CHAPTER 23 WOMEN'S VOLUNTARY SERVICE FOR CIVIL DEFENCE

Before the war began.

On the 1st April, 1939, the Hon. A.R.P. Officer called together a few women who he thought might be interested in such an organisation as the Women's Voluntary Service, and they decided to go forward with the movement. The blessing of the Local Authority having been received, a Public Recruiting Campaign was commenced in June, and recruits began to come in immediately. As they enrolled, recruits were allocated to the different services and every person enrolled between 1st April, 1939, and the outbreak of war was given the opportunity of attending First Aid Lectures and Anti-Gas Lectures, while special lectures on Catering were arranged for Canteen Workers, with " Child Care" and Home Nursing Lectures for Evacuation helpers.

A working party was formed at Headquarters which dealt with thousands of yards of material (bought by the Local Authority), and made them into various articles for the First Aid Posts, while other working parties made hundreds of articles for the Connaught Hospital, including many-tailed bandages, operation stockings, nurses' caps and sleeve lets, bed-socks, coloured blankets made of wool, and a host of other articles. Sewing machines were lent by the Education Committee, and ladies in the district also lent their own sewing machines so that this work could be carried on.

Some of the W.V.S. gave blood transfusions a week before the war and Walthamstow were the first to help the Hospitals by sending clerks to assist in the blood transfusion cases at Whipps Cross Hospital and the London Hospital. Yeoman work was done by a group of workers who gave unstinted service from the inauguration of the W.V.S. up to the outbreak of war, working sometimes till two or three in the morning after doing their ordinary work. Unfortunately, many of this little group were compulsorily evacuated at the outbreak of war and their work had to be passed into the hands of other people.

Headquarters and Sections.

As time went on, the W.V.S. outgrew their accommodation and, on the day war broke out, they moved to the Central Library in High Street (Later, premises were rented in Hoe Street but after a Fly Bomb had wrecked these in 1944, W.V.S. Headquarters returned to the Library.) After a few months in the new premises at the Library, the work had increased so much that it had to be divided into Sections as follows: -

All these provided for their own clerical and statistical work-no light task.

Headquarters Working Party.

These members altered over 2,000 mattress covers for the Rest Centres. They also made the black-out curtains for about 100 houses which had been requi¬sitioned for bombed-out people, and made chevrons for Civil Defence. The distribution of Orange Juice and Cod Liver Oil was dealt with at the Centre. Thousands of wool permits were issued for knitting for Service men. Layettes, etc., for Soldiers' and Sailors' Families were issued from this Centre and a considerable number of tiny tots' romper suits were made for the Day Nurseries in the town. Curtains were made for the Service Men's Rest Centres and for the A.T.S. and A.A. Batteries, and curtains, tablecloths, etc., to brighten up the Rest Centres. The H.Q. working party also made camouflage netting for the A.A. guns.

Evacuation Scheme.

Some hundreds of evacuation helpers were trained in Elementary First Aid, Home Nursing and Anti-Gas prior to the war in readiness for a sudden call for the evacuation of children, and thousands of children were evacuated. In addition, many children under five were evacuated (through W.V.S. Headquarters) under this Scheme. Clothing made from adults' clothes was supplied for children who were being evacuated under the Education Department's scheme.

Homeless and Refugees.

During the blitz houses were prepared for bombed-out people, and a great deal of work was done in connection with receiving the Dutch and Belgian refugees into the Town and our own folk from Silvertown, Canning Town and Dock Land.

Clothing Section.

When the " Blitz " arrived in the Autumn of 1940 a tremendous amount of work was performed by W.V.S. members in helping with the clothing of bombed-out people, comforting them in every way possible and in helping at the Rest Centres. Comforts for Troops, Civil Defence and Prisoners. In conjunction with other working parties in the town, who helped considerably in this direction, over 10,000 articles were made for the Troops Comforts Fund and over 4,000 for Civil Defence Comforts. A considerable number of comforts were also made for Russia, for Prisoners of War and for Civilian Prisoners of War in the Channel Islands.

Canteens.

When, early in 1940, Civil Defence Headquarters transferred to the new Town Hall, the Deputy Centre Organiser took charge of the H.Q. Canteen with the help of another W.V.S. member who acted as Deputy. The Mobile Canteens (stationed at Civil Defence H.O.) were also under the same direction and the work which they did is dealt with elsewhere in this account.

British Restaurant.

A Municipal Restaurant, which was opened at Electric House, Church Hill, in the summer of 1941, proved to be a great success and W.V.S. members rendered valuable service to the citizens of Walthamstow.

