Heritage Bulletin blog
The Heritage Bulletin Blog ran from July 2012 to January 2020, covering a huge range of subjects, from a day in the archives, to extracts from the WVS bulletins, and histories of various WVS/WRVS services.
It’s 219 articles have become a valuable resource in themselves, why not search them or just browse to discover something new.
Showing 61-70 results
It's that time of year when a you see a lot of pumpkins in the supermarkets mostly bought and used for decoration, recently in the news I have seen appeals for people not to just throw away the pumpkin flesh they have carved out. So here are some suggestions from the WVS Bulletin using pumpkins.
2 lb. pumpkin
1 1/2 pints " household " milk
2 oz. margarine
sugar to taste.
Peel the pumpkin, cut into dices and put into a saucepan with about 1 pint of water, add a little salt, cook until very tender.
When done, press it through a sieve, add the boiling milk, the fat, some more salt or sugar to taste (sugar preferable if possible). Boil for a few minutes, stirring all the while, and serve. (November 1943)
SAVOURY PUMPKIN PIE
2 lb. pumpkin cut in thin slices
2 lb. tomatoes
1/2 lb. bread (soaked, drained and beaten with a fork)
1/2 lb. minced meat
1 teaspoonful sweet herbs
2 tablespoonfuls melted margarin
salt, pepper and thick brown gravy.
Mix the bread, meat, herbs, salt and pepper to a smooth paste with the melted fat.
Put a layer of pumpkin slices at the bottom of a casserole, or pie-dish, add some tomato and top with pumpkin.
Pour in enough gravy to cover the last layer of pumpkin. Cover with greased paper or a lid and bake in a moderate oven for 1 hour. (November 1943)
Alternatively you could make a sweet pumpkin pie...
1 1/2 cups cooked and strained pumpkin
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon margarine
2 tablespoons molasses (treacle)
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs (reconstituted dried)
1 1/4 cups scalded milk.
Simmer pumpkin in as little water as possible for 20 minutes.
Add sugar, margarine, treacle, ginger, cinnamon and salt to pumpkin.
Add egg and milk and mix thoroughly.
Line a tin plate or sandwich tin with pastry and pour in pumpkin mixture and bake in a brisk oven. It is usual not to cover this mixture with another layer of pastry. (November 1942)
Our archives are quite literally a feast for the eyes and soul most of which surfaces when we are looking at material to make accessible as part of our ongoing work to develop the archive. This week Matthew our Archivist was cataloguing some of our Miscellaneous Memoranda* collection when he came across a set of very interesting letters written by the cream of the crop from the word 1940s of literature.
Writers included Olaf Stapledon, a creator of science fiction; Noel Streatfield and Dorothy Whipple, children’s authors; Daphne Du Maurier, romantic novelist; Cynthia Asquith a teller of ghost stories; Margaret Lane biographer of the Bronte Sisters and Beatrix Potter and Joanna Cannon writer of Pony Books and detective fiction. All these writers put pen to paper to tell Americans and Canadians, who through the Red Cross supported Nurseries for Under Fives run by WVS during the war, how children under the age of five who could not be evacuated with their families were being cared for.
Each of the letters tell a different story of visits to nurseries in Kettering, Lewes, Lyme Park, Regents Park, Sandford Park, Ringwood Hampshire, Culham Court Oxon and Shephall Bury. Inspired by the work in these nurseries they formed very detailed depictions, excitedly explaining how funds and gifts from the American Red Cross gave the children, as Daphne Du Maurier described it, “enjoyment and complete unconcern”. They also enlighten the reader describing how the children are cared for, the matrons roles in the nurseries, Christmas celebrations and the importance of meal times.
Each letter is almost like a short story or chapter from a novel displaying the writers’ individual style so this week I will end with two quotes to give your eyes a glimpse at our cave of wonders.
"At Miss Brady's call, the children came tumbling in to get ready for their mid-day meal. The shining gadgetted bathroom, with its ordinary dozens of everything - twelve towels, twelve named toothbrushes, etc, etc, reminded me of Snow White's establishment."
Cynthia Asquith writing about her visit to Court House near Lewes, Sussex
"The door opened and in came a magnificently fat Father Christmas led by two of the little boys. Father Christmas, very properly, was an American Father Christmas, Mr Bernard Carter, your Red Cross Deligate over here."
Noel Streatfield writing about her visit to the Day Nursery in Regents Park, I feel that I should point out that in scene she describes before Father Christmas appears the Matron was seen leaving the room with a number of pillows.
