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Some recent enquiries...

Here at the archive much of our time is spent answering enquiries from members of the public and Royal Voluntary Service staff and volunteers, in fact we receive about 200 a year. But like London buses they all seem to come along at once.

This month we have had a small deluge of family and local history enquiries, requests from students and media companies to authors and people looking to donate material to the archive.

One of my favourite requests was from a gentleman who has donated 200 Civil Defence Welfare Section recipe cards to the archive (which as I write this have yet to arrive). Each card with a different recipe for feeding 5,000 people at a time, imagine that, the quantities are mind boggling!

We also had request for information on one of our Regional Administrators during the war, Mrs Vera Dart who looked after Region 10 (Cumberland, Lancashire and Cheshire for the uninitiated!) for an author who is publishing a book about her.

A lady rang up asking us to identify what had come in a small white cardboard box, which had “presented by Lady Reading 1940” written on the back. The answer? It was her WVS membership badge. A lucky lady to be presented with it by the Chairman!

We have also lent out this month our entire stock of wartime loan uniforms for events being held by Royal Voluntary Services around the country, they have been at the Dig for Victory Show in Bristol, as wells as other promotional events around the country from Sheffield to Hampshire, the uniforms always attracting much attention.

Finally in this small selection, we have helped an academic who is looking at how our narrative reports might be able to help track changes in society and policy over time. This may turn out to be an exciting project for the future!

Posted by Matthew McMurray, Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 27 July 2015.

Labels: Region 10 , WVS, WRVS, RVS, Archive , Enquiries, Recipes, Vera Dart, Lady Reading , Narrative Reports

Spinach and beet - Part 13

This Month’s extract from the Diary of a Centre Organiser and our recipe come from August 1950.

MONDAY

Found a white-faced Miss MacFee hovering in the doorway when I arrived at the office to-day. “ The telephone’s out of order—and he’s in there,” she flung at me and rushed into the street. A most charming-looking little boy beamed a welcome when, greatly alarmed, I opened the door : his fair, curly hair reminding me of the picture of “ Bubbles ” ; and Miss MacFee’s behaviour seemed unaccountable. However, when I subsequently learned his “history” I felt every sympathy with her and her hurry to telephone the Welfare Officer : the small innocent-eyed person had wrung the neck of a chicken, attempted to strangle a kitten and that morning had nearly throttled his younger brother! (His mother, a Clothing Exchange frequenter, had dumped him on us in despair while on her way to the Hospital with his latest victim.)

TUESDAY

So far the meals for our “ Meals on Wheels ” scheme in the suburb of Nearleigh have been cooked by a local cafe : but with a change of management the quality of them has deteriorated disastrously with a resultant dropping in numbers. Have definitely decided W.V.S. shall do the cooking in future (as we already do for the rest of the town). Proprietor of cafe not pleased at decision and had his own explanation for the fall in numbers : “ They’re so excellent, the meals I serve,” he said aggressively, “ and the old folks feel so much better for them, that that’s why they’re not ordering any more.”

THURSDAY

I realise only too well that I am by no means as efficient as the regular “ Meals on Wheels ” helpers and when I—quite humbly—asked if I should take the place of a member who had fallen out at the last moment I was only “ allowed ” to do so after repeated instructions about bringing back the lids of containers and never leaving a meal without getting the money for it. Was horror-stricken, therefore, when old Mrs. Chaw greeted me with the words : “ It’s my free day to-day ”—but subsequently learned she meant she was free from cooking a meal on Thursdays (and how glad she was to be so), and returned triumphantly with her shilling.

Tomato Puffs

6 firm but ripe tomatoes
Pepper, salt and grated nutmeg
A little melted butter, chopped parsley, chives
1 egg.
Milk
Flour
Fat for frying

Skin the tomatoes and cut into thick slices. Then place on a plate, sprinkling the slices with chives, parsley and nutmeg. Prepare the batter for frying one hour before it is needed. Beat the egg, add a cup of milk and enough flour to make a thick batter. Season well with pepper and salt, adding a spoonful of cold water and melted butter. Beat well. Cover then stand aside.

Have the fat smoking hot : dip the tomato slices in the batter and fry, turning until they become well puffed and a rich golden brown.

Posted by Matthew McMurray, Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 13 July 2015.

Labels: Tomatoe puffs, recipe, Meals on Wheels, Spinach and beet, WRVS, WVS, Chicken, kitten, Strangulation

Summer enquiry service closure

Unfortunately, due to staff and volunteer holidays we will be unable to offer our Archive enquiry service during the month of July. 

This summer closure will start on Friday 3 July and last until Monday 3 August when the archive enquiry service will re-open.  This will also affect our paid for research service and our image licencing service.  Any enquiries received during this period will be answered within 20 working days of the re-opening of the service on Monday 3 August.

