Celebrating wartime role of volunteers

Where would we have been during the war without women?

By The Newsroom
Friday, 8th March 2013, 2:12 pm

As paid workers and volunteers, they kept the home fires burning while their menfolk were off fighting.

When the Second World War broke out in 1939, the Women’s Voluntary Services recruited 317,415 volunteers.

Forty-two women were sent to Hodsock Priory, near Blyth, after being assigned to the Land Army.

Their role was celebrated by present-day members of Bassetlaw WRVS who dressed in 1940s outfits for a charity day at the priory.

Hodsock custodian George Buchanan said: “The land girls lived in the building and used the Tudor gate house as their social room.”

“A lot of the women are still alive and they often visit us during snowdrop season and make themselves known to us. They are in their 80s and 90s now.”

Mr Buchanan said the land girls turned the gardens into vegetable patches for the war effort and worked on the farms with limited training and resources.

“Everything was done by hand because there was so little fuel around they didn’t use the tractors,” he said.

“They were here from 1942 to 1946. They put a sewage treatment system in and new drainage for the house, and patched up a lot of the roof where it leaked.”

“They were very friendly with my great-aunt Mary Mayhew who was a trustee of Hodsock together with her brother, my grandfather, Charles Buchanan.”

Mr Buchanan said a lot of the women were drafted in from surrounding towns and cities like Worksop, Retford, Sheffield and Rotherham, and had never lived in the countryside before.

“They have some amazing stories to tell. It was pretty grim but they have some good memories of it, even though it was such hard work,” said Mr Buchanan.

“They didn’t have much supervision or training and they worked very long days, picking turnips out of frozen soil, mucking out horses, and harvesting by hand.”

It was the year before the war, in 1938, that home secretary Sir Samuel Hoare gave Lady Reading permisson to set up the WVS. The ‘royal’ was added in 1966 by permission of the Queen.

Videlle Hamlet, service manager for Bassetlaw WRVS, said: “We’ve got a fantastic history that’s really valued and we are always adapting and changing to meet the needs of our service users.”

She said they were now hoping to attact more male volunteers. “We often find that men using our services would appreciate a male volunteer, especially if they are living alone and can’t get out, they miss that male company,” she said.

This year the WRVS is celebrating its 75th anniversary with a special event, featuring a band, buffet, and memorabilia displays, at Retford town hall on 10th May.

Tickets for the event are £10, or £7.50 for concessions, and are available from the WRVS on 01909 484437.