Tag Archives: WW2

Two precious minutes of silence

I attempted to observe the two minute silence this morning.  The elderly lady I was with came in and started chatting, but when I pointed to the clock and said “Oh gosh, it’s 11’oclock”, she said “Oh I’m so awfully sorry, I’ve forgotten your elevenses!” and then proceeded to have a discussion about whether I wanted tea  or coffee, biscuits and what type, how hungry was I etc.  Whilst this was a laudable display of compassion for me (who did hunger and travail) it wasn’t quite what I had in mind.

I’m a big fan of the two minute silence.  Not for every minor mishap, or when a footballer breaks his toe, or every year for fifty years after a train crash, it’s a matter of perspective.  The First World War was something on a scale which I pray we will never see again.  The Second World War was fought to protect us from tyrants, to stick up for oppressed people and to endorse our national concept of liberty. 

More recent wars can be difficult to understand, the motivations for them muddied by economics or religion and it is ever harder to be convinced of the righteous nature of military intervention.  Why did we go into Iraq but not Zimbabwe?  Why do we sit back and let China oppress Nepal?  Should we have let Argentina have the Falklands back?  The problems and solutions are never simple and never without repercussions and I don’t envy the people who have to make those judgements.

Whatever one’s view of the righteousness of individual wars, the families of dead soldiers mourn just as deeply for the dead of Afghanistan as for the dead on the Somme.

I use the two minute silence, both today and on Remembrance Sunday, to silently commune with all the other people who also share that contemplative silence and to think about the broader concept of conflict.  The war in Iraq and the campaign in Afghanistan have resonances with our daily lives.  Every day there is a story in the news about a faith school viewed with suspicion, a racially motivated assault, fundamentalists planning hate campaigns or the spectre of terrorism slowly but surely turning Britain into a police state.  That is conflict on our doorstep, conflict between people and it deserves our attention. 

There is precious little silence in our lives and we should use this time to remember the past, meditate on the present and use that knowledge and compassion to inform our future.


Filed under History, Life in general, Politics, Religion

Giving blood is very important

This week, I toddled down to The Three Swans in Market Harborough, accompanied by The Boys, and handed over slightly more than a pint of The Wartime Housewife’s finest O Rh Positive.  I say slightly over, because an extra donation is taken in order to extract platelets and plasma.  I’m also on the Bone Marrow donation and  the Organ Donation registers and all this information is logged on the little plastic card I carry round in my purse – for my own use and also in case I go under a bus and someone needs my kidneys. 

I have given blood intermittently for years; intermittently because I couldn’t donate for a while after visiting the Far East and likewise after the birth of The Boys due to having caesarian sections.  I usually take The Boys with me so that they see loads of different people doing it, observe that it’s easy and I hope that it will encourage them to do it themselves when they’re 17.  They also get a drink and a chocolate biscuit which always goes down well.   

In the UK only 4% of the population gives blood and yet many of us will need transfusions due to surgery, illness or accidents. Last year they collected 2.1 million donations from about 1.6 million donors. Although that sounds a lot, that is 4% of the population, giving two or three times a year.

8,000 units of blood are needed every day to meet hospital demand. Blood comes in four main types – O, A, B and AB – Group O is the most common which means it is in high demand. Blood can also be subdivided into its main components – red cells, white cells, platelets and plasma. Unfortunately red cells only have a shelf-life of 35 days, while the shelf life of platelets is only five days, so the stocks constantly need replenishing.

The history of blood and transfusions is interesting.  The Greek physician and writer, Claudius Galen is a giant in the story of medicine.  Born around AD130 he wrote some 400 treatises on medicine and his work on anatomy was seriously impressive.  He understood that the heart regulated the flow of blood and although he had worked out that there was a venous and arterial system, but he thought the liver was the crucial organ of the blood and he never cracked the concept of circulation. 