Lots of information on the WVS, WRVS and Royal Voluntary Service is available through the our history pages our website.

We're sorry for any inconvenience caused.


Posted by Matthew McMurray, Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 09:00 Thursday, 02 July 2015.

Labels: WRVS, RVS, Enquiry Service

Reports From Everywhere - June 1955

BATH. One of our old ladies who had been visited for a long time by W.V.S. dropped a hint that she had a birthday the following week. This was duly noted by the member and the landlady. Small gifts of candies, biscuits etc. were produced for the great day and they all had tea together. During the little celebration the old lady coyly announced that it was not her birthday at all but she would like to make sure of it now! Tailpiece—she died before her birthday ; she was over 80.

BURTON-ON-TRENT. The Hat Stall. The Matron at the Andressey Hospital approached the leader of the trolley shop to see if it was possible to supply those mental patients who were able to go out with new hats, as the ones they had were getting very shabby. As nothing appears impossible to W.V.S. our leader went to the manager of one of our large stores to see what he could do. He most kindly agreed to help and sent up a large quantity of hats to the hospital and the trolley helpers held an extra session one evening in the women’s sitting room. It was a most exciting and interesting evening. The patients were frightfully thrilled and tried on the hats with great enthusiasm, matching them with their coats, laughing heartily when the hat didn’t suit. They had been saving up for this occasion and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. The helpers and nurses were completely exhausted at the end as there were between fifty and sixty patients. We are wondering what we shall be asked for next.

ESTON (SOUTHBANK). On arriving at the post office one morning the Centre Organiser found a note asking her to telephone a crippled women who wanted W.V.S. help. It was found a self-propelling chair was needed. The Centre Organiser made several enquiries, and then told the woman what to do (all in the same morning). In less than three weeks the woman had been interviewed and examined and found eligible and now, having received the chair, she is so grateful she wants to do shopping for old people not able to do their own.

MORPETH. We have called on 38 old people to see if they need help, and came across many sad cases and some with humorous endings. For example, two poor old sisters over 80 living in most squalid conditions, no bedding, having sold belongings to keep going ; very proud and refusing any help. The National Assistance Board officer was asked to call and the Medical Officer of Health notified. The N.A.B. officer, after a lot of questioning awoke vague memories of money in their minds, and after a lengthy search he and they discovered £400 in notes in an old handbag!

SALISBURY. A little girl, very badly burned was transferred from the Isle of Wight to the plastic ward of Odstock Hospital. W.V.S. Isle of Wight told Southern Region and they passed the message on to South Western Region who asked Salisbury to send a visitor. Within two hours of receiving the request a member was on her way. The child was very ill and of course homesick. Our member quickly established herself as a trusted and beloved “ aunt,” and has been visiting the little girl three or four times a week for more than two months.

Posted by Matthew McMurray at 00:00 Monday, 22 June 2015.

Labels: WVS, WRVS, RVS, Bath, Burton on Trent, Eston, Morpeth, Salisbury, Hospital, old people, hats, Reports from everywhere

The longest serving member of the Army Hitler forgot

You may have seen one of the newspaper, magazine or television pieces about our oldest volunteer Margaret Miller who is 104 years young, in our celebration of VE Day at the beginning of June.

Last week we finally managed to interview Margaret about her amazing 76 years volunteering for the Royal Voluntary Service, as part of our Heritage Lottery Funded Voices of Volunteering project.

You can listen to Margaret by following the link to Margaret's page our online catalogue

Margaret was first involved with the WVS in Glasgow during the Second World War with collecting items for the Household Gifts Scheme and distributing them to people who had been bombed out. She was also involved with visiting and talking to soldiers in hospital and talking to them or bringing them gifts.

After the War Margaret was involved in Meals on Wheels and the Hospital Escort Service and in 1973 she was asked to set-up and run a stroke club called the Lightburn Harmony Stroke Club, which is still running today. In the interview Margaret also talks about the different members she has had over the years and her fundraising for the club. She also comments on her Long Service medal and two British Empire Medals, attending the 50th WRVS anniversary, a Garden Party at Holyrood in 2014 and her views on how Royal Voluntary Service has changed over the years.

Hearing volunteer‘s stories in their own words is what the Voices of Volunteering project is all about. For more information about the project you can visit the Voices of Volunteering project page

You might also be interested in the media coverage about Margaret and VE Day, you can find some of the articles below:

Posted by Matthew McMurray, Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 10:00 Monday, 15 June 2015.

