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A Year in Archives: my experience of the pros and cons of digitisation

I have now spent just over 14 months digitising the Hidden histories of a million war time women contained in the WVS Narrative Reports written between 1938 and 1944 (currently more than half way through 1945). It has been a really enjoyable experience and has helped to preserve these invaluable records while making them more accessible. In this week’s blog I would like to reflect on the pros and cons of carrying out a digitisation project in relation to my work here as Archives Assistant.



Digitisation can theoretically improve the life span of a document due to the reduction of manual handling. By making a document of certain significance to be viewed through an online catalogue, the physical copy can return to being untouched and potentially spoilt. However, it is actually the digitised copy that is the most fragile of all. It is far easier to place a piece of paper in a suitable box for three hundred years than to deal with a long-term solution for digital storage. For example, data is kept on mechanical drives that live on servers. After an extended period of time, those drives will fail. This means that for long-term digital storage to be continuously available for everyone, data constantly needs to be backed up. Similarly, the data also needs to have duplicate copies and ideally have a safe home off-site in case of a crash or fire. It is widely known that for something to exist digitally, it must be backed up at least three time. We have used archival standard formats such as TIFF and PDF to ensure that the digitised reports are preserved for as long as possible. As well as helping to preserve the original documents with digital copies I have also assisted with improving online access to the collection.


Digitisation is also an excellent method of showcasing the prestigious wealth of material that exists within many boxes on the shelves of an archive’s storeroom. This is largely beneficial for everybody involved as it can make the archive much more accessible. The Narrative Reports have been hidden away from view for a long period of time and everybody can now enjoy looking at them for free online. Digitisation may be viewed as a short-term solution to engage the wider populace with the material, but it is actually as long-term as the box at the back of the storeroom. It is essential however, that the importance of the physical collection is never undermined by its digital counterpart. For example, the same piece of paper can be digitised three times in one hundred years, but it can never be photographed again if the original is lost forever. Although it is brilliant that we have improved preservation and access to the collection we have had to think about other aspects of digitisation including cost.

As with any digitisation project time and money has had to be spent on the Hidden histories of a million war time women. It
can be quite financially challenging to implement into the day to day running of an archive, but digitisation grants are becoming increasingly available. However crowdfunding such as Kickstarter can provide archives with the financial support they need to purchase equipment and employ additional staff. I have been employed as a full time member of staff that focuses primarily on photographing and editing the Narrative Reports. There are also a number of companies which can take on digitisation work for archives. However the project has involved preparation work and a number a checks to the catalogue records when attaching documents to CALM which would have still been done in house.

While carrying out the project as well as making it easier for the Archivist and Deputy Archivist to answer enquires, since July 2017 they have not had to move from their desks when looking for local information from the period 1938-1943, I have also been able to help them in ways they did not foresee. Digitising the reports has enabled me to spend time amending any mistakes to the packaging of our original copies due to the digitisation process. This may include finding a report with the incorrect year or location. After these mistakes were corrected, it has actually improved the overall accuracy of the collection, which can only be a good thing.
Overall there are three main aspects to consider the pros and cons of when digitising archival material; these are preservation, access and cost. You may also as I did come across some added bonuses like improving the overall accuracy of your collection. In this week’s blog I have provided a balanced view but I would argue that digitisation is a wonderful method of opening up a particular part of an archival collection. Obtaining access to all things via the internet has become a progressively important part of society and if financially viable, archival digitisation has become an efficient method of improving accessibility.

Posted by Jacob Bullus Archives Assistant (Digitisation) at 09:00 Monday, 08 January 2018.

