Category Archives: Documents

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.

Seaman’s Ration Book

Merchant seamen on short trips around Britain’s coastline of a few days would not usually be catered for from their ship’s stores. Instead they were expected to pick up rations ashore and bring them back on board for the cook on board to prepare. A special ration book was therefore issued to sailors that could be authorised by the captain or master of a ship for a week at a time. For the cover we can see that this example was issued to a sailor called ‘Styles’ in Sunderland in 1943:imageThe inside of the cover has instructions to the sailor on how to use the book:imageThe original owner of this book clearly used it a number of times as coupons have been cut out of several pages:imageThere are still many weeks where the book has not been countersigned or coupons removed:imageAlthough clearly not necessary in this case, a form is provided for the sailor to request a new ration book if he were to finish this one:image

imageThe back page gives instructions to the ship’s master about what he needs to do in order to complete the book:imageNote also the printer’s coding at the bottom of the page that indicates this book was one of a run of 115,000 copies produced in June 1943.

Much of Britain’s internal trade was done by sea, with coasters making short trips up and down the coastline with bulky cargos. Fishermen were also expected to make short journeys of a few days around the coast and this ration book was designed to allow them to be fed simply without any recourse to the more complex victualing procedures required for trans-Atlantic crossings or other longer journeys.

 

Army Bureau of Current Affairs Pamphlets

The Army Bureau of Current Affairs was set up in August 1941 to help inform soldiers of ideas and events in public life. It’s founding document set out the thought behind this new agency:

Many regimental officers have noted among their men a widespread ignorance about Current Affairs. It is not the Army’s fault, for this lack of knowledge about national issues is a chronic condition among the citizens of this country, and it does not disappear because a man changes his dungarees or pin stripe trousers for a khaki battledress. But if an ill-informed or indifferent citizen is a menace to our national safety, so, too, is a soldier who neither knows nor cares why he is in arms.

The ABCA set out its argument for existence then on three key principles:

(a) The soldier who understands the cause for which he fights is likely to be a more reliable soldier than the one who doesn’t.

(b) Many soldiers have no such understanding, and many others are losing touch with the sources of knowledge and information they used to possess.

(c) It is the business of the army to make good this deficiency of knowledge, and therefore to devise what means are possible to keep men abreast of current affairs.

The army decided to set up the ABCA to assist officers in giving weekly talks to their men on current affairs. These sessions were to last around an hour and were designed to stimulate debate between the men to get them to think and question current affairs. ABCA sent officers a handbook to guide them on how to run the training sessions:imageThey were advised to make the groups small, to use visual aids wherever possible, to choose warm and comfortable conditions in which to run the talks and to ensure they were well publicised. The handbook provided some illustrations of teaching in action to inspire the officer:SKM_C30819021108300SKM_C30819021108301SKM_C30819021108301 - CopySKM_C30819021108310Alongside this emphasis on the officer, the ABCA also published short informational pamphlets including titles on new science such as Atomic Energy, politics such as Trades Unionism and history:imageFurther pamphlets were also issued covering aspects of the war itself, such as this one covering the Battle of Arnhem:imageThe ABCA was seen by many as being very left wing in outlook and those teaching and taking the classes were predominantly interested in areas of Social Justice. Churchill was opposed to the work of the ABCA as he felt it was a waste of soldiers’ time. It has been argued that part of Labour’s victory in the 1945 General Election was due to the ‘khaki vote’ which was largely driven by the work of the ABCA, something vociferously denied by the army at the time.

William Reid VC Postal Cover

Tonight we have a rather attractive postal cover depicting a Wellington bomber, dating from 1984. The cover itself commemorates the 31st anniversary of the last flight of the Wellington back in March 1951 and the cover itself was flown in a Lancaster bomber:skm_c30819010908040 - copyOf more interest to us however is the signature, which is that of William Reid VC:skm_c30819010908040 - copy - copyWilliam Reid was born in Baillieston, near Glasgow, on 21 December 1921 the son of a blacksmith. He was educated at Swinton Primary School and Coatbridge Higher Grade School and studied metallurgy for a time, but then applied to join the RAF. After training in Canada, he received his wings and was a sergeant when he was commissioned as a pilot officer on probation in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve on 19 June 1942. He then trained on twin-engined Airspeed Oxfords at Little Rissington before moving to the Operational Training Unit at RAF North Luffenham. There, his skill as a pilot led to his being selected as an instructor, flying the Vickers Wellington, albeit with the promise of a posting to an Avro Lancaster heavy bomber unit. He was promoted to flying officer on 19 December 1942.