Housewives' Service.

The whole of the town was organised with District Leaders, Post Leaders and, in many instances, Street Leaders, taken from the Housewives' Service, and members rendered valuable service in many spheres, including helping with the feeding of the Home Guard on exercises, providing First Aid equipment in their areas, taking blind people to hospital, taking children to dental clinics, helping at the Canteens of the A.A. Batteries, helping at the Clinics, distributing Fruit Juices and Cod Liver Oil, selling flags on the Flag Day, and many other odd jobs that came along.

Salvage Drives.

A great deal was done in the Aluminium Drive and people brought in their aluminium from all parts of the town and from the neighbouring towns of Chingford, Woodford and Leyton. A Salvage Drive was organised and W.V.S. mem¬bers worked hard in organising the Borough so that there were soon 100 per cent, street workers for salvage. A Book Drive was also held in which W.V.S. members rendered valuable service and worked hard to make it a success.

National Savings.

W.V.S. members helped with this section of the National effort and took charge of selling centres. Walthamstow was the first district to be mentioned by the B.B.C. as having completed their 100 per cent street groups. W.V.S. helpers had a stall at the South West Essex Technical College during Warships Week in 1942, and during Wings for Victory Week in 1943 a W.V.S. member and her helpers collected over £14,000. A.R.P.

Laundry.

This was not a pleasant job but willing helpers attended weekly to receive work from the ten Civil Defence District Centres, to sort the laundry, repair and mark it, send it to the Baths for washing and then, when it was returned, to redistribute it to the various districts.

Emergency Mobile Feeding Units.

This section was ready for service in early 1942 but the Emergency Mobile Feeding Units (of which we had four in Walthamstow) did not come into full prominence until the time of the Fly Bomb blitz in 1944. The Units were manned by W.V.S. members who provided a very useful service for the public. Mobile Canteens operated immediately after the Incident had commenced but the Mobile Feeding Units were installed later in the day with a view to providing a hot meal (usually of a stew character) for householders. Accordingly, after an Incident had occurred in the early morning, Feeding Units operated at lunch-time and again in the evening for the benefit of those returning from work.

Incident Enquiry Points.

The large volume of enquiries from the public in regard to missing relatives was a serious impediment to the work of the Incident Officer in charge of the Incident and, to relieve him, a system was evolved under which an Incident Enquiry Point was established as near as possible to the Incident. These I.E.P.s did valuable but, on occasions, heartbreaking work and were in nearly all cases completely staffed by W.V.S. members.

Group 7 W.V.S. Clothing Store.

This store supplied all kinds of new Clothing, Blankets and Quilts for bombed-out persons in an area comprising West Ham, Ilford, Leyton and Walthamstow with the result that after an Incident in any of these districts there was a tremendous call for clothing and a continuous flow of stock coming in from Headquarters and going out at all times.

Re-homing Scheme.

Under this admirable scheme, part of Scotland adopted Walthamstow, and we received 10 loads of furniture and household goods of all kinds totalling 54 tons. The scheme of issue was worked on a " Points " system, related to the damage to the home.

Invasion Defence Scheme.

This Report would be incomplete without a reference to the work which was put in by the W.V.S. members and leaders at all levels in connection with the I.D.S. and in respect of which the Invasion Defence Officer expressed his warm appreciation.

Officers and Leaders of W.V.S.

At the end of the war, the Officers were as follows :-

The following were the Section Leaders :-

A.R.P. Laundry Section - Mrs. Coleman.
British Restaurant - Clr. Mrs. B. Friedberg
Care of the Homeless (Recruitment) Centre Secretary - Miss D. E. Wyld, L.A.G.C.
Clothing Secretary - Mrs. Miles.
Clothing Section Mrs. Burri.
Comforts for Troops and Civil Defence Mrs. Seeker.
Emergency Mobile Feeding Units' Section Mrs. Simmons.
Group 7 Clothing Store Mrs. Sims.
Headquarter's Working Party Mrs. Wilton.
Housewives' Section Miss L. B. Thrippleton, A.R.P.S
H.Q. Canteen and Mobile Canteens' Section Ald. Mrs. E. Miller.
National Savings Mrs. D. Bird.
Re-homing Scheme Mrs. Garnham.
Salvage Section Mrs. Speakman.

The W.V.S. District Organisers were as follows :-

Part I - General

Part IIa - The Services

Part IIb - The Services

Part III - The Story of the Raids

Part IV - Flying Bombs & Rockets

Part V - To the Unknown Citizen