Matthew McMurray takes us on a walk through the Royal Voluntary Service archives
to see snapshots of history that remain pertinent in current life.
12/11/1941: Six Womens Voluntary Service (WVS) members staff their posts at a WVS Office, possibly in London.
For much of our history, we have had centres in almost every town across Great Britain, with over 2,000 at our height. Each centre was required to write a regular report, documenting their work. Reports were filed from 1938 until 1992 and vividly illustrate the everyday activities of centres and their volunteers, charting the ups and downs of both the organisation and society for 54 years. Of special importance are the month by month reports through the Second World War. These detail the wide range of essential services which the ordinary members of WVS provided the nation in this pivotal time in British history.
Today, we have thousands of services
across Great Britain that continue to serve the public through the tireless work of volunteers
. You can make history today by backing our Hidden Histories of A Million Wartime Women project
Tea and comfort
22/08/1941: Two WVS members serving a welfare services canteen
Service Welfare Canteens serving sandwiches and hot drinks were established during WW2, after the retreat from Dunkirk there were 400 canteens across Britain and a number of local centres were asked to setup clubs. They served both servicemen and women during the war, the aim was to provide an escape from service life in home-like surroundings.
Today, Royal Voluntary Service has 440 cafés, shops and trolley services
in hospitals across Great Britain that provide convenient and good value refreshment for visitors, staff and patients as well as a welcoming place to take a break.
20/11/1941: WVS member and British army serviceman (left) with van filled with books for the services
Women from the WVS provided library services for the armed forces during the Second World War, with a service in Edinburgh sending out 16,000 books on loan in one six month period. Since then, Books on Wheels has developed into Home Library Services
that are giving older people the chance to enjoy books in their own homes.
08/09/1941: WRS volunteer waits while two men load an injured man, possibly a seaman, into the rear seats of a WVS wartime ambulance car.
In July 1942, the Ministry for Homeland Security asked WVS to run the Volunteer Car Pool (VCP). By 1944, there were over 570 VCP schemes across Britain, involving transporting people to hospital as well as other duties. This evolved into the various services and now takes the form of Community Transport
Meals on Wheels
Circa 1946 – 1949: WVS volunteer in Willesden, London serves a Meals on Wheels dinner while a lady waits in anticipation.
Meals on Wheels
were established in 1943 with the number of meals delivered increasing rapidly from the 1950’s. By 1962, WVS had delivered four million meals increasing to fourteen million a year in the 1980s. Royal Voluntary Service still delivers meals today to people who have difficulty with shopping, carrying food home or cooking for themselves.
Support our Hidden Histories of A Million Wartime Women
project on Kickstarter and make history from as little as £2.
Yesterday, we launched our Hidden Histories of A Million Wartime Women project on Kickstarter with the ambitious aim of raising £25,000 to allow us to capture 28,000 pages of WW2 diaries, spanning 1938 - 1941.
Support the project
During these key years of conflict, one in ten women in Great Britain volunteered with Women’s Voluntary Services (WVS) and bravely fought the war in their own back yards. The jobs that they did were rarely glamorous, but the WVS succeeded by using the skills that women already had; knitting, sewing, cooking and, of course, compassion and diplomacy.
Sadly, the hard work of these women is under threat. The documents that hold their incredible stories are fragile and need to be preserved. We want to ensure their diaries live on and that anyone can access them for many years to come.
These delicate pieces of paper are important for so many reasons; the volunteers’ hand-written diaries allow them to tell us their experiences in their own words, their pioneer gender and social history and showcase the importance of women at a difficult time.
We have only a month to gather support and raise the funds we need to keep the memory of a million women alive. For as little as £2, you can make history. As well as our unreserved thanks, you will receive a range of exclusive gifts to commemorate the event.
Find out more about the Royal Voluntary Service Archive & Heritage Collection and support the Kickstarter project.