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.

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A Volcanic Eruption

This week we are very excited to bring you our first Vlog focusing on the Islanders of Tristan du Cunha who were evacuated to Pendell Military Camp in 1961. You can also read about this below.

Original Script

Hello and welcome to our first vlog we will be posting one every other month so we hope you enjoy. My name is Jennifer I am the Deputy Archivist; today I will be talking about why the islanders of Tristan du Cunha gave WVS Caterham and Godstone, Surrey a model of one of their long boats in 1961.

Tristan, is the name of both a remote group of volcanic islands in the South Atlantic Ocean and the main island of that group. Tristan da Cunha is part of the British overseas territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha. From August 1961 there were a series of natural disasters including landslides before the eruption of the volcano in October which threatened the community living on the island. It was decided that all the inhabitants should be evacuated to Britain; they were guaranteed a warm welcome and who was there to greet them? The WVS of Course! 

Five days before their arrival, a team of 200 enthusiastic volunteers from Caterham and Godstone prepared Pendell Military Camp. WVS were determined that the huts, which were to be the islanders home for a few months were as homelike as possible; beds were covered with afghans, a little bowl of flowers was placed in each hut, grime in the kitchens was scrubbed away, table cloths were laid and the cupboards were stocked with provisions.

Meanwhile the former NAAFI Canteen was getting its facelift; curtains, chairs, tables, and a billiard table lent by NAAFI, were put in place; the children's playroom was filled with toys and hung with balloons; the WVS Office and Information Centre was prepared, and a little shop stocked with things to meet the immediate needs of the islanders; of course a WVS speciality was installed, a Clothing Store.

Just after noon on a very cold Friday in November the islanders arrived.

They stayed at Pendell for three months and then moved to Calshot, on Southampton Water, where the houses of a disused R.A.F. Station had been prepared for them, with as much effort and enthusiasm, by the Hampshire WVS. Centres throughout Hampshire made 300 pairs of curtains, for which 1,400 yds. of material were needed, 1,800 yds. of ruflette tape and 6,000 curtain hooks. I wonder how much space they had left in the office or indeed their own homes. The islanders were really appreciative for everything WVS did for them and presented Caterham WVS with a model of a typical Tristan da Cunha long boat which they made themselves. Today the model lives in the Archive.

The winter of 1962 was particularly harsh especially compared to the climate of the islands, several suffered with illnesses and as with many a long way from their own homes felt homesick.  So The Royal Society went on an expedition to the Island in 1962. They reported that they had been able to live in the settlement and that the boats were still intact. Hearing this news, the islanders began to agitate to return home.  Over a two year period small groups returned to the Island with everyone having returned home by November 1963. In the meantime WVS helped the islanders settle into their temporary homes with all their usual services but also demonstrating gas or electric stoves and holding children’s parties.  

Going home After two years in England the islanders all returned home to Tristan da Cunha, the last group left  on the Bornholm, with 27 tons of potatoes for eating and 100 tons of other stores including six months' provision of flour, tea, sugar, salt and biscuits. It was reported in the Bulletin December 1963 that “THE Tristan da Cunha Islanders have gone home in the spirit of determined independence which characterises them. The parting was sad, for them and for WVS, who since their arrival in England in November 1961 have looked after them and become their friends”.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 11:00 Wednesday, 22 February 2017.

Labels: Tristan du Cunha, Refugees, Volcano, WVS, Surrey, Hampshire

"We really didn't do very much"

While running the Voices of Volunteering project I talked to many volunteers who had helped many people including refugees and who thought they had only made a very small contribution. This week is National Refugee week so I thought I would share some stories from volunteers about their experiences of working with refugees. As you will see they did rather a lot.

WVS were working with Refugees from the start of the Second World War, greeting them and finding billets or accommodation.