Labels: Digitisation, preservation, access, Kickstarter, WVS, Narrative Report

Women in Green on the Silver Screen

This week we bring you our third Heritage Bulletin Blog Podcast please click play on the soundcloud player above or you will really miss out this time I promise

Inspired by recent discussions on audio-visual archives I thought it would be appropriate for our third podcast, (the audio part), to be about something visual. Many of you will have heard of the Rank Organisation and the image of the man hammering the gong has probably popped into your head, or you can visualise Sid James and Barbara Winsor in a Carry On film with their distinctive laughs [if you’re reading and not listening to this you have just missed out on my very bad impression, well it's really a case of the giggles]. Obviously there was not a Carry On film about or featuring the WVS, however, the Rank Organisation made many other films including the Look at Life series.

Look at Life was a regular British series of short documentary films between 1959 and 1969 which were screened in their cinemas. The films always preceded the main feature film that was being shown in the cinema that week. In 1959 the Rank Organisation made and showed the film Women in Green all about the work of WVS, or as they called them the million women in green, between 1938 and 1959. The film features shots of WVS members carrying out services such as emergency feeding, hospital work, care of children, clothing and helping house holders during Devon’s floods in the 1950s. Services Welfare was also highlighted with cameramen flown out to Cyprus filming members preforming their daily tasks. The WVS was supported by ambassadors in the 1950s/1960s as  it is today; Dinah Sheridan who starred in Genevieve and The Railway Children can be spotted collecting magazines for the forces. Most importantly the film features founder and Chairman Lady Reading giving another inspirational speech to rally her members. The film is a good reminder of the importance of voluntary service.

Its overriding theme was how remarkable and integral WVS had become to British society in just over 21 years, as it is nearly 80 years later after it was founded. Copies were sent to British Council Cinema and NATO while we still hold a copy in the Archive. The film was well received by WVS and its supporters; on 31st October 1960 Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh viewed Women in Green [reported in the WVS Bulletin December 1960] before the premiere of The Man in the Moon. It was still being shown and the rights requested by other organisations in 1963, 1968, 1969 and 1975 according to archival records. As one letter from a WVS member about the film stated ‘the film is part of our history’. Today it is as important in telling the story of WVS, WRVS and Royal Voluntary Services as none audio-visual archives.

We hope you will join us again soon to listen and read more blogs about the history of Royal Voluntary Service contained in its archives.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 18 December 2017.

Labels: Film, WVS, the Rank Organisation, Women in Green, Look at Life, Carry on Films

Waste Food for Pigs, Ayr Scotland

During the war the Scottish section of the WVS tended to maintain a more independent status from the rest of the organisation. This is evident within our collection of Narrative Reports; the National Headquarters series has no records from 1942 to 1960, we hope they survived somewhere in Scotland. For many years WVS/WRVS had a Scotland Headquarters in Edinburgh which did not send Narrative Reports to London till after the establishment of the Archive in 1958. Fortunately, we still have other sources mentioning the activities of WVS Scotland and the Narrative Reports which made it to London HQ between 1939 and 1941 draw attention to the wide array of activities performed by Scottish volunteers in the early years of the war, one such report recorded the decisions of a local meeting held in January 1941 in the town of Ayr; it provides an excellent example of WVS Salvage work.



The Waste Food for Pigs campaign was created as part of the Government’s National Salvage Scheme to help maintain a constant supply of feed for the nation’s livestock. In order to accomplish this, kitchen waste was boiled and concentrated at special plants, thus resulting in what is commonly known as pig swill. Working in tandem with the local authorities, the WVS helped organise this scheme to ensure that salvage became an integral component of wartime society.

To help address this issue, the above meeting was facilitated by Mr J.B, Crookes, the National Controller of Salvage for Scotland and also by Mr Strain of the local Cleansing Department and Regional Salvage Advisor for the West of Scotland. Their attendance to this meeting also demonstrated its significance, because it is quite possible that their solutions for tackling ‘pig swill’, may have filtered down to other WVS centres.Such as members of East Barnet, Hertfordshire featured in the two photographs in this week's blog. The meeting in Ayr laid out the schemes structure.

