- Created: 14 September 2013
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The WVS played a key part in the evacuation of civilians from urban areas. The WVS had been asked to pinpoint areas of safety and billeting for evacuated children. Moving children out of the cities proved reasonably easy. Getting them to a known area of safety proved a lot more difficult as trains did not always arrive at an expected destination or would turn up at a reception point unexpectedly. The WVS is credited with helping to move 1.5 million people (the majority were children) out of cities in the early days of September 1939.
The WVS also played a major role in the collection of clothing required for the needy. In October 1939, Lady Reading broadcast to the United States about the need for clothing in the UK. The broadcast led to large quantities of clothing (known as "Bundles for Britain") being sent over to Great Britain by the American Red Cross. These were distributed from WVS Emergency Clothing Stores.
When troops returned to ports after the evacuation at Dunkirk, members of the WVS were there to greet them and hand out food, drink and warm clothing. The WVS base at the railway station in Headcorn, Kent was an especially busy place for feeding returning soldiers before they dispersed—a spit was installed so that meat could be roasted there and then. The WVS also played a vital part during the Blitz of London and other cities.
By the time of the Blitz, women in the WVS were adept at providing food and drink around the clock. While ARP wardens and firemen fought the fires, women in the WVS set up mobile canteens to keep them refreshed, thus placing themselves in serious physical danger with collapsing buildings a constant threat. When the raids ended, the WVS also played a part in looking after those who were injured and had lost their homes. Records indicate that the WVS dealt with and helped over 10,000 people every night of the Blitz.
As the Blitz lasted for 57 nights, the WVS helped in total a vast number of people who went to their rest centres. Some people stayed just for a night—many stayed for much longer and stretched the resources of the WVS to the limit. In Barnes, one WVS member fed 1,200 bomb victims in just one day, cooking in her own kitchen.
It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the work done by the WVS during the Blitz: the rest centres provided a roof, food and, importantly, sanitation. But working so near to the centre of the bombing inevitably led to casualties. 241 members of the WVS were killed during the Blitz and many more were wounded. 25 WVS offices were destroyed.