* (yes I know fellow archivists are shuddering at the mere mention of the word Miscellaneous but we need to respect original order and des fonds, don’t we!)
Lets take a trip back in time to this month 67 years ago where the WVS are very busy all over the country and sending in stories to the Bulletin mainly concerning unusual requests, their members and a very active Darby and Joan. Its time for the News Flashes from October 1949.
.- Many odd queries. A Polish woman from the Russian Zone of Germany asked W.V.S. to trace her husband whom she last saw before the 1914-1918 war and who sent his last letter from Philadelphia in 1919!
.- When the Meals on Wheels van broke down recently The Yorkshire Evening News loaned a van and driver. On another occasion the proprietor of a local ice cream business used his luggage brake and drove the car himself so that the old people were supplied as usual with their hot meal.
.- A request for hats came from the hospital. The " Old Folk " were going to Margate and had nothing to protect their heads from the sun. Could we help ? We have a cupboard where W.V.S. store everything and anything unnamed, and which we call " The Lost Paradise." We managed to unearth twelve very ancient and tired-looking specimens, but strange to say, fashionable now. Bought bunches of artificial flowers from a local sale to trim them, also two more felt hats at 1/- each, making a total of fourteen. They were cleaned, brushed and reshaped and sent to the hospital that very same afternoon, also three for the men.
.- Gifts of nightdresses and a dressing gown, sent into the Office in response to the Clothing Appeal, seemed providential as they were passed immediately on to a needy " Joan " who had to be rushed into hospital to undergo an operation.
.- W.V.S. staffed the Information Tent at the County Agricultural Show and afterwards provided a splendid canteen for the workmen who dismantled the stands. The men appreciated this service enormously and their only complaint was that W.V.S. had not provided a canteen for them when they erected the stands!
.- At a Carnival held in Neyland (Pembs.) recently a lorry was arranged to represent the Neyland Darby and Joan Club. Children were dressed to represent the Darbies and Joans and the W.V.S. helpers. A table was set for tea and at another Darbies were playing dominoes. This lorry gained 3rd prize.
.- Troops in transit have made full use of the Britannia Club. On three occasions the Club was opened at 7.30 a.m. for the benefit of men given shore leave. One day it was almost crowded out by a seething mass of troops in jungle green. When naval vessels were here on a four days visit large numbers of the ship's personnel were in the Club, taking part in the various tournaments and attending the dances, which they appeared to enjoy tremendously. We were delighted to receive four parcels of magazines from Ardler, Burnley, Dunkeld and Headquarters (Technical magazines). Last, but certainly not least, six parcels from Eastbourne W.V.S., who also very kindly sent a grand parcel of sheet music and song books, which were greatly appreciated by our band.
.- A member offered to make 200 cakes for a Garden Party given in aid of the local Animal Clinic. This was in answer to an appeal by Brighton Centre.
.- A Darby aged 58 cycles 1 1/2 miles weekly from outlying village of Allerthorpe to attend the recently opened Darby and Joan Club.
The front cover of this month's Bulletin reported "A plan for supplementing rations of farm workers is under trial by the Ministry of Food with the aid of W.V.S., Ipswich. Meat and cheese sandwiches and cakes are collected from a depot in the town and taken by W.V.S. to the fields. Workers pay on delivery and give orders for the next round. These farm workers seem well pleased with their cellophane-wrapped test meals."
Hence the Headline in this weeks image "Packed Meals for Thatchers".
Last Wednesday was Ask an Archivist day so I thought I would share with you some of the questions sent to us through our enquiry service.
Q: I was wondering if you could tell me when the Clothing Store in Swindon first opened and when it closed?
The clothing exchange is first mentioned in 1945 but there is no exact date for when it opened. There are no records for Swindon between 1946 and 1950 (inclusive). When the records reappear in 1951 it appears that the WVS centre in Swindon had been closed at the end of the war and then re-opened in 1951, the Clothing Exchange/Store re-opened in 1953. It is difficult to say when it closed as WRVS had a restructure in 1974 along the lines of the Local Authority and Swindon came under the Thameside District, the district office was in Swindon so I imagine the clothing store was to which is still mentioned in 1992. I imagine it was closed sometime in the late 1990s when WRVS moved its focus to older people’s welfare.
Q: Is there a WVS prayer or hymn?
