Within two years of the outbreak of the Second World War, 1-in-10 women had set aside their own lives to volunteer and help others as members of the Women's Voluntary Services (WVS). They held the country together working tirelessly on the Home Front, but now they have been forgotten. They modestly refused recognition in their own time and their voices, those of ordinary women from our shared past, have now fallen silent; but you can help us to re-tell their stories of everyday heroism.
What do we want to do?
We have 300,000 fragile pieces of paper in our safekeeping which make up a vast diary of women’s lives covering almost every city, town and village across Great Britain for over 50 years. We want you to work with us to bring the very beginning, and the most evocative period, of this hidden history to life for everyone to explore. That of the country’s darkest hour!
We need your help to capture the first 28,000 pages of this narrative from 1938-1941, the lead up to war, the evacuation and the unleashing of Hitler’s Blitzkreig on the cities and towns of Great Britain. We want you to help us publish and preserve these stories to inspire future generations.
Your pledges will allow us to undertake the painstaking process of setting free the information held on ten of thousands of pieces of paper, and bring them to a digital generation. We will carefully photograph and document every page and make them available online for free to everyone.
The jobs these million women did were rarely glamorous, but it is the heart, understanding and selflessness with which these tasks were carried out across Britain which is truly extraordinary. The success of the WVS was in using the skills women already had, the skills of wives and mothers; knitting, sewing, cooking, and of course compassion and diplomacy. Where new skills were needed, such as driving in the blackout, extinguishing incendiary bombs or making jumpers from dog’s hair, training was given and a task inevitably ready and waiting.
“…One of our elderly canteen volunteers … was in the Town Hall W.V.S. office the morning after the Sunday night raid, fitting herself out with necessary clothes. We asked her if we could do anything for her, and she replied that if we could send two wires to her soldier sons she would be very grateful. … the wires both said. “Bombed out – but still smiling. Mother.” She had no home, no clothes, no money – and tears came to her eyes, but her desire to avoid worrying her sons as shown in the telegram was, we considered, almost heroic.”
Mrs L E Graham, Centre Organiser, Sheffield, December 1940.
“The new “Stop me” snack convenience has been converted for use attached to a car instead of the bicycle, as we found the cycle unsuitable for the hills here. It did excellent work shortly after an incident, serving tea & buns to civilians, whose homes were damaged, but not quite badly enough to be evacuated at once. The food etc. is supplied through our W.V.S. Dining centre & those who can pay 1d tea 1d bun do so, but this is not pressed.”
Ethel W. Lee, Centre Organiser, Hastings, July 1944.
“Our Dog’s Hair expert attended a demonstration of the spinning and knitting of dogs combings held at Harrods on Nov. 18th by the Hailsham W.V.S. at the request of the Board of Trade. Wonderful results are obtained from these combings, and the whole process was shown, from the raw state to the finished garment. The wool is warm and hard wearing: Portsmouth’s contributions were highly praised; this is largely owing to the excellent arrangements made by our specialist. We hope to have some garments on show soon, so that we may make the need known to all local dog owners, and so make a large increase in our wool salvage.”
Margaret Daley, Joint County Borough Organiser, Portsmouth, November 1943.
Every account is written in a different style by a different woman. Some are long, others short but all give a fascinating window on a world which is soon to be out of living memory. Each story brings with it the foibles, idiosyncrasies and passions of its writer, and the selection of full diary entries below, presented as they will appear online, give a small flavour of this.
- Lyme Regis, February 1945
- Bath, April-May 1942
- Cranwell, May 1941
- Grimsby, May 1941
- Sheffield December 1940
- Portsmouth, November 1943
- Cambridge, November 1941
- Rickmansworth, June 1941
- Hastings, July 1944
- Hastings May 1944
These stories are so central to the history of Great Britain that they are recognised by UNESCO as one of the most important documents in the UK. This project will make a previously hidden history accessible for all to see and will recognise every woman that played a part in keeping the country together during the war.
The WVS is still helping people in communities around Great Britain today, as Royal Voluntary Service and we’re still relying on the understanding and compassion of volunteers in local communities. Like Stella Reading during the Second World War, Kickstarter projects rely on the faithfulness of many to achieve their goals, so this is where you come in.
Our history is a fascinating story and you can become a part of it, by supporting us to reveal the hidden histories of over a million wartime women. The Women in Green, the Army Hitler Forgot.
Our undying thanks
For those who just want to show their support, thank you very much, you will have helped us capture and make available 2 pages.
Name on Website
Let the world know that you helped support us and get your name on our project sponsor website and help capture and make available 9 pages.
A set of 10 exclusive postcards are reproduced from a hand illustrated poster from our collection. Drawn in 1941, each postcard is an evocative vignette depicting how the women of the WVS relieved suffering during the war. This reward will help us make 16 pages available.
Limited edition 'Miss Mercury' print
The image of Miss Mercury is one of the most arresting in our collection and always in demand. It depicts Meg Moorat who was a WVS motorcycle messenger in London during the war, riding a Triumph Twin in the streets of Whitehall. This reward will help us make about 50 pages available.
For those who can’t wait to know the secrets we are uncovering and want to help us to capture and make more pages available, this reward is for you. Your pledge will allow us to make 50 pages of our diary available and give you the opportunity to read narratives from your town of interest before anyone else.
When the campaign is successful we will send you a survey to fill out and you can let us know which WVS centre(s) you are interested in and we will e-mail you the pages as soon as each year is completed. To find out which centres are available for which years have a look here. You can choose one location for all years (if available) or different locations for each year. It’s up to you.
Supporters for this reward will be the only ones able to access the diaries of their choice while the project is ongoing. All other public access to the diaries 1938-1945 will be restricted until June 2017.
Visit and lunch at the archives
Experience stories over and above the publications in this project with a visit to our Archive & Heritage Collection, in Devizes, Wiltshire. Normally closed to the public, we will open its doors to you for a special day of discovery and exploration. You will be given privileged access to our collection, one of the largest charity archives in the UK and be able to pursue your own family or local research as well as seeing the project in action. The day will also include lunch at a local 5 star Bistro. (transport to and from Devizes is not included). This reward will allow us to capture and make available about 600 pages.
Risks and challenges
Our goal is to digitise 28,000 fragile pieces of paper which contain the story of a million women from 1938-1941 and the majority of the funds raised through this project will pay to employ someone to carry out this enormous and painstaking task. recruiting the right person is really important and any problems or delay in finding and appointing them may have an impact on our delivery dates for the different project elements.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)