“War was declared, I was fifteen and my brother was seventeen. I suppose like all stupid young people it was exciting, frightening in a way but quite exciting. And we lived in Weymouth and a lady called, I don't if it's Mrs Sewell or Miss Sewell advertised for volunteers because a lot of, people were coming over from the continent and the Channel Islands to get away from the war. So both my brother, Bob, and me volunteered and we were making beds for people. We actually helped at the birth of a baby which was quite a shock to both of us, but there was no point in, there was no, we couldn't hang around because it was imminent. Anyway, that's my introduction to the WVS as it, as it was called.” – Geraldine Harris Volunteer, Weymouth.

After the Hungarian revolution in 1956 around 200,000 people fled as refugees a number settled in Scotland. In January 1957 the WVS Bulletin reported:

“It is very difficult to make our page of any interest, other than Hungarian Relief Work, but we begin it by telling of the safe arrival of two train loads over the week-end at two camps, one Middle-ton Camp, Gorebridge, the other Broom-lee Camp at West Linton.

W.V.S. set up the clothing issue stores in both camps 24 hours before the expected arrival of the refugees and were then at the station and in the camps to help settle them in for the night. W.V.S. are now on duty issuing clothing and giving every possible assistance.”

When Idi Amin expelled the Asian Community from Uganda in 1972 many came to the UK and of course the WRVS was there to welcome them with clothing suitable for the British weather.

“we really didn't do very much except sort clothes, which came in from the public. There were so many clothes, we didn't know what to do with. But they all had to be sorted because some of them were not fit to give to anybody, and some were absolutely, really super clothes. And these were all sorted into men, women, children’s and babies. And we had one, one school sent us in with the children’s clothes, in the coat pockets were, was a toy in every one, which was lovely.” – Maureen Jones Volunteer, Epping

When Kosovar Refugees arrived in the UK in 1992 once again the WRVS was there to provide clothing to them.

“The Kosovars were based in Calderstones Hospital which was just on the verge of clothing [sic], closing and there was an appeal out for clothing and it came in in droves, we were really overwhelmed. We thought we were making some progress and then another lot would come in. Some really good things, new things, and we were sorting out the rubbish as well, which you also get some rubbish. But we never, we never finished it. They, eventually the, the clothing was taken into another part of the building and arranged as a dress shop or a men’s shop so they could come in and choose enough clothing to help them through.” – Kathleen Ashburner Volunteer,

These stories and more can be found on the Archive Catalogue search the Voices of Volunteering or Bulletin collections.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 12:00 Sunday, 26 June 2016.

Labels: Refugees, WVS, WRVS, Hungarian, Kosovar, Ugandan Asians

Reports from everywhere - September 1965

This week, a return to Reports from Everywhere’ this time from September 1965. There were so many stories included in this issue of the bulletin, I found it hard to cut down so you have an ‘extended’ selection this week.

Straight to the point
The District Organiser for Lewisham received a letter from a 10-year-old boy in a local primary school. He explained that he was writing an essay about the social work being done in the Borough and he would like to know about WVS. The Organiser invited him to see some of the work if the school would give him permission- WVS was very surprised one morning when the boy arrived with 24 other pupils and his teacher. It proved a very enjoyable morning and the children seemed to ask hundreds of questions and promised they would ask their Mums to help and also to send any cast-off clothing. One small boy asked ‘Do you take ladies who are bored?’

Layettes from Salvage
During the past five years Finchley (a district of the London Borough of Barnet) Centre have made 564 nightdresses, 473 vests and 416 dresses for the Refugee Layette Scheme. This has been accomplished by using the good parts of worn garments destined for the Salvage sack. Shirts and sheets are used to make the nightdresses and vests, summer dresses and underclothes for the little dresses. Hand-made jumpers are undone, washed and re-knitted into shawls; 395 of these have been sent.

Members and friends, most of the latter being elderly, some being disabled and with failing sight, are tireless in sewing and knitting - Their policy is: ‘We are sending a present to these babies, so let us make it as attractive as possible’.

Not once but many times
When we see the students are enjoying themselves at their annual romp and they rattle the collecting boxes before our face, we sometimes forget the enormous amount of good the money will do when they have shared it out among the many local needs.