In the Middle Ages, blood was known to be a vital component of human health and it was thought that disease could be caused by an excess of bodily fluids such as blood.  Blood letting became a main treatment and was often undertaken by barbers at public baths.  Sometimes a vein was opened to release the blood but often it was extracted using leeches or cupping vessels to remove ‘the viscious humours’.

It wasn’t until 1628 that William Harvey established that blood circulated round the body and outlined the mechanics of the cardio-vascular system.  The next major step occurred in 1665 by Dr Richard Lower who carried out the first successful blood transfusion in dogs.  He noted that dark venous blood injected into the aerated lungs of the recipient turned bright red and thus he came close to understanding the modern concept of oxygenation of blood in the lungs.

However, when he started performing transfusions on humans, he couldn’t understand why people receiving the blood kept dying.  In the early 1800’s a Dr James Blundell was attempting to transfuse women who suffered haemorrhage after childbirth; miraculously it sometimes worked, but not often.  It wasn’t until 1900 when Dr Karl Landsteiner discovered the ABO blood group system, that doctors understood that patients need compatible blood.  This discovery won him the Nobel Prize.

There were various small advances, particularly during the First World War when it was discovered that blood kept longer if it was kept in the fridge and also that by mixing it with sodium citrate they could prevent it from clotting.  In 1921 members of The British Red Cross volunteered to donate blood, which was the first step towards a voluntary donation system.  In 1936 the world’s first blood bank was opened in Chicago, USA, closely followed by Ipswich, UK.

The outbreak of the Second World War really focused the minds of the doctors and nurses treating the wounded and transfusion centres were set up all over the country. In 1946 The Blood Transfusion Service was born and when the National Health Service was established the following year, they immediately began to work in close partnership.  It is now called The National Blood Service.

From then on the service went from strength to strength.  Testing was introduced for hepatitis and HIV and more recently Nucleic Acid Amplification Technology (NATS) is used for detecting viruses in their early stages, making blood transfusion safer than ever.

If you make an appointment, giving blood can take less than 40 minutes.  You fill in a questionnaire, a nurse will take a drop of blood from your finger to make sure that you are not anaemic (low on haemoglobin), and you are then taken to a trolley on which you lie comfortably while a needle is inserted into a vein. There is a slight prick as the needle goes in, but nothing more than that. You flex your hand gently to ensure good blood flow whilst you’re lying there, then, when it’s finished, usually after about 20 minutes, you have a drink and a biscuit.  And they’re usually really nice biscuits.  I had an orange Club.

For the sake of 40 minutes of your time you will have saved someone’s life.  Fair swap.

Log on to the National Blood Service website now and find out where you can go to save a life. 


Filed under Community and shopping, Health and Fitness, History, Medical, Science and Technology

In which the Wartime Housewife demonstrates that she is not in it to make friends and is an unspeakable pedant

Yesterday I visited a particularly soul-less church in Rutland (more on this tomorrow).  I was therefore delighted by this bright and beautiful display of hand stitched hassocks commemorating the achievements of various groups in World War Two, which almost persuaded me that it was a place of worship and not a multi-purpose venue with retail opportunities.

However, I bet the person who stitched the hassock on the bottom row, second from the left felt a bit of a chump.  I nearly said “took a bit of flack” but that would have been going to far.


Filed under Religion, Sewing

Badges of Honour – FANY

This is the third and final part of my WW2 mini series based on some badges that I bought at the Harborough Antique Fair.  How could I not have a badge that said FANY?


The First Aid Nursing Yeomanry was created in 1907 as a first aid link between front-line fighting units and the field hospitals.  During the First World War, FANYs ran field hospitals, drove ambulances and set up soup kitchens and troop canteens, often under highly dangerous conditions.  By the end of the war they had been awarded many decorations for bravery

At the outbreak of the Second World War, the Corps was called upon to form the nucleus of the Motor Driver Companies of the ATS.  Some FANYs  were attached to the Special Operations Executive.  These women worked on coding and signals, acted as conductors for agents and provided administration and technical support for the Special Training Schools. Their work was top secret and often highly skilled. Members operated in several theatres of war, including North Africa, Italy, India and the Far East.

