For the last few weeks Jenni, our Project Facilitator, has been working her way through the uncatalogued archives of the Worcestershire Federation of WIs which were deposited in the Worcestershire Archives a few years before the move to the Hive.
Amongst records this week, Jenni found the signed record book of the monthly meetings of the Worcester Centre WI branch, Jan 1938-Feb 1943. The book provides a fascinating insight into the activity of the branch. Before the war began, they met monthly in Catholic Hall. Then on, 18 Oct 1939, the WI moved to the YWCA Room as the ‘Hall … had been taken over by the Education Authorities’. This requisition did not last long: the WI returned to meet in the Catholic Hall from March 1941.
On 20 Sep 1939, the first meeting immediately following the declaration of World War Two, the President followed the singing of ‘Jerusalem’ by naming ‘the nearest Air Raid Shelter in case of sudden need during future meetings’.
‘A letter was read from Mrs Pedley [president of WFWI] urging Institutes to carry on as well as they could’.
Throughout the early years of the war, the Worcester Centre branch did everything it could to contrinute to the War Effort, from hosting edifying talks to fundraising to preserving punds and pounds of jam and chutney.
17 Jul 1940: Worcester Centre agreed to contribute £4 to the National Federation of WIs appeal to purchase a WI Ambulance (£2 from voluntary contributions, £2 from WI funds);
19 Feb 1941: ‘the ‘Alert’ was sounded just before the meeting commenced and a few members left to take up ARP positions, otherwise all members remained quite calmly and unmoved’.
21 Oct 1942: the sub-committee report on the work of the ‘Kitchen’ showed that 1600lbs jam, 220 bottles fruit, 150lbs chutney and 1044 cans ‘had been completed in the 52 working days which the kitchen had been opened.’ The ladies reported that ‘2553 garments and surgical bandages had been completed… More helpers were required to make camouflage nets’…
These are just a few of the fascinating entries in the book. Other meeting reports include reference to appeals for hospitality for land girls, activities of the Red Cross/War Working Party, welcome events to evacuees and their nursing mothers, activity relating to War Savings and fundraising, the making and collection of ‘comforts’ to send to PoWs and troops, appeals for volunteers to ‘work on the land’ during the summer, and a talk on conditions on the ‘brave George Cross Island of Malta’.
At the moment, we have no idea what Abberley WI did between 1940 to 1943. Local legend has it that the branch temporarily disbanded when the Parish Hall was requisitioned for the making of munitions (apparently the workers ‘ruined the dance floor’). These contemporary recorfds provide us with valuable insights into the work of the WI at this time.
We really hope that our researches will turn up documentation about the Abberley WI’s contribution to the war effort. The whole village was committed to the important task of Food Production for the nation, but we know from other sources that residents were also volunteering as ARP wardens or as Local Defence Volunteers. If you know anythiing about this time, do please contact us. We would love to hear from you.
If you are interested in seeing hte record book, its WAAS reference is BA14926/Box 5