It has been said that the WI didn’t do much to help the War Effort in World War 2, so Fairwarp decided to find out what evidence there is to contradict this assumption.
The ancient records of meetings stored in the Lewes Record Office reveal a fascinating picture of life in these difficult years. It begins on 19 September 1939 when Lady Julian Parr urged WIs to carry on with their weekly meetings through the war. Members were asked to do mending for the evacuees, and there were talks on wartime cooking. There is mention of funding for the Infant Welfare Clinic, donations of £10 for the District Nursing Fund, and £2 cost for knitting wool “for comfort for the troops.”(These sums do not sound impressive, but money has changed – note that a bill for a new boiler came to £4.17s. 6d!) So we know that members were knitting for the troops, socks etc. They moved meetings to the afternoons because of the poor light in the blackout.
In March 1941 food shortages hit hard and WI became part of the ‘Food Economy Campaign.’ Jam making produced 369lbs of jam that year, sold at retailers and making £3 profit. Jumbles sales for funds were frequent, and a collection was made for gifts to be sent to men and women from Fairwarp currently serving in the forces. (Memo: in 2009 Fairwarp WI helped to send 700 Christmas parcels to Afghanistan.)
In 1942, Mrs. Kenward urged members to grow more vegetables for the coming year. Later, in June, Lady Denman was asking members to do voluntary work on the farms. No doubt members rallied. In the absence of most able bodied men women helped in farms, schools, hospitals, and became ambulance drivers, et al; and it is worth pointing out that members have always taken part in other caring services at the same time as good works within the WI. Not so long ago, a very old lady from Nutley WI revealed she had helped to run the British Restaurant in Uckfield, and Mrs. Kenward went back to full time teaching whilst still a member, although she gave up her committee work.
Despite falling membership, partly due to petrol rationing, Fairwarp carried on. Members picked umpteen pounds of rosehips for making syrup, raised enough funds to send a 6/- postal order and a Christmas card to each of the troops from the village. They even tried to “adopt” a minesweeper, an unbelievable promise to support a crew in one of the most horrendous areas of war, but it proved too difficult. A visitor spoke on “How to organise a compost heap.” (What’s new!)
So, maybe nowadays people only assume that the WI was not a useful part of the Home Front.
I think it certainly was.