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Women at War - What did the WVS do? Main page

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The Women's Voluntary Service (WVS) began in June 1938 to prepare women for civil defence work. By September 1939, the WVS had 336,000 members, increasing to 1 million members during the war.

One of the main tasks of the WVS was to recruit women for Air Raid Precautions services (ARP). They also ran field kitchens and rest centres for people made homeless by bombing; provided canteens at railway stations for soldiers and sailors; escorted children being evacuated; running clothing centres for those who had lost all their possessions; operating car pools once petrol rationing was introduced; helping people salvage their personal belongings from bombed-out houses; and doing domestic work in hospitals and clinics. The WVS was also the official 'sock darner' for the Army - darning 38,000 pairs a week for British and American soldiers!

The women who joined the WVS were those with domestic responsibilities, such as looking after children or relatives, who could not join the armed forces or the Land Army, or work in a factory. Only the organisers received any payment, everybody else gave their services free. The women of the WVS even had to buy their own uniform - a grey-green tweed suit, red jumper and felt hat.

Although some of the duties of the WVS may have seemed boring, the women carried out vital war work, helping Britain to run as normal. The work could be dangerous and some members of the WVS were killed on duty. The WVS is still in existence today and is known as the Women's Royal Voluntary Service (WRVS).

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