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Women in WW2-The Womens Voluntary Service

Updated on April 23, 2017
WVS Poster - asking for support with evacuations
WVS Poster - asking for support with evacuations
Stella Isaacs, Marchioness of Reading
Stella Isaacs, Marchioness of Reading

An 'Army' of Volunteers

When Britain declared war on Germany in September 1939, the country's people were not very shocked. International events were all building towards this outcome.

Britain had already been preparing for war. Since 1938, the WRNS (Women's Royal Navy Service) and WAAF (Women's Auxiliary Air Force) had been reformed in readiness for supporting the military's push to send men to war.

Women would be a vital part of the ability to keep the Navy, Army and Air Force at full strength, providing support in roles such as catering, driving and administration.

In one other area, this organisation of women had been going on without too much leadership at all. The Women's Voluntary Service was organised by Stella Isaacs, Marchioness of Reading who was asked to organise a voluntary organisation to support the Air Raids Precaution (ARP) Unit. The British government were already mindful of the possibility of Germany bombing Britain after its use of force against Poland and Czechoslovakia.

Ms Isaacs was from an extremely wealthy and influential family and she enlisted the support of personal friends in getting the support needed for ARP.

This led to the 'organisation' being rather dominated by a particular class in society. Nonetheless, the women she involved got to work right away and by 1941, the WVS numbered some 1 million women - an amazing number, all doing some amazing work for nothing more than the desire to help their country.

Women's Voluntary Work in Britain Before The War

It is all too easy to forget that in Britain as in other parts of the world, some women wanted to work and had the drive and enthusiasm to do so but sadly, before emancipation, were prevented from working in their chosen area. Working class women worked in factories, mills and shops but for educated women with so much to offer, there were few outlets for their talents.

In the Victorian period this led a number of women to volunteer to do 'good works' - usually in support of the destitute in cities, in supporting prisoners and working for their churches.

Out of this type of work came a number of now well-known organisations like the Salvation Army and Girl Guides so there had already been a long tradition of voluntary work, the WVS was really the crystallisation of this work - women had a real purpose and will to support the people at home and they did this is a number of ways.

WVS Members in Chatham, Kent prepared for Air Raid duty
WVS Members in Chatham, Kent prepared for Air Raid duty | Source

WVS and Air Raids in World War Two

It was the government who first determined the work to be undertaken by the WVS. In their pamphlet, 'What You Can Do' they listed the following suggestion for volunteers “as the enrolment of women for Air Raid Precaution Services of Local Authorities, to help to bring home to every household what air attack may mean, and to make known to every household in the country what it can do to protect itself and the community.”

Pure and simple, the government knew that preparedness for air raids would need to be something organised in the correct way. The job was given to the WVS. Locally, in various parts of the UK, they trained residents on correct procedures in the event of an air raid.

They were issued with uniforms but as these were provided at a cost, rarely wore them, preferring to wear the WVS badge only.

When the outbreak of war came in 1939, Britain's residents were already well prepared in the even of an air attack but of course, once war began, the WVS were put to work in other areas too.

It was very important to the British government that at home people felt safe and that the facilities available to them were as well organised as possible.

Bundles for Britain pin
Bundles for Britain pin

WVS - The Blitz in World War Two

The work of the WVS was especially prevalent during the blitz in London and at other bombed towns and cities throughout the country.

As well as acting as Air Raid Patrol supporters, they soon became familiar figures, walking around bombed buildings in aid of the injured and dispossessed.

This was traumatic work - the deaths of whole families left neighbours and friends distraught. In London, whole streets were reduced to rubble. The WVS helped to collect what possessions remained and found places for people to sleep in local churches and community centres.

They even enlisted support from friends in the USA where their counterpart, AWVS and BWRS led a campaign called 'Bundles for Britain - sending bundles of clothes to Britain to support the dispossessed.

Their work in the London underground was lauded at the time. They set up canteens and kitchens, fed as many people as they could, tended to the injured and provided a shoulder to cry on for those who had lost their loved ones. But this was so much more than 'tea and sympathy' - who else was providing this service? The WVS were filling an important void - they were providing morale when everything seemed lost.