Yes it was included in the 75th Anniversary Service at St Paul’s Cathedral in 2013
O Lord and Father of all mankind, who has put the spirit of generosity and self-giving into our hearts despite our self-centredness: let thy blessings rest in all its richness upon Royal Voluntary Service and all its volunteers, that strengthened and heartened by the memory and example of their founder they may give themselves for the good of the people of this realm. Grant them the joy which comes from meeting human need and thereby from serving thee; and may the will to give voluntary service, and to give it wisely and well, ever flourish and increase in them, to the benefit of their fellow men and women, and to the glory of thy name, God blessed for evermore. Amen.
Q: I wondered whether there were any historic RVS recipes that matched the classes above, and whether there was a Royal Voluntary Service recipe book or material that I could promote at an agricultural show next weekend?
There are a number of recipes in our publications collection which are currently being catalogued, there are also many Civil Defence Recipe cards if you’re thinking of cooking for more than 30 and books like the WRVS Cook Book and Rescue a Recipe which were compiled by our volunteers. You can also search the Bulletins on our Archive Online
. For those who enjoy reading are recipes here is one from Rescue a Recipe, 1971.
Yorkshire Fat Rascals
• 1/2lb plain flour
• 2oz lard
• 2tsp sugar
• Little milk to mix
• (few currents or sultanas if preferred)
Rub lard into flour and sugar and mix with milk as if making pastry. Add fruit if used and roll out nearly half an inch thick. Cut into rounds and bake until risen and light brown. Split and butter.
Oven temperature: 400 Regulo 6 Time: about 10 minutes
If you have a burning desire for information about Royal Voluntary Services Archives & Heritage why not get in touch and email email@example.com
We often focus on the early years of Royal Voluntary Service then WVS
as a time of innovation, the million women giving their time and energy as well
as bring new ideas of social welfare to the people of Britain. However nearly
40 years later the WRVS was still making changes and finding new ways to
improve people’s welfare in the 1970s.
From 1942 to the early 1960s WVS ran various
transport schemes mostly to take people to Hospital. In the late 1960s WVS ran campaigns for transport services such as
Spare-a-Mile which provided vehicles to take older people shopping. The official Social Transport Scheme (Ceir Cefn Gwlad in Wales) was launched by WRVS in 1970. Volunteer drivers in the 1970s would provide transport for any journeys
other than trips to hospital which was still covered by the Hospital Car Service.
You can find out more about this in our Health and Hospitals Fact Sheet.
One of the earliest pilot schemes
was started in Dyfed, Wales in 1974/75 developed by volunteer Jill Walden-Jones
who only went to a meeting to see how she could help as a member of the WI and
left as the WRVS Social Transport Scheme Organiser Dyfed.
"I was called to a meeting by The WRVS in which they said they thought the whole thing was going to fail because they couldn’t find anyone to run the scheme, at which I was a little bit cross and I said rather foolishly ‘I’ll run the scheme for you, if there’s nobody else willing to do it.’ So my arm was practically seized off and I was told I had to join The WRVS. It was rather a strange start."
Of course all their fears never came true and Jill ran the scheme till
1977 when she became County Organiser but by then the Scheme was spreading
across Wales particularly in Dyfed it reached Llandeilo, Llandovery and Dinefwr,
each district was expected to have 6 or 7 schemes by 1980.
What makes Ceir Cefn Gwlad so
worthwhile and memorable is its passengers and drivers so I will leave you this
week with two stories from Wales where volunteers still take people home
through Transport Services.
"Well of course, there were all sorts of funny things happened. This nice young fellow who was in charge Dyfed County Council rang up and said ‘What’s going on’, he said ‘I see a dog has used our, the Country Car Service’. I said ‘Well, yes, he’s an essential user’. The fact was that this was a fat old dog that could no longer walk properly and his dear old mistress couldn’t get him to the bus stop or, or indeed on to the bus but it was essential that he was taken to the vet. It was her need really, I mean she had an essential need of a car and they, they agreed it, but we always used to laugh about the dog because it established part of what it was about, it was the person’s need for transport."
"By March right on schedule, our eight Country Cars schemes were completed. The district social transport organiser has put in a tremendous amount of work going to meetings, finding scheme organisers, knocking on doors etc., there are 338 members and helpers involved in this work in the district. We were asked by Social Services to take three people from Llandyssul to the Day Centre on Newcastle Emlyn every Monday. We arranged for two drivers to do this and after some administrative hiccups with Social Services this is now running smoothly."