After a series of discussions, they concluded that the Burgh of Ayr would be divided into districts for the collection of pig feed. To ensure there were enough collection points, a bin would be placed on each street for every ten or twelve households. One member from the WVS Housewives’ Service would be responsible for each bin. The members were keen to implement this system swiftly, so shiny new bins were distributed to five locations around the town to then be placed on an appropriate street corner.

a) Allotment Schemes.

b) Fruit Shops, Multiple Stores, Canteens.

c) Tenement Properties.

d) Villas, Bungalows, Mansion Houses.

e) Hotels, Boarding Houses.

Royal Burgh of Ayr Centre Report January 1941

Due to the fact that this is the last year of reports we hold for the Burgh of Ayr until 1961, it is very difficult to ascertain whether or not the solutions proposed in this meeting were a resounding success. Although you might wish to scour the Scotland reports featured in the WVS Bulletin during the war. Nevertheless, the centre organiser for Ayr was more than complimentary about how the meeting was received.

WVS later WRVS Scotland acted as both Region 11 and in some ways a separate organisation with its own Headquarters up until 1980s/1990s.  However, it is evident from the earliest records that their commitment to Lady Reading’s vision of voluntary service was and is at the same level as the rest of Great Britain. Especially true when it came to the establishment National (UK wide) schemes such as salvage and the collection of waste food in the burghs.





Posted by Jacob Bullus, Archives Assitant (Digitisation) at 09:00 Monday, 27 November 2017.

Labels: Ayr, Scotland , WVS, WRVS, Salvage, Pig

Wonderful work is waiting for you with the services overseas

WVS took on work for the Armed Forces when it became a member of the Council of Volunteer War Workers, in 1940 and established the Services Welfare Department. Most of the WVS’s work for the Armed forces was domestic including canteens and darning socks. These services developed further in 1944 by training WVS members to run clubs for Service Men overseas.

The NAAFI wanted WVS to run clubs for soldiers in their barracks and the first contingency was sent to the Algiers after the war ended. Women went to countries and continents such as: North Africa and Italy; The Middle East; Germany; Austria; The Far East; Japan; Korea; Cyprus; Kenya; Christmas Island; Singapore; Malaya  and Hong Kong. Most of the members who went out spent their time running the clubs but also had their own experiences which they recorded in letters and diaries.  

A member called Kathleen Thompson went to India for 18 months to work in Deolali, Randu and Raiputana. In 2016 the Archive received 93 letters written by Kathleen about her time in India and this week we would like to share part of one of those letters with you. An extra handwriting challenge for those who eagerly await the monthly narrative Report handwriting challenge (though not as difficult).  

7th March 1946 Letter no.8

Kathleen left India at the end of her contract with the organisation in August 1947 but many more women went out to other countries as part of Services Welfare which later included the Falklands and Canada. You can find out more about WVS and WRVS Services Welfare on the Voices of Volunteering schools resources pages and searching Archive Online.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 13 November 2017.

Labels: India, WVS, Letters, Archive, Services Welfare, NAAFI

Receiving Reports at Headquarters

From 1938-1942, our collection holds 31,401 pages of Narrative Reports. These reports were sent to the headquarters of the WVS at 41 Tothill Street, London. This allowed members at HQ to be able to keep track of all WVS activities in the country.
Due to the unique structure of the WVS, duplicate copies of the monthly diaries were also sent to our county offices, whilst keeping the original reports at the individual centres. This set up allowed each section of the organisation to monitor what was going on. It also meant that a chain of communication could be rapidly established between WVS Headquarters and WVS members throughout the country. Due to the existence of these multiple copies, an identical monthly report will occasionally pop up. Whilst it would be wonderful to have duplicates of every diary, it would rather limit our shelf space.

To handle the massive influx of Narrative Reports each month, members at headquarters tagged specific reports that were considered important enough to be read by the heads of department. By 1942, there were just over 2000 centres across the country. With each centre sending in one report per month, Tothill Street must have had one of the busiest letter boxes in London.

