UNRRA V-Mail

The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) was an international relief agency, largely dominated by the United States but representing 44 nations. Founded in 1943, it became part of the United Nations in 1945, and it largely shut down operations in 1947. Its purpose was to “plan, co-ordinate, administer or arrange for the administration of measures for the relief of victims of war in any area under the control of any of the United Nations through the provision of food, fuel, clothing, shelter and other basic necessities, medical and other essential services”. Its staff of civil servants included 12,000 people, with headquarters in New York. Funding came from many nations, and totaled $3.7 billion, of which the United States contributed $2.7 billion; Britain, $625 million; and Canada, $139 million. In Europe it worked closely with the US Army, but had a civilian staff drawn from across the world, including a British contingent. Large numbers of civilians involved in the British civil service were drafted in to help the UNRRA and given training, a khaki uniform and sent to Europe. Tonight we have a letter sent back home from one lady serving with UNRRA to a friend or relation back in Great Britain:SKM_C30819021215280 - CopyThis is in the form of a ‘V Mail’, a special for of post used by the US Army and it is clear from the address above that this lady was attached to the US Army. The V Mail was a single piece of paper that acted as both a letter and envelope:SKM_C30819021215280Instructions were printed on the reverse advising how a sender was to use the pro-forma:SKM_C30819021215280 - Copy (2)Inside the sender, Marjorie Thornton has written a chatty and personal letter to her friend:SKM_C30819021215290Janet Thornlayson was another attached to UNRRA and describes being inducted into the organisation:

Sometime in 1944 an approach was made from the Foreign Office to the Divisional Food Offices asking for volunteers to go Germany after the war was over to assist in the feeding and repatriation of refugees, they were looking for personnel who were used to feeding large numbers with limited resources. The intention was that the organisation which was to be called United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. (UNNRA) I had a screening interview and heard nothing more for about a year. In January 1945 I was called to London for an interview. I went home having been accepted to wait for the end of the war.

I knew I had been accepted and would be in “khaki”…it had been found as the Allied Army advanced the refugees were being released and getting behind the lines. They needed feeding and administering, this was not a job for the army so UNNRA was brought forward. I was called to London again where it was very hot for the time of year, pumped full of all types of inoculations. Supplied with skirt and army battledress jacket
Shown a film in glorious colour on the birth of a baby in case we had to do it.
It might have been a combination of the inoculations, the heat and the film – I passed out at the railway station going home. Never passed out in my life before.
Given a few clothing coupons to get brown shoes, a service dress. Getting brown shoes in London was quite difficult

I was then ready to go to the continent. Friends at home told me I would need an iron, I bought a rusty old flat iron and spent hours cleaning it with emery paper, they gave me things that would be in short supply, coffee, talcum powder, ink – I was given a very nice camp bed from an Ex Indian army officer…

At Joux-la-Ville the teams were being assembled, they had to be International, it would not have been prudent to have one team of the same nationality. Doctors were in short supply and teams were always waiting for a doctor to arrive and be allocated.
A team consisted of a Director in our case a Dutchman, a Doctor ours was
Dr. Michele Hardi a Frenchman — he had qualified as a doctor with the French Army — when France fell he went to the French resistance ), a welfare officer, Henriette Bergl (Belgian), a Belgian warehouse officer , a supply officer,Jean Biard a Frenchman, a food supply officer (me) A French nurse, Paula and two drivers ,one Dutch, Jacque one Belgian, André. We had been allocated two Army trucks with canvas sides and tops — we were team 158. We were in France about two weeks before the end of the war. We had a few days there and then set off towards Germany.
We set off with blessing of the Quakers who were doing the organizing of the teams,
“Go with hearts full of goodwill” one of them called to us. The down to earth French doctor said to me, “ It would be better if we went with our camion (truck) full of blankets and medicaments”.

We drove through France into Belgium, through the rubble and devastation, the dust kicked up by the vehicles was indescribable, and we were permanently covered. 

We were near Brussels in the back of the truck when we heard on a small radio, I think it may have been one used by the resistance, that the war was over. We drove into the city for the celebrations. All the bars were open, all vehicles were sounding their horns, and everybody was celebrating. There was nobody that I could say I really knew — I had not got to know the team. 

For me the war was over but for the rest of the team their countries were liberated.

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