Royal British Legion

Great Yarmouth

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Did You Know

Some interesting and quirky facts about Britain in general and Great Yarmouth in particular. Many are First and Second World War related but not all.

The WVS and WI

When the Second World War broke out on 3 September 1939, it was not just the men who flocked to enrol in the voluntary services. Women rushed to join the WVS (Women's Voluntary Service) and the WI (Women's Institute). At the same time, many women voluntered for the armed forces. In 1941 all single women between 19 and 31 were called up with a choice between the uniformed services and factories; this was eventually extended to age 51. Soon married women also were expected to work, at least part-time. Neighbours were encouraged to help each other with looking after children but child care for working mothers was a big problem then, not just today. It increased as more men were called into the armed services and women were expected to replace them in their peacetime jobs. The WVS set up and ran nurseries in most towns in response to this need. These places often doubled as rest centres at night for those whose homes had just been bombed.

The WI set up exchanges in most towns where mothers could bring the clothes their children had grown out of and exchange them for larger sizes which other mothers had brought in. And just as we take unwanted items to charity shops today, people took clothes, books, bits of crockery and furniture - anything they could spare - to WI collection centres. The books were needed by libraries which had lost their stocks in bombing raids, and all other items were gratefully received by people whose homes had been destroyed.

Children too helped with the war effort and particularly so in rural areas like Norfolk. Headmasters wrote to parents seeking permission for their sons to help with the harvest. Girls as well as boys gathered, not just fruits in season, but anything which had a use from the hedgerows and woods. They collected acorns, pine cones, nettles and any product of Nature which could be used for medicinal purposes, such as conkers which were boiled down for tannic acid to treat burns. They also collected rosehips for rosehip syrup - a rich source of vitamin C for babies and small children. The WI volunteers carefully dried out the produce brought to their collection centres before it could be sent on to factories for processing.

Thursday's Poppy
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