After the introduction of the archive in 1958, the reports were filed in brown card folders with their respective location hand written in blue and red ink. The reports are still in their original files today, but they have been repackaged in acid-free folders and placed into boxes to help maintain their condition. Unfortunately, members of the WVS probably didn’t realise how significant these documents would become so not all of the reports have survived the test of time. This is particularly stark in Region 4 (Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk), as the reports were weeded to save space. As a result, Region 4 has by far the fewest number of reports.

Nevertheless, their survival is testament to the members of the WVS that decided the reports were worth keeping. A member from the WVS centre for Worcester wholeheartedly agreed with the great work happening at headquarters and consequently wrote this excellent poem.


A most exciting place to be,
I’m sure that you will all agree,
is in Headquarters, Tothill Street,
For, there, you’re almost sure to meet
With many famous people who
Are bent in seeing their country through.
The smallish muddles that arise
And cause the gov’ment much surprise;
The minor details that occur,
Apart from battles, as it were.
For instance, take Evacuation;
Who copes with urns at every station?
Who takes the children for a ride
Into the pleasant countryside?
Who kindly helps the I.C.C
To sort out each evacuee
Who has some clothing coupons owing
Because their clothes they are outgrowing?
Who interviews the under-fives
And helps to save their little lives?
And who persuades the very aged
A dang’rous war is now being waged
And they could better serve the nation
By going to some safe situation?
Who manages the Clothing Centres?
And laughs at all such misadventures
As parcels of damp frocks and jackets?
Or books in ladies’ clothing packets?
Or take the case of Demolition!
Who gets the canteens in position?
And helps to feed with buns and tea
The men who labour constantly
To make the place “as safe as houses”?
And who is it the police arouses
Whenever any help is needed
Knowing the always have succeeded?
The noble wears-out very slowly!
And may they be successful wholly
How good they are, p’rhaps you guess!
Our grand H.Q., WVS!

E.M.

Posted by Jacob Bullus (Archives Assistant) at 00:00 Monday, 30 October 2017.

Labels: Headquarters, WVS, Royal Voluntary Service, Poem, Narrative Reports

A Happy House

In the aftermath of the Flying bomb attacks of 1944, the needs of the elderly to be appropriately housed took on new impetus, particularly within WVS. The solution to the problem in many cases was the creation of WVS Residential Clubs, the first of course being Thornbank, in Ipswich which opened in 1946. These were the first ‘modern’ old people’s homes with small numbers of residents looked after in an environment we would recognise today. But these were not for everyone and also not for some councils.

An experiment in Salford spearheaded by Mrs Rothwell (WVS County Borough Organiser, Councillor and JP) lead to WVS acquiring three old Victorian houses and converting them into flatlets for those old people in need of housing. The people lived independent lives and one resident received a free flat in return for undertaking the cleaning and management of the communal areas.

WVS had created a simple system in which ‘neglected old people and neglected old houses came together for mutual benefit’ and helped reduce the council’s waiting lists. Sadly despite gathering quiet momentum for almost a decade in 1954 the relatively newly formed Ministry of Housing and Local Government found out about the scheme and said ‘you can’t do this’.

To cut a long story short, this administrative hiccup led to the formation of the WVS Housing Association in 1955.

The Housing Association assisted with the temporary housing of Hungarian and Anglo-Egyptian refugees, in the late 1950s in similar types of houses adapted for the emergency. In 1959 the WVS Housing Association really got going and pioneered new ideas. WVS moved from merely providing homes for the elderly to young professional women opening houses in Tunbridge Wells and Sheffield.

By 1960 WVS had converted 42 houses for the elderly and three for professional women and in January that year opened a new home in London specifically for former WVS members, at Chagford House, Marylebone, London. Opening it in January 1960 Lady Reading (founder Chairman of WVS) said. “I hope that thus may be known as the happy house of St. Marylebone”.

Posted by Matthew McMurray - Royal Voluntary Service Archivst at 00:00 Sunday, 22 October 2017.

