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Photograph of Women’s Voluntary service

  • Women's Voluntary Service

The Women’s Voluntary service was founded in 1938 by Stella Isaacs, Marchioness of Reading to provide aid to British civilians. It played a key role in Civil Defence preparations during the late 1930s as Britain edged closer to war with Nazi Germany. Volunteers communicated the dangers of air attacks and related safety procedures to British households. It was also the WVS who organised first aid training courses in cities identified as key Luftwaffe targets.

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The WVS opened their first Carlisle office on Warwick Road in January 1939. Members trained in all aspects of civil defence including air raid precautions, nursing, and ambulance driving. In Carlisle, the WVS ran canteens and rest rooms at the Citadel station and Viaduct.

When war broke out in 1939, the WVS assisted in the evacuation of civilians from major urban areas. Children were evacuated from Newcastle to Carlisle, as industrial Tyneside was a target for the Luftwaffe. The WVS also organised the billeting of these evacuees into Carlisle homes. The WVS moved 1.5 million people from British cities in the early days of September 1939.

In the aftermath of the epic evacuation of 338,226 soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk during the summer of 1940, it was the WVS who met the exhausted servicemen and provided much needed food, drink and warm clothing.

The WVS played a key role during the Blitz and offered comfort for civilians escaping from Luftwaffe bombing. WVS members also provided support to firemen and ARP wardens, by supplying mobile canteens. They also helped people who had fled to refuge centres. 241 members of the WVS were killed during the Blitz.

During the Battle of the Atlantic, the Merchant Navy fleet was initially decimated by German U-Boats. The WVS attempted to advice people how to cope with the resultant food shortages and rationing schemes. Campaigns were organised to raise funds for war machinery including ‘Spitfire funds,’ ‘Wings for Victory’ and ‘Warship Week.’

The WRVS Today

In 1956, Queen Elizabeth II became a patron of the WVS, and in 1966 the WVS became the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service.

In the twentieth century, the role of the WRVS focused on assisting the elderly and isolated. Their Meals on Wheels scheme originated during the blitz and remains to this day – with the aim to deliver meals to the housebound.

WRVS emergency teams have been present in the aftermath of major national disasters. Volunteers assisted those affected by the Lockerbie bombing of 1988 and the Hillsborough Stadium disaster of 1989. In recent years the WRVS have played a major role in providing rest centres and food to victims of major flooding in Carlisle (2005) and more recently in Keswick, Cockermouth and Workington (2009).   


In 2004 the organisation’s name was changed from the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service to simply WRVS. The aims of this change were to modernise the image of the organisation and also to acknowledge that 60,000 volunteers involved in projects were men.

Key facts: 
  • The Women's Voluntary Service was set up in 1938, and were important in the Civil defence preparations just before the start of World War Two.

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