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Find out about the people behind Royal Voluntary Service in our series of guest stories from our volunteers, staff and partners.

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What did wartime women do for us?

WVS volunteersMany don’t realise that during World War Two, over one million women volunteered their time through the Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS). Women played a fundamental role in factories and on farms but also provided social welfare to families, service men and women and helped to promote the war effort.

WVS volunteers strived to ensure that there was a functioning country for the armed forces to return to in peacetime. Their efforts show that a war can be won by the strength of its home front.

"None of this work would be possible without the goodwill of thousands upon thousands of ordinary British women, who realize that the best contribution they can make towards winning the war is to carry on with their own home life… and help to build up a comfortable and happy home life for the stranger."

Lady Reading, Founder of WVS, October 1939
These brave wartime women cared for evacuees, worked in knitting parties to make essential items for the forces and salvaged metal to build tanks and weapons. In larger towns and cities where bombing was a threat, they ran mobile canteens to feed the hungry and rest centres during major incidents.

While much WVS work passed without incident in small towns and villages around the country, those in towns and cities were coping with the destruction wrought by luftwaffe bombing raids. In 1941 alone, 25 WVS centres were destroyed and by the end of the war, 243 WVS members had lost their lives as a result of enemy action. Amongst all of this destruction there was much scope for heroism with five George Medals were awarded to WVS members during the war as well as hosts of other honours.

Of course, volunteers were not always willing. Instances of dissatisfaction were certainly common but they were usually resolved happily. Reports show that a woman refused to knit gloves as she hadn’t done it before and nothing could persuade her otherwise. The following day, however, she returned with a change of heart which she explained: “This morning a squadron of Spitfires flew over my house, and if those boys can do that for me, I can knit gloves for them!”

We want to keep these contributions alive but they face an uncertain future. Make history and support our Hidden Histories of A Million Wartime Women project on Kickstarter from as little as £2.

Posted by Matthew McMurray at 00:00 Wednesday, 01 June 2016.

Labels: Royal Voluntary Service, WVS, Archive, WWII