Labels: WVS , Housing Association, Old People, Flatlets, Chagford House

Tea & Co at Addenbrooke’s

On 23 August the Tea & Co. Café at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridgeshire was officially opened. It is one of a range of developments in the charity’s Healthier Choices retail transformation programme which also includes Shop & Co. The Café is run by a staff and volunteer team in Cambridgeshire. This week we thought it might be interesting to look at the history of Addenbrooke’s and Royal Voluntary Service.

The first canteen was established in 1950 in “a passage between the out-patients' department and the hospital itself. There was room for only two people behind the counter and a row of customers in front, with a constant stream of stretchers, chairs and nurses passing behind”(WVS Bulletin January 1954, page 5). It quickly expanded as a new canteen with work space was opened; in the 1950s 80,000 people were served annually.

Canteen helpers were needed weekly to prepare food, defrost refrigerators, keep statistics and accounts, serve customers and wash up. In 1960 Cambridge City held a meeting of WVS Hospital Helpers to celebrate their ten years' service in the Out-Patients' Canteen at Addenbrooke's Hospital. “This very modern and up-to-date canteen was equipped from the profits” gifts from further profits given to the hospital in the 1960s included a television set for the Children's Ward, 160 trays, one carrying chair, and two geriatric chairs (WVS Bulletin May 1960). In the 1960s Addenbrooke’s opened a new hospital which meant the opening of a new canteen for WRVS in the late 1960s.

By the 1970s WRVS ran two canteens one in the old and one in the new hospital; they funded a house for the relatives of patients who lived a long way from the Hospital. When the old hospital closed a second canteen was opened to cope with increased demand. The new canteen opened in 1972, at the time WRVS also provided trolley shops, a patient helpers’ service, reception duties and flower arranging. The Narrative Reports which we talk about so often recorded the story of voluntary Service until the early 1990s in Cambridge. Reports mentioned Addenbrooke’s had canteens in Radio Therapy and Out Patients. They also started to serve new lines including toasted sandwiches. In the early 90s the Hospital Organiser continued to provide the service to the hospital as well as a trolley shop.

Unfortunately the archive does not hold many records of the charity’s activities in the 1990s however we do know that volunteers from Addenbrooke's went to London to assist Cilla Black with the launch of the “Give us a hand campaign” in 1998. It was designed to encourage people to volunteer with WRVS. The campaign embraced the power of celebrity, asking famous people to pledge their support by sending in an autographed outline of their hands. Over a hundred celebrities took part, including Imogen Stubbs, Stephen Fry, Sir Ian McKellen, Robbie Coltrane, Sean Bean and David Suchet. The campaign also saw ordinary people make colour paper cut-outs of their own hands at the WRVS stand at the Ideal Health Show, then hang them on a cardboard tree. The WRVS continued to run services at Addenbrooke’s into the 2000s when changes began to take hold.

The early 2000s saw a few changes to WRVS’ role at Addenbroke’s. A new Coffee Shop was opened in 2003 which was rebranded after the rebranding of Women’s Royal Voluntary Service to WRVS (Green and red to purple and orange) in 2004. In 2013 the charity was renamed Royal Voluntary Service and more recently plans for hospital shops, canteens and tea bars were updated to provide healthy options in hospitals and to bring back the red and green branding. Addenbrooke’s is now one of Royal Voluntary Service Tea & Co. cafés and the volunteers and staff will continue this partnership steeped in history.

If you would like to learn more about Royal Voluntary Services history with hospitals then read our fact sheet Welfare work in hospitals 1938 – 2013.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 09 October 2017.

Labels: Tea and Co, Royal Voluntary Service, WRVS, WVS, Cambridge, Addenbrooke's

The Women’s Voluntary Service is mistaken for the Women’s Vegetarian Society

October 1st was world vegetarian day and heralded the start of international vegetarian week. Most people probably see dietary requirements and other lifestyle choices when it comes to what we eat as a relatively new and modern concept. However vegetarianism has deep roots from ancient world including the Greeks to the National Vegetarian society (Britain) formed in the nineteenth century. So as you can see it is not new and this means we can share with you some fascinating insights into the thoughts of WVS members on vegetarian’s in the 1940s and 1950s.