The posting did not materialise until July 1943, when he was sent to 1654 Conversion Unit, RAF Wigsley, near Newark-on-Trent, where he flew his first operational mission as second pilot, in a Lancaster of 9 Squadron, in a raid on Mönchengladbach. In September he was posted to 61 Squadron at RAF Syerston, Newark, to commence Lancaster bombing operations, and flew seven sorties to various German cities before the raid on Düsseldorf.william_reid_vcHis official VC citation recorded the action for which he won the medal:

On the night of November 3rd, 1943, Flight Lieutenant Reid was pilot and captain of a Lancaster aircraft detailed to attack Dusseldorf.

Shortly after crossing the Dutch coast, the pilot’s windscreen was shattered by fire from a Messerschmitt 110. Owing to a failure in the heating circuit, the rear gunner’s hands were too cold for him to open fire immediately or to operate his microphone and so give warning of danger; but after a brief delay he managed to return the Messerschmitt’s fire and it was driven off.

During the fight with the Messerschmitt, Flight Lieutenant Reid was wounded in the head, shoulders and hands. The elevator trimming tabs of the aircraft were damaged and it became difficult to control. The rear turret, too, was badly damaged and the communications system and compasses were put out of action. Flight Lieutenant Reid ascertained that his crew were unscathed and, saying nothing about his own injuries, he continued his mission.

Soon afterwards, the Lancaster was attacked by a Focke-Wulf 190. This time, the enemy’s fire raked the bomber from stem to stern. The rear gunner replied with his only serviceable gun but the state of his turret made accurate aiming impossible. The navigator was killed and the wireless operator fatally injured. The mid-upper turret was hit and the oxygen system put out of action. Flight Lieutenant Reid was again wounded and the flight engineer, though hit in the forearm, supplied him with oxygen from a portable supply.

Flight Lieutenant Reid refused to be turned from his objective and Dusseldorf was reached some 50 minutes later. He had memorised his course to the target and had continued in such a normal manner that the bomb-aimer, who was cut off by the failure of the communications system, knew nothing of his captain’s injuries or of the casualties to his comrades. Photographs show that, when the bombs were released, the aircraft was right over the centre of the target.

Steering by the pole star and the moon, Flight Lieutenant Reid then set course for home. He was growing weak from loss of blood. The emergency oxygen supply had given out. With the windscreen shattered, the cold was intense. He lapsed into semiconsciousness. The flight engineer, with some help from the bomb-aimer, kept the Lancaster in the air despite heavy anti-aircraft fire over the Dutch coast.

The North Sea crossing was accomplished. An airfield was sighted. The captain revived, resumed control and made ready to land. Ground mist partially obscured the runway lights. The captain was also much bothered by blood from his head wound getting into his eyes. But he made a safe landing although one leg of the damaged undercarriage collapsed when the load came on. captureWounded in two attacks, without oxygen, suffering severely from cold, his navigator dead, his wireless operator fatally wounded, his aircraft crippled and defenceless, Flight Lieutenant Reid showed superb courage and leadership in penetrating a further 200 miles into enemy territory to attack one of the most strongly defended targets in Germany, every additional mile increasing the hazards of the long and perilous journey home. His tenacity and devotion to duty were beyond praise.

Flight Lieutenant Reid died in 2001.

NFS No 5 Fire Force Area Map

In August 1941 the National Fire Service was formed by amalgamating nearly 1600 local fire services and the Auxiliary Fire Service into a single entity covering the whole country. This new nationwide service was administratively split into around forty regional fire forces and the force covering much of the West Riding of Yorkshire was the No 5 Fire Force. Tonight we have a period map of the region with the different fire forces labelled:imageNo 5 Fire Force Area is the focus of the map and its borders are clearly marked with a deeper and darker outline than the adjoining forces:imageA small key indicates what the map depicts and includes the badge of the National Fire Service:imageNo 5 Fire Force Area’s Chief Clerk, AB Trundell, writing in late 1941 described the elements that made up the new regional force:

For the purposes of administration the No 5 Fire Force Area is within the No 2 Region under the Chief Regional Fire Officer, who is responsible to the Regional Commissioner. The Fire Force Area covers approximately 900 square miles and extends from Sedbergh in the north to Holmfirth in the south, and from Wharfdale on the east to Bowland at its boundary with Lancashire on the west. There are within the Fire Force Area at present time some 33 local government authorities as follows:-

County Boroughs- 3

Boroughs-3

Urban Districts- 21

Rural Districts-6

The area as a whole has again been divided into Divisions covering 84 stations now established. The total administrative strength is 226.