Labels: Margaret Miller, Stroke Club, Household Gifts Scheme, WVS , WRVS, RVS, Glasgow, Meals on Wheels , Hospital escort Service, British Empire Medal

Spinach and Beet - Part 12

This month’s extract from the diary of a Centre Organiser came from June 1950

MONDAY

Distribution of Overseas Gift Foods to-day (at the request of the Mayor). Had purposely not sent an invitation to Mrs. Grabber, who has already had more than her fair share. However, she must have got wind of the occasion, for there she was—as usual ! “ No,” she admitted, “ you didn’t send me a card—and it upset me very much.” Then she added, “ But I was not so vexed at not being invited that I wouldn’t come at all ! ”

TUESDAY

Mrs. Kay looked in to thank us for getting her an E.V.W. domestic, and to tell us she is settling down happily. “ Her English is quite good, too,” Mrs. Kay enthused, “ but she mixes up ‘ test ’ and ‘ taste.’ She told me to-day that she thought a plumber should be asked to come along to ‘ taste the drains’!”

WEDNESDAY

An extremely handsome young man brushed past me as I entered the office this morning, and I found Miss Pretty standing by my desk looking flushed. “ What’s been happening here ? ” I enquired briskly. The question was obviously embarrassing. “ Er—that man you saw: he followed me along the street,” she answered. “ Then he came in here to ask if I was doing anything this evening.” “ Well ? ” I prompted, scenting a budding romance. “ When I told him I was free this evening ...” Miss Pretty paused, flashed me a glance and went on quickly : “ He asked me if I would sit-in with his baby so that he and his wife could go to the pictures ! ” (Poor Miss Pretty !)

Rose Custard

Stew 1 pint of raspberries slowly with 1/2 teacupful each of sugar and water. Strain off the juice, measure and make up to 1/2 pint if necessary. Beat 2 eggs, heat 1/2 pint milk and stir it into the eggs, add 1 dessertspoonful of sugar and a pinch of bicarbonate of soda. Leave till lukewarm, then slowly stir in the raspberry juice. If the colour is insipid add a little cochineal. Pour the mixture into a fireproof dish, stand this in a bowl of cold water and put them together into a slow oven. The custard should set firmly without boiling. Turn out when cold and decorate with whole raspberries. Serve with Savoy Biscuits.

Posted by Matthew McMurray, Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 01 June 2015.

Labels: Rose Custard, Recipe, WRVS, WVS, Baby Sitting, EVW , European voluntary Workers, Overseas Gift Foods, Spinach and Beet

The WVS and WI keep the 'Homefires' burning

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.

Labels: Homefires, WI, WVS, WRVS, Heritage Bulletin Blog, Cheshire , Bunbury, Rose Hips, VCP, Comforts, Ration, Canteen

Nepalese Gurkha Welfare

With the tragedy over the weekend in Nepal we thought we would bring some good news of how the WVS helped the families of Nepalese Gurkha soldiers , a task that would last for over 40 years and how it all started in an account from 1948.

When the decision was made that a Gurkha Brigade would be recruited by the British to serve in Malaya, those responsible felt very strongly that if this experiment were to succeed a welfare service must be provided for the families.

These families had never been out of Nepal in their lives; had probably never seen the sea; had anything from a five to 14 days’ walk to reach the port of embarkation, and could speak no English. To go overseas to live in a strange country with strange people in unknown and unimagined conditions would be a tremendous step.

Early in 1948 WVS agreed to send members to act in a welfare capacity. There are now Families’ Camps attached to the eight battalions serving in Malaya. The families at present live in tents which are wonderfully well kept, and around which little gardens have been planted.

The work of the WVS member varies in each camp, but everywhere a main concern is the health of the women and children. She issues additional milk and vitamin foods, possibly once a week makes an inspection of the tents, weighs the numerous babies, takes the expectant mothers to ante-natal clinic, goes to hospital with all who need treatment, and generally endeavours to reassure the very nervous Gurkha woman and persuade her there is nothing to fear, either in regard to seeing a doctor or going into hospital.

A sewing machine is often provided which the women are taught to use, and the WVS member buys thin material which, in turn, the women buy from her to make light clothes for the children. When the families first arrived the children wore thick, knitted, woollen garments. In a tropical climate the result was very severe prickly heat and often outbreaks of impetigo and other skin diseases. It was not easy to convince the women at first that light clothes were suitable and would be most comfortable, and it was only by getting one or two of the more enterprising of them to try the experiment, which proved successful, that now practically all the women wear light bright coloured saris.

These Gurkha wives are most of them very young people, many of them only 16, 17 or 18.  There are, naturally, some who are considerably older, but for the young ones such a tremendous upheaval must be a startling experience, it is extremely easy to frighten and upset them. By far the chief occupation is having babies!

Every WVS. member feels a tremendous pride in the number and size of the new arrivals, and there is considerable rivalry between the various battalions !