Extracts from Spinach and Beet – the diary of a centre organiser

TUESDAY. How careful one has to be when wearing uniform: one's slightest word is taken literally. Among ourselves in the office we have dubbed as "vegetarians" the members who come to peel vegetables for Meals on Wheels. ("How many vegetarians are wanted on Thursday?" "We shall want an extra vegetarian on Tuesday when there's Lancashire hot-pot "-and so on.) Apparently similar remarks were overheard on a 'bus or somewhere equally public, as we were telephoned this morning by someone who wanted to join "The W.V.S. Yes: The Women's Vegetarian Society-such a splendid idea!" - WVS Bulletin No.118 October 1949 p.7

Friday.-Now that Mrs. Young's small boy attends kindergarten in the mornings, she is free to help us and to-day she signed an Enrolment Form. On his first day home from school he said to her excitedly:  "Oh Mummy, there are ever so many foreign children in my class: there's a French boy and a Norwegian, and a Hungarian and- and a Vegetarian. What country does a Vegetarian come from, Mummy?” - WVS Bulletin No.1 48 April 1952 p.6

Extract from Nature and other Notes reports for WVS members serving overseas

A great neurosis about our fauna seems to have swept over England, and even Tothill Street has succumbed! I must admit that the crabs are unprepossessing and the rats not house-trained, but with a little ingenuity and a tin of poison one can avoid having to hob-nob with them.



The rats are not really rats at all. They are large sand-mice called "taboa" (not "jerboa" as appeared in one paper). They are vegetarian and non-disease- carrying. They are incredibly bold, greedy and noisy, and not at all fussy about where they leave their droppings. We have waged chemical warfare against them, and at one stage felt we would have to move. - WVS Buletin No.221 May 1958 p.5


Recipes to try out

Now perhaps you are trying to think of something to eat to celebrate world vegetarian day, so why not try one of these. I am sorry about the tripe as I'm pretty sure this is not a veggie option.




Remember it is #AskAnArchivist day on 4th October Tweet @RVSarchives with your questions.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 02 October 2017.

Labels: vegetarian, WVS, World War II, Bulletin

Salvage reports from Melton Mowbray

One of WVS’s main wartime activities was salvage; many of the WVS Centre Organisers kept fairly extensive notes on their salvage activities. Their activties were usually described within the monthly Narrative Reports. Occasionally however, some of the original reports written by WVS Salvage Officers which influenced those reports were retained and sent to Headquarters. The Salvage Officer for Melton Mowbray (in Leicestershire) is just one example as many of her monthly accounts have been kept in the Archive & Heritage Collection alongside the monthly Narrative Reports they accompany. These reports provide a detailed account of the salvage activities Melton Mowbray during the Second World War. Lets take a closer look at some of those reports.

Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, January 1942 (Page 4)

It is clear from this report that Melton Mowbray had improved its salvage activity compared to the previous year. This was largely due to the fact that the town engaged in creating salvage awareness. Equally impressive, was the collation of information regarding local businesses and their methods of paper disposal. This would have allowed the WVS to have access to a greater amount of paper that could be salvaged and consequently re-pulped. The efficiency of Salvage Organiser is not to be underestimated.

Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, April 1942 (page 10)

This report illustrates how the WVS in Melton Mowbray contributed to persuading the nation of the importance of salvage. For example, members of the WVS visited Nottingham University to listen to a well-attended lecture on salvage activities. After listening to the speech, they set up their own series of lectures within local schools. This was to help facilitate the Cog Scheme, which encouraged children to participate in salvage collection. These talks proved to be highly successful, as salvage collections in every borough began to increase significantly. After these early accomplishments, the WVS introduced rewards to continue to encourage children to help with the collections. For example, badges representing a cog-wheel was an excellent way of rewarding the most enthusiastic children. Melton Mowbray’s Salvage Organiser was also highly keen on winning the regional waste paper competition.

Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire October 1942 (page 24)

Despite having a population of only 12,000 citizens, Melton Mowbray had managed to collect 14cwts of bones in the month of September In today’s terms, this works out as 711kg. This figure was considered to be a considerable achievement by the WVS in Melton, because bone collection had always been the most difficult of all the salvageable materials to obtain. This was partly due to the fact that people did not enjoy the smell and general unpleasantness surrounded by food waste. To counteract this problem, the WVS responded accordingly by introducing bins for bones that would contain the odour issue.

Overall these reports illustrate the importance of salvage to Melton Mowbray and the effort WVS went to during the Second World War to boost moral and reach targets for collecting salvage. The stories told from the point of view of the salvage office have been retained and survived for over 70 years. They have been digitised and published online, you can go to Archive Online and search for them or use our handy Guide to Archive Online page. Hopefully you will discover many more stories about salvage.

Posted by Jacob Bullus, Archives Assistant (Digitisation) at 09:00 Monday, 25 September 2017.

Labels: Melton Mowbray, Salvage, WVS, World War II, Narrative Reports

A Wartime Paper Journey

Throughout the Second World War, rationing became an integral part of British society. Unknown to most, paper rationing had a significant impact on the manufacturing of the WVS Narrative Reports. As I hope to illustrate this week the differences, in the layout and quality of the paper they were written on between 1939 and 1941, are particularly stark.

Above is one of the WVS's earliest reports from Middlesbrough written in November 1938. Interestingly, the original orientation of a WVS Narrative Report was landscape unlike the familiar portrait reports of later years. Under  imperial paper sizes, an original report was classified as foolscap as it measured 13 x 8 inches. The weight and quality of this pre-war paper is also particularly noteworthy as it retains an almost card-like feel compared to later reports.

Looking at this 1939 report above, it is clearly apparent that the layout and quality of the Narrative Report has changed. After its inception in May 1938, the WVS became increasingly prominent in society. The design of the Narrative Reports’ reflect this change as they start to look more official from this year onwards. Due to the outbreak of war, the paper quality of the diaries also begins to decline from around September. As a result, the majority of reports from 1939 have significant differences in paper quality.

1940 brought the introduction of the portrait report. It is clear to see that the WVS has established itself as a formidable organisation, as the top of the report  contained a list of set criteria to help the Centre Organiser write her account. As the WVS were the masters of make do and mend, the new portrait reports returned to the high quality paper of 1938. Whilst we are unsure exactly why this is, it is suspected that the WVS started producing the reports themselves as opposed to outsourcing the printing. With Lady Reading at the helm, it is almost unsurprising that they returned to paper of substantial quality.

1941 marks the most important transition for the design and feel of an original WVS Narrative Report. The organisation continues with the foolscap portrait design until September of that year. After this, the WVS moved to a smaller quarto sized document (10 x 8 inches) that was produced out of thin, poorer quality repulped wartime paper. Naturally, the main reason behind this decision was to ensure that more paper could be produced nationally by trading off the quality of the material. Somewhat ironically, these later reports are substantially more fragile than their earlier counterparts.

Despite this, their stories are of equal significance. To make sure of this, a lot of WVS Centre Organisers were much more inclined to write on the back of the document to ensure everything had been recorded.

After 1941, the quality of the paper remained unchanged until the end of the war. Occasionally however, you do see an original design pop up in later years. The ideas of salvage and recycling were of course still at the back of members minds. I hope you have enjoyed this short Journey through wartime paper and for more stories from the Narrative Reports you can visit and search Archive Online.

Posted by Jacob Bullus, Archives Assistant (Digitisation) at 09:00 Monday, 28 August 2017.

Labels: WVS, Narrative Report, World War II, Paper