Money from the Aberdeen students’ campaign and the Welsh Caird trustees took 58 elderly people from Stonehaven on a bus run inland to some of the loveliest villages in Scotland. In a year when the broom and gorse was a mass of blooms they saw whole hillsides covered in golden yellow. Memory pictures to cherish through the dark days of the year.

From unwanted to wanted
One of our ‘Make and Mend’ members in Herne Bay has made about 550 babies’ day and night dresses out of unwanted cotton frocks and skirts in the five years she has been working for WVS; at 82 years of age an excellent record.

A word in time
A member working with the Bath Meals on Wheels service had been delivering meals to the elderly occupants of a very old house. The smell of the house had for some time been slowly getting worse, and when she went one week it was so dreadful that she felt something should be done about it, so she telephoned the Gas Board and asked that someone should be sent along to investigate.

They thought she had made a mistake and should have telephoned for the Sanitary Inspector, but said they would send an engineer along forthwith.

When the gas installations were inspected it was found that all the leads or pipes going into the meter were completely adrift. When they telephoned our member to inform her of this they said that had it not been for her prompt action, undoubtedly all the occupants of this apartment house would have been gassed.

Music in Braille
A blind woman living at Putney, who is being taken care of by a Wimbledon WVS member, is getting on well. Our member is taking great interest in her welfare, and is making every effort to get her some music written in Braille. She is teaching herself the piano and is very keen on music which is one of her greatest joys. She is so happy with her visitor and evidently appreciates this interest in her wellbeing very much indeed.

Posted by Matthew McMurray, Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 28 September 2015.

Labels: Braille, Putney, Music, Piano, Bath, Somerst, Meals on Wheels, Gas, Make do and mend, herne bay, stonehaven, Scotland, Finchley, Layettes, Refugees, barnet, lewisham

Easing the plight of refugees

Listening to the news reports on the refugee crisis this morning, we thought we would share with you some of the ways in which WVS volunteers have helped refugees, both in this country and abroad, over the years.

The Refugee Department of the WVS was opened in May 1940 to meet the needs of War Refugees on the invasion of Holland and Belgium and later on the collapse of France, and the invasion of the Channel Islands. WVS helped with the meeting and transport of refugees and their care at reception centres in the London area. After billeting, support continued at local WVS Centres, providing temporary homes, clothing, activities, and employment. For example in 1940 a refugee from Guernsey, who was a dressmaker, was provided with a sewing machine so that she could earn a living in Britain. The WVS continues to help thousands of refugees from Poland, and in 1956 some 12,000 Hungarians.

In 1959, World Refugee Year, the WVS set up an adoption scheme, through which individuals and WVS Centres could support refugee families, particularly in Germany, Africa and the Middle East. They provided gifts of money, food, fuel, and clothing, but as relationships formed they were able to send more personal gifts such as paints for artists, wool and knitting needles, soap, razor blades, and handkerchiefs.

In 1961 many refugees from Tristan da Cunha were housed in an ex-army camp in Caterham. Caterham and Godstone WVS, with the help of Oxted, Sevenoaks Rural, and Reigate, cleaned, furnished and equipped the camp, and undertook all the cooking for the first ten days. They were responsible for welfare, daily social activities, and games for the children, and they ran a shop in the old NAAFI.

The WRVS Settlement Section were on hand to support the arrival of some 2,500 Czechs in 1968, and some 2,000 Ugandan Asians in 1973. Many arrived almost destitute, knowing little or no English, and friendless. The WRVS provided free English lessons, venues to meet fellow exiles, help with Social Security, furniture, jobs, and education.

In many case members set up lasting friendships with the individuals and families. Here at the archive we store several items of memorabilia and gifts connected with these relationships including the beautiful model boat from Tristan de Cunha pictured here.

Posted by Sheridan Parsons, Archive volunteer at 00:00 Thursday, 03 September 2015.

Labels: refugees, Baroness Warsi, Today programme, Radio 4, Hungarain, Trisan da Cunha, Poland, Holland , Belgium , Ugandan Asians, Czech, Caterham, Godstone, Oxted, Sevenoaks, Reigate