the residential homes where the WVS ran trolley shops.
The 1960s and 1970s saw an
administrative change for WVS/WRVS Wimbledon as they became part of the London
Borough of Merton but they were still as energetic as ever. By this time
volunteers were running a Tufty Club, helping with the Sir Winston Churchill
Collection Fund, finding a volunteer to take a man with disseminated
scoliosis to the cinema twice a week and
arranging for volunteers age 17 to help the housebound with library books and
Towards the end of the twentieth
century WRVS Wimbledon was still doing everything and anything it could to help
the people of Merton Borough and further afield. This included helping their
fellow volunteers from across the country providing members running the
information desks at the Wimbledon tennis championship and those taking part in
the WRVS Tennis Competition with accommodation. An unusual request came in 1988
(along with distributing Butter from the EEC) when volunteers were asked to sew
badges on to 150 anoraks for the Great British Olympic Team going to Calgary,
Today Royal Voluntary Service
provides services for older people in Wimbledon and all over London including
Social Clubs, Good Neighbours and Home Library Services.
While running the Voices of Volunteering project I talked to many volunteers who had helped many people including refugees and who thought they had only made a very small contribution. This week is National Refugee week so I thought I would share some stories from volunteers about their experiences of working with refugees. As you will see they did rather a lot.
WVS were working with Refugees from the start of the Second World War, greeting them and finding billets or accommodation.
“War was declared, I was fifteen and my brother was seventeen. I suppose like all stupid young people it was exciting, frightening in a way but quite exciting. And we lived in Weymouth and a lady called, I don't if it's Mrs Sewell or Miss Sewell advertised for volunteers because a lot of, people were coming over from the continent and the Channel Islands to get away from the war. So both my brother, Bob, and me volunteered and we were making beds for people. We actually helped at the birth of a baby which was quite a shock to both of us, but there was no point in, there was no, we couldn't hang around because it was imminent. Anyway, that's my introduction to the WVS as it, as it was called.” – Geraldine Harris Volunteer, Weymouth.
After the Hungarian revolution in 1956 around 200,000 people fled as refugees a number settled in Scotland. In January 1957 the WVS Bulletin reported:
“It is very difficult to make our page of any interest, other than Hungarian Relief Work, but we begin it by telling of the safe arrival of two train loads over the week-end at two camps, one Middle-ton Camp, Gorebridge, the other Broom-lee Camp at West Linton.
W.V.S. set up the clothing issue stores in both camps 24 hours before the expected arrival of the refugees and were then at the station and in the camps to help settle them in for the night. W.V.S. are now on duty issuing clothing and giving every possible assistance.”
When Idi Amin expelled the Asian Community from Uganda in 1972 many came to the UK and of course the WRVS was there to welcome them with clothing suitable for the British weather.
“we really didn't do very much except sort clothes, which came in from the public. There were so many clothes, we didn't know what to do with. But they all had to be sorted because some of them were not fit to give to anybody, and some were absolutely, really super clothes. And these were all sorted into men, women, children’s and babies. And we had one, one school sent us in with the children’s clothes, in the coat pockets were, was a toy in every one, which was lovely.” – Maureen Jones Volunteer, Epping
When Kosovar Refugees arrived in the UK in 1992 once again the WRVS was there to provide clothing to them.
“The Kosovars were based in Calderstones Hospital which was just on the verge of clothing [sic], closing and there was an appeal out for clothing and it came in in droves, we were really overwhelmed. We thought we were making some progress and then another lot would come in. Some really good things, new things, and we were sorting out the rubbish as well, which you also get some rubbish. But we never, we never finished it. They, eventually the, the clothing was taken into another part of the building and arranged as a dress shop or a men’s shop so they could come in and choose enough clothing to help them through.” – Kathleen Ashburner Volunteer,
These stories and more can be found on the Archive Catalogue search the Voices of Volunteering or Bulletin collections.
This month’s reports from everywhere are all on the topic of Darby and Joan clubs.
Copy of a letter from a Darby and Joan Club member: “Dear W.V.S., Thank you very much for my birthday card received September 3rd from the No. 1 Darby and Joan Club. It is very nice to think you are not forgotten. I have not been able to come to the Club for over twelve months. I have been very ill, but I am very pleased to say I am much better, but am not allowed by the Doctor to go into any crowded places, so I don’t go anywhere on my own these days. I miss my Friday meetings very much. All you folks made me feel so much at home with you all. You made me feel you really wanted us all there, not just putting up with us. Good luck to the Club and God bless all the W.V.S. that work there, also all the others that make it a success.”
