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The Women's Voluntary Services (WVA) was created in 1938 in expectation of another major European war and the alarming prospects of enemy air raids. It was the largest women's organisation in British history and was headed by Stella Isaacs, the Marchioness of Reading, who was selected by the government as she had a reputation to "get things done". Home Secretary, Sir Samuel Hoare, wisely felt, "order and discipline that came from the responsibility of a free people is... much more enduring than any discipline enforced from outside." So, it was that the WVA became a state service, staffed by volunteers. By 1939 there were over a thousand centres and the recruitment campaign asked women to give what time they could to do jobs they were comfortable with - it was both sensitive and flexible. This book tells the story of the WVA in wartime. About what these women achieved, it's impact and how they responded to challenges. It also utilizes the diaries of women active in the WVS, including the famous diaries by Nella Last. These diary entries give a personal flavour to the book and make it a more immediate read, as we are hearing from those who were actually involved in the WVA at the time.

The first major challenge was that of organising evacuees. This was a huge task and, although generally a success, also faced problems. Many evacuees returned home, others were seen as unruly, had problems such as bed wetting, or could not settle - or be settled. In these early months of war, much of the focus was on tedious, but important, work - preparing, making and mending. In these situations, women often thought of sensitive issues that perhaps men would not have considered; for example, making sure trains carrying female 'enemy aliens' for internment had proper toilet facilities. Their first major task was after Dunkirk, when the women had to feed, provide clothing and generally care for the troops returning. They rose to the challenge - providing coffee for French troops, as well as the obligitary tea for the English, and postcards in both French and English so the men could let their families know they were safe. Despite the chaos, it was an inspiring event for the women.

Soon, however, the women were thrown into the deep end, with the advent of the blitz, when the Home Front became the focus of Britain's war. Esme Glyn, a senior member of the WVS recalled playing tennis on a beautiful September afternoon, when the bombings began and, "our hour had come." Watching the fires burning, she says, "I never knew until then how much I loved London and how anxious I was to soothe her suffering." The WVS was incredibly important at this time - they helped care for the injured and homeless, ran mobile canteens for the rescue workers and offered a sympathetic ear to those who were bombed out of their homes. They were meeting needs at a time of national crisis. Although the Women's Institute did very important work at this time too, without doubt Jambusters, they had little presence in the cities. It was here that the WVS were most important, even if they were sometimes overwhelmed.

The WVS helped with childcare, car pools, 'adopted' local units and cared for them, darned socks, provided solace and even arranged funerals. Sometimes their services were misinterpreted. A Polish flyer, injured but obviously rallying, asked for a woman - "I like plump ones..." The doctor was shocked at such a request and was innocently asked, "then why the Women's Voluntary Services?" Despite not fulfilling every request, they healed, helped, gave compassion and filled the gap between official help and basic human needs. In a time of crisis they got the job done. This book also shows how the WVS changed and survived into the future.

Overall, this is a very readable and enjoyable account of these years. The book covers all the major tasks that the WVS were involved with and explains how important they were. Apparently, the authors of this book are considering releasing some of the other diaries in book form, as well. If you enjoy war memoirs about the Home Front you might also like These Wonderful Rumours!: A Young Schoolteacher's Wartime Diaries and The Diaries of Nella Last: Writing in War and Peace - some of Nella's diary entries do feature in this book. This is a wonderful, and humbling, read about women who were truly heroines; dodging bombs, braving danger and always helping others.
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on 3 June 2016
I was amazed at how much work the WVS did as children were evacuated or simply moved out of the bombed areas. This was a meticulously researched book, but after s bit became rather repetitive. However, I am left with great admiration for these women, andwonder how we would have managed without them.
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on 17 July 2013
There is an awful lot of information in the public domain about the Home Guard and the ARP Wardens during World War 2 but there is very little known about the Womens Voluntary Service. We all know that it was "women" who kept the home fires burning while the men went off to serve, but what did that actually entail. The nearest story we have at the moment is Victoria Wood's Housewife, 49.

Women at the Ready sets out specifically to tell the previously unknown history of the wartime WVS using unseen records, footage and memorabilia. The stories told in the book are normal women who stood up to fight for their country in a once in a lifetime chance to change their lives.

The WVS started in 1938 as the war was turning a corner, by 1941 a million women had dedicated their lives to running "community kitchens" and organising mass evacuations from the cities into the villages and towns. I was fascinated how much I didnt know what happened in Bedfordshire, which is where I now live. Sadly, i'm probably not the only one.

There is so much to this book it is hard to narrow down any specific points, it is clear to read by everyone, it would appeal very well to book clubs as a change of genre.

(first reviewed for newbooks magazine)
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on 12 February 2014
As I have yet tto finish the book it is not very to review the book however I am really enjoying it.It lets you see what the woman did to help other woman and children at a very hard time.
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on 5 July 2013
This was another purchase for my elderly friend who loves the book as it contains info on where she used to live and being in the WRVS for over 25 years delighted to have the book which i paid for as an early birthday present
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on 26 August 2014
Excellent, loved it!
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on 31 August 2014
An enjoyable read
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on 15 December 2013
Good book. It is well written, but I was disappointed that there weren't more illustrations to go with the text.
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on 13 May 2016
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on 2 January 2015
Just finished reading this book. I liked it bit too many reference marks for my liking. All references are at the end of the bok.
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