Ceredigion District Narrative Report October 1982-March 1983
In archives there is always a crew of Archivists and volunteers working below decks to bring you buried treasure. Here at the Royal Voluntary Service Archive & Heritage collection it is no different and recently we dug up some more of our archives and hoisted them on to our online catalogue for you landlubbers, why not take a look through the telescope at:
The stories of volunteers from 1938-2015 in their own words, find out what it was like to be a WVS/WRVS volunteer by listening to:
Judith Kenna chat about clothing stores in Cheshire and Leicestershire
Maureen Hall discuss taking the members of a Darby and Joan Club on holiday
Ann Greeves harks back to tea bars at Royal Sussex Hospital
Kathleen Ashburner tell the story of the autumn club she ran for 45 years
Jenny Hincks reminisce about Meals-on-Wheels rounds
Alison Findlay talk about the Perth Floods of 1993
There are now another 388 photos from our collection dating from c1990 to 2013 these include:
Delivering a meal by helicopter to St. Michael's Mount, Cornwall. Taken on 06/10/1999
An event for National Meals on Wheels Day volunteers delivered Meals by helecopter. The phot was published in Action Magazine in 1999.
Aye the ship’s crew has more to add so keep a look out.
WRVS Association News
Take a gander copies of the WRVS Association News from 1975-2013, they reveal all the activities of the WRVS Association an organisation for retired members of WRVS formed in 1973. In November 1975 they reported that:
Members may like to know that at WRVS Headquarters in the Archives Department there are now many items of historical interest, as well as reports and letters of importance. The members of the Department would be delighted to show them to any members of the Association who would care to see them. It is possible that some Association members may hold letters or reports of their own which are of lasting interest, and WVS/WRVS Association would be very glad to have then if they can be spared.
Local Office Material
Over the last few years our crew have been busy cataloguing records from local offices in different areas of Great Britain. Now you can search the material we hold on Ipswich WVS/WRVS on our online catalogue including theEmergency Services Suitcase from the 1980s pictured here which would have contained paperwork, tabards and many other things ready for any emergency in the area.
Next time we reveal more of our gold we hope to make our local office material for the North East of England available to search.
You can search our treasure trove at catalogue.royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk/calmview
Tomorrow is Roald Dahl Day, celebrating the birthday of world’s greatest story teller who also wrote Revolting Recipes so this week we thought we would share some wonderful WVS recipes from September 1949.
Rice, is a good meal extender but do see it is properly cooked. A most enjoyable breakfast dish is Rice and Grilled Sausage. Then there are soups, infinite in variety-and thick soups particularly come into their own at this time of year. Here are suggestions for current menus :
FRENCH LENTIL SOUP
1/2 lb. Lentils 1 tin Tomatoes
1 Onion Piece of Margarine
Pepper and Salt Parsley, chopped
Soak lentils overnight. Put quarter of water and lentils on to boil for 1/2 hour. Add tomatoes and onion and boil for further 1 1/2 hours. Take off and strain. Cook for further 10 minutes. Season to taste and garnish with chopped parsley. Croutons of bread dipped in soup and crisped in the oven make a delicious accompaniment.
Stew 2 pints of blackberries and 1/2 lb. brown sugar. Line a pudding basin with thick slices of stale brown bread, crusts removed. Pour in stewed blackberries and cover with bread, then greaseproof paper. Steam for 2 hours. Turn out next day and eat with squeezed lemon.-Cream if you have it.
And for the SPECIAL Occasion
Cook sufficient spinach in its own juice with the addition of just a little butter. When cooked, chop finely, moisten with lemon juice and sharpen up with a little chopped onion and chopped celery. Press into a 1 pint mould which has been buttered and let it get quite cold. Bone a tin of sardines, soak in lemon juice and sprinkle on a little red pepper. Stand the sardines on their heads around the de-moulded spinach and you have an ideal supper dish.
In this month one member even wrote in to provide her own recipe advice, I wonder if Charlie Bucket and Willy Wonka would have liked this one.
I am shocked by the recipe for Chocolate Fudge in the July number. The idea of putting in a whole tin of household milk is horrifying and so unnecessary. I append my own very simple recipe which makes a good fudge.
8 ozs. sugar. 1/2 to 3/4 oz. of chocolate according to taste. Milk enough to mix to a thin paste (about a teacupful). Heat till sugar is dissolved; then boil for 7 or 8 minutes, till a little put in cold water hardens. Remove from fire and beat in vanilla or almond flavouring and any margarine available (about 1/2 oz.-to 1 oz.). Pour on to buttered plates when thick.
