Women’s Voluntary Service: ‘The army Hitler forgot’ – BBC News
Knitting with dog hair, transporting toddlers in donkey carts and dispensing tea and sympathy are just some of the everyday activities revealed in archive images of the Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS) during World War Two.
The service, founded in 1938, was originally set up to train women to be able to help with air raid precautions.
It soon developed into running emergency rest centres, feeding, first aid, and assisting with the evacuation and billeting of children.
The organisation – now known as the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) – is attempting to raise enough money for more than 300,000 pages of diary entries to be digitised.
If successful, the collection will be made available to the public online.
Diary entry: December 1943. Portsmouth division of WVS
During November garments dealt with numbered 263. Two new units are now sending their mending, but one of the previous ones had left the district. A mending class, to teach the men to mend for themselves is held in the Headquarters of one unit, and the men are becoming quite enthusiastic about keeping their garments in repair, and learning all the various ways to do so.
The archive, which has Unesco status, is ranked alongside other historical texts such as the Doomsday Book and the Death Warrant of King Charles I.
“It’s often the quiet voices of history which are the most revealing,” says historian Ruth Goodman.
“They can be easily overlooked amongst the clamour of parliamentary speeches, gunfire and official pronouncements, but the diaries and letters of a host of less celebrated lives speak of the true temperature of the times.
“It is these unassuming thoughts, feelings and reports which tell us what was really happening behind the rhetoric.”
Diary entry: June 1942. Bath division of WVS
The amount of knitting for the Merchant Navy has increased. We have sent off two parcels; containing a total of 54 garments (sweaters, scarves and socks).
Very unfortunately one oAf the parcels, (a hessian sack packed full) appears to have suffered severe pilfering en route. A sack, which appears to be the one we sent, arrived 10 days later with only two scarves in it and nothing else.
We are making enquiries, and will have to claim against the Railway unless the things are found.
Early in the month, we received a request from the local Naval Comforts Committee, to utilise some redundant seaboot stockings by having them unpicked and re-knitted into polo-necked jerseys. The number to be dealt with was considerable, but knitters were quickly forthcoming. All the wool was distributed, and much has already been returned in its new guise.
The Hidden Histories of A Million Wartime Women project tells stories of “everyday heroism” from female volunteers from more than 2,000 cities, towns and villages across Britain.
By 1940, one in 10 women was a member of the WVS. “They held the country together working tirelessly on the Home Front, but now they have been forgotten,” the modern-day RVS says.
“They modestly refused recognition in their own time and their voices, those of ordinary women from our shared past, have now fallen silent.”
Matthew McMurray, archivist at the RVS, says he’s spent six years sorting through “tens of thousands of pieces of fragile paper” to get to a point where the documents can be digitised.
“We want to be able to share these tales of everyday heroism and those million ordinary women who made the difference,” he adds.
The RVS has set up a page on crowd-funding website Kickstarter in an attempt to raise 25,000.
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