It was all carried out in well organised shifts with areas overseen by a number of different groups. They communicated with one another by telephone and when this was not available, they cycled to the next aid station where information could then be relayed on. It was dangerous work across a fractured terrain.

Inevitably, many women in the WVS lost their lives in service to their country - 241 were killed during the blitz.

When men returned from Dunkirk, first aid stations were set up in Kent to receive men back into the country. They were met off their ships by the WVS, serving soup, cups of tea and handing out blankets and giving the men perhaps their first comfort for many months.

Poster to encourage recycling
Poster to encourage recycling
collecting items to redistribute to those who had lost everything
collecting items to redistribute to those who had lost everything
Housewives and proud of it!
Housewives and proud of it!

WVS - 1 Million Women Strong During the War

By 1941, the WVS were one million members strong.

Their work in Air Raids had included being trained to use anti-aircraft guns (they were allowed to aim them but not fire them, only men were allowed to fire them).

They helped to support the evacuation of a million children from Britain's towns and cities.

They supported crucial first aid training in towns and cities so that people could support one another in the event of an injury during an air raid.

They made connections in the USA in support of their efforts - this caused an enormous groundswell of support from American women which in turn led to the formation of voluntary organisations there.

They made thousands of cups of tea, bowls of soup, loaves of bread

They collected scrap metal - enough was collected in Portsmouth to fill four railway carriages!

Sometimes, they were just there to be a shoulder to cry on for those who had lost everything - they were an amazing group of women who gave their all to their country and did it all for nothing.

The role of women before the war was already changing. Sociologists at the time referred to this new found emancipation and freedom to serve as 'social capital' - it could not have been gathering momentum at a more opportune time - Britain, America, indeed all of the allies owe a huge debt of gratitude to this 'Housewives Army'.

Women of World War Two-The WVS Comments

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    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      6 years ago from North-East UK

      Rob, many thanks for the visit and comment - I have written another one since this one :o), this subject has really sparked an interest in me; these women really inspire me.

    • Robwrite profile image


      6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Another excellent hub, Jools. Please continue these excellent tributes to the woman of WW2.


    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      6 years ago from North-East UK

      HubLove and comment much appreciated Terrye :o) Glad you liked it.

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 

      6 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      I'm slobbering some hublove all over this one for you, Jools! This is a great hub! I love the history of the women volunteers during World War II! This is very informative and is packed with a TON of information that is seldom covered in history classes which is a real shame! VUM!

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      6 years ago from North-East UK

      rcrumple, many thanks for your comment - and you're right, their recognition has been a drip drip effect for the last 6 decades - I'm just doing my bit :o)

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      6 years ago from North-East UK

      Nell, Wow, how amazing that your mam was in the WAAF (I did another hub on that as well) so you will have heard her stories about Biggin Hill (one of the biggest training bases). I think it's a shame that all of the skills they learnt there came to nothing after the war. Many thanks for the comment and the share.

    • rcrumple profile image


      6 years ago from Kentucky

      Great Hub!

      I've long admired the efforts put forth from the ladies of the lands, and often wondered why they were never recognized. Johnny came marching home, but so did Mary, JoAnn and Beth.

      Hopefully, information like yours will change that for the future! Up & Interesting!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      6 years ago from England

      Hi Jools, this was really interesting and something close to my heart, my mum was going to join the WVS but she ended up in the WAAF as a sergeant, she was on North Weald Airdrome and Biggin hill. yes its so true that women weren't allowed to do the jobs they wanted before the war, but when the war started women came into their own, amazing hub and great reading! voted up! and shared with hubs, nell

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      6 years ago from North-East UK

      Josh Aw, I appreciate that!

    • josh3418 profile image

      Joshua Zerbini 

      6 years ago from Pennsylvania


      I came back to give this hub another view Awesome job Julie!

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      6 years ago from North-East UK

      teaches12345, I think the allied nations all had strong women who stepped up when they were needed. Many thanks for your comment.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      Great tribute to our war heros. If it wasn't for those who chose to serve, especially women, we would have had a different war.

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      6 years ago from North-East UK

      zsobig - thanks for the visit and comment. This is my attempt to redress the balance - sacrifice came in a different way from women.