J Downs, the commander of the area reflected on nationalisation:

In August 1941 the territory now known as No 5 Fire  Force Area consisted of 33 local authorities, each possessing fire brigades and AFS organisations of varying sizes and types. These were spread over some 900 square miles and contained the major portion of the woollen and worsted industry, with a population of approximately one million. A very important part of this country and a vital one from an industrial point of view.

The regulations provided for this to be taken over in so far as fire cover was concerned, “lock, stock and barrel” both operationally and administratively.

Operationally it meant the organisation of large numbers of pumps, special appliances and personnel into a unified Fire Force in divisions, and the establishing of an effective system of control with a definite chain of command. This involved new headquarters and control rooms, a complete new lay out of telephone communications, new stations and improvements to existing ones. It involved the up of schools for both men and women where instruction could be given on a nationally adopted standard and where women could be taught to take over duties previously carried out by firemen and thereby release the latter for active fire-fighting duties. It involved the construction of static water tanks with a total capacity of millions of gallons, the laying of 12 1/2 miles of steel piping and the building up of a predetermined water relay system for the purpose of delivering water to the fire ground and replenishment of supplies.

British Legion Remembrance Leaflet

By the early 1930s the British Legion and the Haigh Poppy Fund had become firmly entrenched in British life and was doing sterling service in raising money for ex-servicemen and their families. The charity published a small pamphlet in 1930 that gave details of its work, what it spent its money on and how supporters could donate to the fund. The cover shows a large crowd in London, presumably at some sort of commemoration for the end of the Great War:skm_c30819010908040 - copyThe interior of the leaflet has graphs and details of the different causes the charity supported along with a small number of pictures:skm_c30819010908050skm_c30819010908051skm_c30819010908052skm_c30819010908060skm_c30819010908061The rear has an advertisement for poppy wreathes that loved ones could purchase and arrange to have placed on a soldier’s grave:skm_c30819010908062The Daily Mail reported on the preparations for Poppy Day in 1929:

Nearly 500,000 volunteers throughout the Empire, it is hoped, will sell poppies on Armistice Day, November 11. No fewer than 37,000,000 poppies and 20,000 wreathes have already been prepared at the British Legion factories.

An attempt is being made to collect not less than £750,000 this year for ex-Service men…

Approximately 4,000 local committees are busy preparing for November 11 throughout Britain and over-seas.

A big poppy motor mascot has been manufactured with a metal clip so that it can be fixed to motor-cars. Arrangements are being made for the distribution of these emblems in garages throughout the country.

Watercolour of POW Camp

Just as British POWs were held in camps in occupied Europe, German and Italian prisoners were held in prison camps across the United Kingdom. These camps varied form converted mills in Oldham to proper facilities with wooden huts, fences and guard towers. Tonight we have a delightful amateur watercolour of a POW camp painted, I believe, by Lt Davies of the E Yorkshire Regiment. According to his grandson he was both an amateur artist and involved with the interrogation of prisoners at some point in the war and it seems likely that he painted this piece at that time:imageThe image shows the building and entrance to the camp, rather than the prisoner’s accommodation itself. In the foreground a sentry stands in a box by a raising barrier:imageA series of camouflaged buildings stand to the right:imageA large flag flies over these with what appears to be a red dragon on it, suggesting the camp might be in Wales:imageThe number on the flag appears to be 198, which would indicate this was Camp 198, known as island Farm which was near Bridgend in South Wales. A man pushes a handcart up the main entry road, his uniform looking distinctly Germanic:imageIn the distance a large wire fence and gate, along with a raised guard tower shows where the camp itself lies:imageThe journey from capture to a POW could be traumatic for the individual soldier. Kurt Bock was captured in Holland in 1944 and describes what happened when he reached England:

…hours later, a train took us elsewhere. It was not just an ordinary train; we sat on upholstered seats. There was no screaming and spitting at us like in Holland.

Hampden Park (a large Football ground in Scotland ): long rows of tables. Interrogation:

your name, your rank, your company, your papers. Delousing station. Shower & bath… 

Next day: Nottingham. A huge camp consisting only of tents. Of course, this caused a great disappointment. Here we received cigarettes, a bag and a white handkerchief, which made a great impression on me. But I already had one valuable extra possession: a second blanket… 

The next camp was Crewe Hall, Cheshire (Camp 191). My first days there I felt only relief at the narrow escape out of hell. And this hell was still going on on the other side of the Channel. My family did not know I was safe and I did not know if my parents were alive. I had already learnt of the death of my younger brother Martin…I had nothing but my uniform. Consequently when I caught my first cold I did not have my handkerchief. through the wire a soldier from my company passed me a small red handkerchief…Our daily diet was tea with milk and sugar twice daily poured into an empty corned beef tin-if you had one!