We have submitted this letter to are Food Specialist who replies that some mothers say that they find it difficult to get children to take dried milk in liquid form, but that no child refuses a second piece of fudge.
For the benefit of those who Can get fresh milk, but not dried milk, we have printed this recipe for chocolate fudge.
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.
While many may think that archivists spend all their time hunched over dusty papers in dark cellars (well we do sometimes), we also occasionally get to leave the confines of our repositories of knowledge and experience the consequences of the things we read about first hand.
This past weekend on a glorious summer’s day, without a cloud in the sky, I went on a tour around rural Dorset and ended up at Tyneham. For those who do not know the Dorset coast to the west of Wareham, the majority of it is a huge military firing range with flat lands, huge hills and hidden valleys. One of these hidden valleys holds the deserted village of Tyneham, a village requisitioned during the lead up to D-Day and never returned (unlike all the others) to its inhabitants.
In wandering through the ruined houses and the meticulously kept church with their display boards, I noticed in one of the photographs a lady, Evelyn Bond, in a WVS uniform. I knew that the WVS had been responsible for the evacuation of Slapton Sands around the same time and so the question which immediately sprung to mind was did the WVS help at Tyneham? I didn’t hold out much hope as the Slapton Sands Evacuation is hardly mentioned in the Narrative Reports, it was kept secret. Would the same be true for Tyneham?
The next day in the archive I looked up Evelyn Bond. What luck! She was the Centre Organiser for Wareham and Purbeck Rural and as a victim of the eviction she writes passionately and eloquently about the situation. Her report is transcribed below.
“W.V.S. life in Purbeck has been completely overshadowed during this month by the evacuation of part of the district for an extended Training Area. This most painful necessity involves a lot of work as, although W.V.S. are not directly responsible for finding accommodation, they have been asked to undertake visiting and enquiries, and, as there is absolutely no public transport in the affected district, the Volunteer Car Pool has been stretched to the utmost in running officials about, taking evacuees-to-be to see accommodation suggested for them, etc. The Centre Organiser herself, already turned out of her house into the coachman’s cottage by the R.A.F., is among the dispossessed, together with her entire village, and the church of which she is church warden (the Rector is away acting as a Service Chaplain.)
The notices went out on Nov. 19th - the area, to be cleared by Dec. 19th. The Centre organiser, with one of her Centre staff, visited 15 families on the 19th and reports were lodged that evening, the Deputy - Centre Organiser, with the Assistant Billeting officer (R.D.C.) toured another part of the area, and the Centre staff followed up, so that every house had a visit and was reported on in 4 days. An office has been set up at the offices of the Rural District Council (where the W.V.S. Centre have their room) and Ministry of Health, Assistance Board, Billeting Officer and other officials are in attendance. House holders from the area can come in for consultation, but the authorities attach great importance to house-to-house visiting to ascertain needs and reactions and the W.V.S. are at their disposal.
The numbers to be evacuated are not much over 200, but many very old people are involved and a considerable number of farmers and small holders - the lot of the latter is particularly hard as the Ware[ham] Agricultural Committee are quite unable to find holdings for them and their stock has to be sold and implements stored or disposed of.
One old couple are typical - husband 92 and wife 89 - they have lived in their house all their married lives and the husband since birth. Some are fishermen, one a boatbuilder, and live right down on the shore. Visiting officials have been observed, to make for their cars with alacrity when they realised that the beaches and approaches are heavily mined. Another old couple have not been out of their house this century, except for 2 nights to take “shelter with neighbours when a mine blew up in a storm and took half the roof away. They were back that time as soon as repairs were finished - now they are leaving - for "duration. It is impossible to resist the question - will they or the war last longest?
The Centre Organiser has certainly been able to help these people, being in the like plight herself, but she and other W.V.S. well though they know these Dorset folk, are amazed at the unflinching spirit in which this trial is faced. "They can’t say we’ve done nothing for the war" is the spirit, and it is touching how, in every house, the thought is always for the oldest inhabitants round about. "It be turble hard for old Mrs - - " - it is. One old lady had not had her boots on for 9 years till she donned them to climb into a V.C.P. car to go and look at suggested houses.