Since the war, the Corps has been known chiefly for its work in the field of military and civil communications, a legacy of its distinguished wartime record.  Since 1999, when the Commandant in Chief, HRH The Princess Royal, gave the Corps permission to use her title, the Corps has been renamed PRVC (The Princess Royal’s Volunteer Corps).

FANYs run to their ambulances


Filed under Collecting, History

Sunday Poem 27

I promised you a wartime poem to complement the ‘Badge of Honour’ articles, but was luckless in my search for a contemporary WW2 poem about women of any kind. I have to confess that my search was limited to my own library and a cursory scouring of the intraweb.

I found this poem in the December 1939 issue of  ‘Housewife Magazine’.  War had broken out and although everyone was convinced that it would all be over fairly soon, ‘Housewife’ swung into action, preparing women for what might lie ahead.

I assume this poem was sent in by a reader; it’s a bit sentimental and would appear to be an inadvertent  fore-runner of ‘My Favourite Things’ , but it’s contemporary and real.

Little Things – by Margaret Wymer

Sometimes, when doubt and darkness come
And fill my world with shade,
I think of all the little things
So wonderfully made.
The dainty music box inside
The blackbird when he sings,
The fairy brush that swept across
The night moth’s powdered wings.
I see the tiny rosebud form
And claim its slender hold,
I hear the snapping of a twig
Or watch a leaf unfold.
These little things, they speak to me,
They turn my night to day,
And then the shadow o’er my world
Begins to pass away


Filed under History, Poetry, Literature, Music and Art

Badges of Honour – WVS

Being as how I am a Wartime Housewife, I was very easily seduced by an array of badges that I found at the Harborough Antiques Fair recently.  There is a new boy there who just sells badges; lots of military and wartime stuff as well as clubs, societies and unions.  The great thing about collecting things is that one always learns so much more around the subject as well, and the people who trade in these things are always so tremendously knowledgeable (and let’s face it, occasionally a tiny bit scary). 

I would always encourage children to start collections as soon as they get interested in something.  It doesn’t really matter what it is, as long as they take a genuine interest and learn something.  I collect lots of things and I fine that my focus fluctuates in phases.  I will come across some near perfect Ladybird books and turn my attention back to them until the supply dries up and I turn back to cut glass, WW2 ephemera, old kitchenware or any of the multitude of fancies that prevent me feeding my children on a regular basis.

I will tell you all about them today, tomorrow and Monday and I will try to find an appropriately themed verse for the Sunday Poem.

THE WVS (1938-1946)As war began to look imminent in 1938, Home Secretary, Sir Samuel Hoare, came up with the idea of setting up a women’s voluntary organisation to help in the event of air attacks. On 16 May, the Women’s Voluntary Services for Air Raid Precautions was founded. The Dowager Marchioness Lady Reading was appointed chairman, and The Queen and Queen Mary, the Queen Mother became joint patrons of WVS.When war was declared on 3 September 1939 WVS had a membership of 165,000 drawn from groups who, for whatever reason, could not do essential war work – including the old, the young, the housebound and those with dependents. Men were not excluded and occasionally helped with jobs such as driving which at the time not many women could do. WVS work quickly diversified, and as a result the organisation changed its name to WVS for Civil Defence. New tasks included evacuating mothers and children from large cities to the country, staffing hostels and hospitals, sick bays and communal feeding centres, and undertaking welfare work for the troops.WVS also provided food and clothing for over 22,000 refugees, as well as organising rest centres for those made homeless during raids. By the end of 1941, there were over a million WVS volunteers. Throughout the war, the WVS was also staffing Incident Inquiry Points, where people would go to find out information about the dead and the injured. 

WVS played a vital role in supporting civilians during the war – 241 serving members were killed by enemy action.  There was also a growing need for support for older and housebound people, and the first Meals on Wheels were delivered by the WVS in 1943.

I couldn't find a picture of WVS ladies so here is a picture of Princess Elizabeth in the ATS


Filed under Collecting, History