Another activity is running a little class or school for the younger children. It is, naturally, difficult for the WVS member to teach children to count, read and write in a language of which she knows only comparatively few words herself, but nevertheless she manages extremely well by either pointing or drawing an object, the little Gurkha giving the Gurkhali word, the WVS. member giving the English equivalent, thereby both acquiring knowledge at the same time.

The women are on the whole extremely enterprising, very excited with anything new and most receptive to any fresh experience. An outing was once arranged for the wives and families from one camp, On arrival the smaller children walked straight into the sea and started paddling, many of the women immediately took off their top layer of clothes and plunged in in their underclothes. As our WVS member said: “I never thought I would find myself teaching a Gurkha lady to float, with her sari trailing on the waves behind her.”

It is extremely interesting to go round the tents and see what the different families manage to do with the same equipment. Each family is issued with the basic furniture : beds, chairs, tables, chest of drawers. Some remain rather bare and cheerless but others, from apparently nowhere, very soon have many bright flowers about and extraordinary collections of coloured pictures and photographs, and very often an advertisement cut from an illustrated paper appears next door to a brightly coloured picture of a local god.

There is no shadow of doubt that the WVS members working with the Gurkhas have done a really first class job of welfare in the fullest and best sense of the word. The work is exacting and strenuous, but I am sure that everyone who has worked with the Gurkhas is very glad to have had the experience.

Posted by Matthew McMurray at 00:00 Monday, 27 April 2015.

Labels: Nepal, WRVS, RVS, WVS, Gurkha, Soldiers, families, Knitting, Babies, impetigo, hospital, Gurkhali, wool, tents, malaya

Spinach and Beet - Part 11

This month’s extract from the diary of a centre organiser come from July 1950

WEDNESDAY

A “ Bright Young Thing ” called at the office this morning to make enquiries about WVS at the very moment when I had to leave for an appointment at the further end of the town. Remembering my County Organiser’s words: . . . "Encourage younger women to join. We are all of us ten years older . .. ” and so on, I beamed welcomingly, thrust a copy of “How WVS. can serve the community” and a pencil into her hands and told her to mark the forms of service in which she was most interested. She had left by the time I returned and Miss MacFee handed me the marked leaflet. “KKL” was pencilled against a great many paragraphs and my hopes rose. She had initialled, perhaps, the jobs with which she would be prepared to lend a hand? “No,” Miss MacFee told me dourly,  her name’s Brown— and she says she’ll help with the ACF Canteen.” “ And 'KKL’?” I enquired, mystified. Miss MacFee looked down her nose. “She told me it stood for“ ‘Kouldn’t Kare Less’,” she said.

THURSDAY

Mrs Grouse was holding forth in her usual delightful (?) way at today’s “Make Do and Mend” party. All the vegetables in her garden had failed; her silk sunshade, purchased only last year, had split; a frock, guaranteed “fast” colours, had faded : on and on went the tales of woe. “You’re a pessimist, that’s what you are,” Mrs Bright said at last. “You’re like the farmer who had some chickens. ‘They’re a fine lot,’ somebody told him, but he shook his head‘ The trouble is the old hen hatched out nine, and all of them have died on me but eight,’ he said.” (The rest of us laughed, but Mrs Grouse thought the farmer’s attitude quite natural. “Poor man, I expect the ninth was a pullet and all the others were cockerels,” she commented.)

FRIDAY

Matron inculcates politeness to each new orphan very soon after his or her arrival at the Home. It is impossible, therefore, to suspect an ulterior meaning behind the words spoken by a small newcomer after her first visit to her WVS Godmother’s home. “Thank you so very much for having me,” she said fervently to her hostess. “I've been had beautifully.”

Recipe

With the weather improving and summer coming on we thought we would bring you a salad.

The Salad Clock

Make a French Salad, using cold cooked potatoes cut into rings, cooked peas, carrots and parsnips cooked and diced. Add finely sliced apple and chopped gherkin and mix well with salad cream.

Place on a large serving platter and have layer of dressing on top smoothed over to represent face of a clock. Cut two hard- boiled eggs into twelve slices and place them equally round the face of the clock. Cut Roman numerical figures out of strips of any vegetable but if beetroot is used do not place it in position until the last minute as the colour runs.

Use two sticks of celery to represent the hands of the clock. Frame with slices of tomato alternating with cucumber - or chopped ham and sliced sausage.

Posted by Matthew McMurray at 00:00 Monday, 20 April 2015.

Labels: Matron, Orphan, Godmother, Salad clock, chickens, bright Young things, Spinach and beet, centre organiser , WVS, WRVS, RVS

Listen to more Voices of Volunteering

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.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt at 00:00 Monday, 13 April 2015.

Labels: WRVS, WVS, RVS, Heritage Bulletin Blog , Voices of Volunteering, Oral History