Our Pool drivers have been on the road as never before, many W.V.S. members and others, including an invaluable retired policeman, they have been ready with persuasion and advice as well as transport. As with the previous evacuation in this area, ancient and precious dogs, cats, boats, bees and other adjuncts present many problems. We ought to be experienced hands by now, but it is not a job which becomes easier or in any sense commonplace with repetition”.
The village of Tyneham has waited a long time for its inhabitants to return, but sadly time and decay have not been equally patient the ruined buildings a silent reminder of the villager’s sacrifice. This was a community torn apart by war, and one which never had the chance to return and heal.
Devizes is home to the Royal Voluntary Service Archive and Heritage Collection, it is also home to me, Ezra Bigland. I have recently started volunteering here at the Archive during my gap year and have been given use of the archive to research the local activities of Royal Voluntary Service (then known as the Women’s Voluntary Services for Civil Defence) during the 1950s in my hometown of Devizes.
The Narrative Reports – monthly records of each branch’s activities – available here at the archive demonstrate the breadth of services WVS provided, from visiting the elderly and doing their shopping to giving lessons in First Aid and holding the 1-in-5 lectures throughout Devizes and its surrounding villages. Mrs Elsie Proudman, Centre Organiser for Devizes, and Mrs Patricia Forbes, Centre Organiser for the surrounding rural communities, were the women responsible for writing these monthly reports. Mrs Proudman focused on the social activities of the centre, pouring tea and visiting the elderly, whilst in those submitted by Mrs Forbes we see her priority shift from these social aspects to a more educative campaign on issues of Civil Defence.
The 1950s represented an important and uneasy decade. On the one hand the Allies had prevailed over the Axis powers and World War Two was over, on the other, a bipolar prism of East and West had very quickly emerged with the start of the Cold War in 1949. The prospect of peace had been dashed and the immediate post-war sentiments of hope and optimism slowly gave way to new fears as a sinister new threat emerged; Communism and its aggressively expansive incarnation – the Soviet Union.
WVS played an important part in responding to these threats, with the support of the Home Office the WVS began an educational campaign teaching ordinary women basic First Aid and practical skills required to best face the unique threats that the nuclear age presented. The Narrative Reports of Mrs Forbes, specify the number of women who had witnessed the ‘One-in-Five’ talks, lectures designed to provide at least one-in-five British women with the basic skills of Civil Defence.
It may seem a strange juxtaposition to associate Royal Voluntary Service – an organisation known best today for its work with older people - with the broad international political landscape of the 1950s, yet as the monthly Narrative Reports for Devizes show, the Women’s Voluntary Services for Civil Defence played an important educative role in equipping the women of Devizes, and those around the rest of the country, with the basic skills of Civil Defence, a programme which was approved and funded by the Home Office.
WVS also maintained an important social role; working with the elderly, visiting hospitals, arranging flowers and pouring an ever-welcome cup of tea. Whilst the Narrative Reports of Mrs Forbes extensively detail the organisation’s political role, those kept by the long serving Mrs Proudman – a pillar of charitable and civic life in Devizes, after whom a street has been named –detail the social responsibilities of the WVS. Both Mrs Proudman and Mrs Forbes gave great service to the town of Devizes, the fact that Mrs Proudman focused her time on social duties and Mrs Forbes on issues of Civil Defence demonstrates the breadth of service the WVS performed in 1950s Devizes. This variety of focus demonstrates how the WVS was personally shaped by the strong leadership of ordinary women up and down the country, women with greatly differing outlooks and priorities.
On another level it seems that the WVS filled a need for a post-war recalibration of the woman’s role, whereas a decade previously the collective effort of war had redefined the working lives of women and provided a true sense of purpose, the 1950s could have easily felt an anti-climax. The work of the WVS in 1950s Devizes can therefore be seen as a continuation of this wartime spirit, the principles of charity, selflessness and service perpetuated on a new and expanding platform. This was the realisation of what Lady Reading the WVS’s founder had envisaged.
The WVS undoubtedly had a strong presence in Devizes in the 1950s, with the matriarchal leadership of Mrs Proudman and Mrs Forbes countless elderly people were visited, innumerable cups of tea were poured and unending library books were distributed. But more than these valuable and unashamedly simple acts of service the WVS brought to Devizes and its surrounding villages an educational campaign designed to equip its people against the political and humanitarian uncertainty that loomed as the century marched on.
Posted by Ezra Bigland, Archive Volunteer at 09:00
Monday, 22 August 2016.
One in Five,