    • zsobig profile image


      6 years ago from United Kingdom

      And now we can all agree again: behind every successful man stands a woman :).

      During and after wars, people are usually talking about how brave the men were, but they tend to forget the fact meanwhile at home someone had to do some serious work too.

      Very nice hub, voted up!

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      6 years ago from North-East UK

      Mary, many thanks, as always, for your lovely comment :o). I am on a mission now to leave no stone unturned in regard the war and that will include looking at US history as well (which I know nought about!). I have found myself feeling humbled by the work they did.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      6 years ago from New York

      Yet another time when America didn't realize what was actually happening over there...oh we sang songs and watched the news but most here never had to experience the horror. It was people like those women in the WVS that helped to lighten the burden of horror.

      You've done a brilliant job of writing about all of these women in the war effort in each of your hubs...we're still fighting in some areas but its women like them and women like you that advance our cause!

      Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting....and brilliant too!!!

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      6 years ago from North-East UK

      Josh, hello again! Many thanks for your comment - it is such an interesting subject. I have really enjoyed doing the research and learning all about these amazing women.

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      6 years ago from North-East UK

      Julie, how kind :o), many thanks for your comment!

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      6 years ago from North-East UK

      Debbie, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment - intrigued to see where I am mentioned in your hub, off there in a few moments to find myself (sounds like a psychological quest) :o)

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      6 years ago from North-East UK

      If I am keeping company with Nell, I must be moving in the right direction with the auld pen and ink so Ta! for that. Th cheque will be with you son Effer :o)

      Many thanks for your kind comment, glad you enjoyed it!

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      6 years ago from North-East UK

      xstatic, many thanks for visiting and for your comment - the suggestion about including the movies linking to the WVS is appreciated. I will edit today! I will have a look fot the Julie Andrews movie on You Tube.

    • josh3418 profile image

      Joshua Zerbini 

      6 years ago from Pennsylvania


      Yay, Another Woman Tribute! I am enjoying this series. I continue to be amazed at your knowledge of the subject and your ability to present clearly and in an engaging manner! Awesome job Julie!

    • Julie DeNeen profile image

      Blurter of Indiscretions 

      6 years ago from Clinton CT


    • Deborah Brooks profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 

      6 years ago from Brownsville,TX

      wow this si an awesome hub.. You men are just too smart for me.. I do like this hub.. so much history here.. the war any wars are so awful but i love how our country worked together.. great research her

      voted up and sharing

      check out my new hub there is a mention of you there


    • fpherj48 profile image


      6 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Jools......This is a great hub.....and being a child of WW II era parents, I enjoyed it immensely.

      Frankly, I really just wanted to say that I am in awe of your talent. Plain and simple. You are an amazing writer......which requires a WHOLE lot of Brain, Creativity, Class, Finesse, Command of the language, openness, color, pizzazz and STYLE.

      There are many superb writers here on HP....absolutely......your country woman, Nell Rose for instance......but I'm just sayin, you and Nell are 2 of the very BEST!!

      (I'll get my address to you for mailing the check....or wasn't I suppose to mention that on here?).................I MEANT EVERY WORD I PRINTED!!!

    • xstatic profile image

      Jim Higgins 

      6 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

      Up and all but funny Jools! Really well done and informative piece about unsung heroines of WW II. I knew a little of this but not much. It was a fascinating era bringing ou the best and the worst in humanity. Have you ever seen the movie The Americanization of Emily with Julie Andrews and James Garner? Takes place right before D-day in London. Lovved that one at least twice!

      By the way, if there are any old movies that tell the WVS story it would be good to list them here perhaps.

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      6 years ago from North-East UK

      Bill, Congrats on being the first to post to my hub :o)

      Is there no way I could link to your other piece? You could send me the URL? Thanks as always for your positive comment!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      yippee, I'm first!

      The war effort at home was incredible. I have written a series of articles (not on HubPages) about the war effort at home in the U.S., the unsung heroes that did the dirty work in the trenches at home in support of the soldiers. Pretty cool stuff and your hub is a great reminder of that effort.


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