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With the start of the famous tennis tournament today at Wimbledon, we thought it would be good to explore our association with the All England Club.
‘When do you think it is going to stop raining?’
‘Where is the nearest laundrette?’
‘Can you sew on my trouser buttons?’
Believe it or not theses were some of the questions asked at the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament information desks, run by WVS/WRVS between 1947 and 2004.
The All England Club allowed the organisation to hold its own annual Lawn Tennis Competition on the courts as a reward for manning the information desks. As well as answering questions on a range of subjects there were many other situations to deal with including reuniting lost children with their parents and even managers with tennis players. Volunteers also had the opportunity to watch matches on Centre Court and Court One during their breaks though they rarely watched a whole match as a volunteer wrote, ‘work must come first’.
During the 1980s one volunteer kept a record of her experiences of a week at Wimbledon. She wrote about a whole range of things including what she ate, there seems to have been a lot of avocado! On Tuesday 2nd June 1985 she wrote:
‘Panic at 6.50 when Leconte’s Manager came asking where he could get hold of Leconte’s coach who was somewhere within the rabbit warren, being interviewed by French Radio … after much phoning he eventually got hold of him’.
At the beginning of May I went to talk to Maureen Jones as part of Voices of Volunteering who was a WRVS volunteer on the Wimbledon Information Desks between 1982 and 1992. You can listen to a clip about one of her experiences at Wimbledon below.
Voices of Volunteering: 75 Years of Citizenship is an exciting new project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund which is collecting the memories and stories of long serving WVS/WRVS volunteers. Our volunteers are also involved, collecting oral histories in their local areas from WVS/WRVS volunteers. We hope to use these stories to inspire younger generations to volunteer through schools resources on volunteering and citizenship.
Well, there’s a title I didn’t ever imagine using, and nor did I ever think I would appear as an expert on wartime knitting on television, but here we are! Yesterday (Monday 1 October) I had to travel to London for the day to be interviewed for a forthcoming BBC Four programme titled, ‘The Golden Age of Knitting‘.
The venue was Wilton’s Music Hall in the east end of London, somewhere I had never been before, even though I had seen it plenty of times on the TV, usually in costume dramas. It is the oldest music hall in London and has a very rustic atmosphere, exposed timbers plaster stripped brick walls, you could just imagine yourself in a run down part of London at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
Having trudged through the very soggy streets I met up with the director/producer, camera man and assistant and the questioning commenced.
While I can confess to being an expert on the history of WRVS, or WVS as it was during the war, an expert on knitting I am not; at least I didn’t think I was. It is surprising what you can come up with, and the previous day's in-depth research into WVS’ role in providing comforts for the forces and merchant services during the war was very enlightening.
The questions came thick and fast, what was the role of the WVS with knitting? How much did they knit? Who were they knitting for? To give you an example, in Hastings and St Leonards in Sussex, WVS organized over 1,000 women, a dozen men and a nine year old boy to knit for the forces. In 1941 they produced 7,000 items, from pullovers to socks and balaclavas for our troops and surprisingly for those of the Red Army. In all during the war nationally between 150,000 and 200,000 WVS members were assigned to knitting and sewing work parties, helping and organising probably another 750,000 ‘individual knitters’. Just imagine, a million women knitting their socks off!
I spent a very enjoyable hour answering questions and hopefully at least a couple of minutes worth will turn up in the final edit. The programme should air in early spring next year, so I will keep you posted when we know a broadcast date.
I thought that it would be nice to give you a flavour of what we are doing here in Devizes to help prepare for the 75th anniversary in 2013 which is only now five months away.
Apart from our fevered preparations for the re-opening of our enquiry service, which is still on track for January 2013, and all of the ‘behind the scenes’ work that is going to make searching our collections possible, we are working bringing the archive (virtually) to you.
Over the next four weeks the volunteers and I are going to be looking for 75 items from the collection which tell the story of WRVS, whether that be, our first poster (pictured), a letter from Charles de Gaulle, or the packaging from a sandwich from one of our hospital shops.
These might not necessarily be the most exciting or eye catching items, but it is the fascinating and engaging stories behind the items, about WVS/WRVS at a national, local and even personal level, which is important.
Our first poster caused quite a bit of controversy, when it was discovered that the model was in fact German and all of the posters had to be recalled. This means that there are now only two that we know of in the world, one here in Devizes and the other in the Imperial War Museum in London.
Perhaps if you have an item which tells a story, you might like to share it with us. Either post a comment or perhaps send us an email
I’m looking forward to your suggestions...