The Gostrey Club was recently opened. This is a scheme upon which we have been working for over a year. The Club provides a hot lunch, chiropody and library services and tea to people over 60 years of age. The Council have been most helpful in agreeing to let the old Civic Restaurant to us at a low price, and gifts have been received from a number of sources. W.V.S. members worked hard cleaning, putting up curtains and making all the preparations. The opening was attended by 18 old people and many visitors, since which the membership has increased to 45. It was pleasant to hear an old lady saying to a friend, “Yes, I’ve just been to my Club. Oh, it’s like heaven. The chairs are so comfortable and we sit with our feet on a carpet!”
The following letter of thanks has been received from one of the old people to whom we deliver meals-on-wheels : “I am writing a few words of thanks to you and all the kind and willing helpers for their grateful service for we old people and the pleasant faces and the bit of pudding and dinner. Hoping you will not be offended at my writing but you deserve a word of praise for your kindness.”
The one hundredth Darby and Joan Club in Kent was opened on October 5th at Boughton Monchelsea. To commemorate the occasion a silver cup is being given to the Club by the Regional Old People’s Welfare Specialist.
An amusing story comes from Goring Darby and Joan Club. One of our members plays chess regularly with one of the old men. They continued their game during tea, and the Darby became so excited that his opponent suddenly saw he was trying to eat a chessman instead of his cake!
Posted by Matthew McMurray, Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 00:00
Monday, 09 November 2015.
Darby and Joan,
Today’s Diary of a Centre Organiser is from April 1950
A survey of the town has revealed a “corner” of it which is out of reach of any existing Darby and Joan Club. Mrs Ream has energetically pushed a leaflet into the letter-boxes of all houses there known to be inhabited by one or more people over sixty, inviting them to a meeting to discuss the possible formation of a Club. “I’ve been so busy doing this and that, I even forgot to get my husband’s dinner to-day,” she confessed, and added: “He says the leaflets have gone to my head and that I’ve got a one tract mind!”
It is often difficult to curb Mrs Catte’s bitter tongue, but perhaps a newcomer, Mrs Stranger will prove equal to the task. During this afternoon’s Work Party Mrs Stranger - at our invitation - was telling us a little about herself and the work she had been doing for W.V.S. in the Centre she came from. In addition she told us about her son who had won scholarship after scholarship and had just received promotion after only a few months in his first job. “Isn’t it wonderful how lucky your boy is?” Mrs Catte purred silkily, but there was a glint in her eyes. “Yes,” Mrs. Stranger retorted instantly, “isn’t it wonderful? The harder he works the luckier he gets.”
Sudden outbreak of a particularly nasty type of feverish cold amongst the helpers, coinciding with an unexpected number of requests for “Meals on Wheels” for ex-hospital patients. Everbody - myself included - rushing around madly, trying to cope with the deliveries by car, bicycle and even perambulator. Returned to the office to find amongst the letters one written in the third person : “Mrs Appleton would not mind a ‘Meal’ on a ‘Wheel,’ provided it arrives really hot and that the food is freshly cooked and not merely re-heated. She never touches liver and does not care for steamed puddings.” “Would not MIND ...!!’
from May 1950
1 1/4 cups plain flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
2 egg yolks, unbeaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons milk
4 tablesp. butter or margarine
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
For meringue top
2 whites of eggs
1/2 cup sugar.
Sift flour once, then measure, add baking powder and salt, sift together three times. Cream butter thoroughly, add sugar gradually, and cream together until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating after each addition until smooth. Add flavouring. Put into greased baking tin. Beat egg whites until foamy throughout, add sugar, 2 tablesp. at a time, beating after each addition until sugar is thoroughly blended. Continue beating until mixture stands in peaks. Spread over the cake batter. Bake in a moderate oven for about 50 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes to cool, then remove carefully from cake tin.
Posted by Matthew McMurray, Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 09:00
Monday, 26 October 2015.
Meals on Wheels,
Darby and Joan Club,
Work Party ,
Spinach and beet
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,
I have returned to work this morning (from a wonderful holiday) to the sad news that the great singer and entertainer Cilla Black has died and I thought I would make a small tribute .
Back in 1998 Cilla was an ambassador for WRVS in our diamond anniversary year and helped us by supporting our give us a hand Campaign. The campaign sought to encourage people to volunteer with WRVS and to lend a hand in their local communities. A number of celebrities pledged their support by drawing around their hands, cutting them out and sending them to us to hang on a tree. You can read more about the campaign and see some of the celebrity hands on our timeline.
Cilla helped us launch the campaign at the Waldorf Hotel in London along with our chairman Lady Elizabeth Toulson and Cilla presented two of the volunteers who attended with a bottle of champagne! John and Mary Maisey, who volunteered at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, spent the first night of their honeymoon at the Waldorf in 1968 and hadn’t been back since!
Thank you Cilla.