As anyone who has watched ITVs ‘Homefires’ (I will leave you to form your own opinion on the merits of the drama!)will have realised, the Women’s Institute had a vital part to play on the home Front in World War II. They were to organise the knitting of socks for service men, bottling of fruit and supporting the evacuation of children amongst many other tasks. The W.I. had been set up in the UK during World War One and was based on a similar, earlier organisation in Canada. By 1939 the WI had 328,000 members and was a predominantly rural organisation, with meetings taking place in village halls across the country:Members of the Women’s Institute often wore this enamelled badge throughout the period to identify themselves:The design of the badge itself was an adaptation of a Canadian WI badge designed by Laura Rose, who came up with the motto ‘For Home and Country’ in 1901. The Canadian badge had two maple leaves:When its British equivalent adopted the design, it modified it by changing one of these leaves to a rose to represent the UK better. The rear of the badge has a pin fastener to allow it to be pinned to the owner’s clothes:As women did not always wear jackets with button hole lapels, the standard button hole fastener of the period common to men’s badges was unsuitable. Hilary Clarke has given us this description of the breadth of work carried out by Longstone W.I.:
The war proved how resourceful members of the W.I. could be. By October 1939, they had acquired an allotment and organised meetings to advise on the importance of homegrown vegetables. A jumble sale was held to raise money for blackout curtains for the school. Members helped with the collection of waste paper scrap iron and aluminium, and knitting groups were formed to knit socks, balaclavas and mittens for the troops. The W.I. helped with the evacuees and organised a joint Christmas party for them and the village children.
As the war progressed and food became scarce, a canning system was organised in the grounds of Longstone Hall. Members brought along surplus plums, damsons and apples to be canned.
The W.I. monthly meetings took on a practical nature with demonstrations of wartime cookery, hay-box cooking, the re-footing of lisle stockings and dress renovation. Ministry of Information films were shown including ‘The Danger Of Invasion’ and ‘The necessity Of Saving For the War Effort’.
W.I. members diligently gave of their best to help the war effort by any means at their disposal.