Website of the Laceby History Group

Lady Reading's Laceby Ladies

"There is something indomitable about British women. The lisle stockings, sensible shoes and hardwearing tweeds have carried them through missionary work in the darkest jungles, to the front line of wars and into the most heartrending tragedies and disasters, where, every time they have reached for the kettle and coped. So when the Dowager Lady Reading was approached in 1938 and asked to mobilise the country's women to help with air raid precaution work everyone knew they could expect action. But even in their wildest imaginings no-one could have foreseen that 50 years on the WRVS would be celebrating its golden jubilee".

So reported the Grimsby Target in 1988 when they paid a tribute to the WRVS' 50 years. From initially supplying cups of tea to Hull, Coventry and London firemen the WRVS in the 52 years of their existence have spread their caring arms into every needy corner of society.

The first Laceby heard of the WVS was promptly at the beginning of the second world war when a knock came at the door and a lady with a notebook and pencil was asking "Could you put up an evacuee for a fortnight or perhaps for the duration of the war?" The uncertain reply was met with the answer that Mrs. So-and-So down the road has offered her home to TWO and she was sure you would do the same!

Any further dithering was put a stop to by telling the housewife how lucky she was to be living in Laceby and how unfortunate it would be if Cleethorpes children were bombed out and had no nice home to live in. (Cleethorpes was presumed to be a prime German target along the east coast in 1939 as it had a convenient pier to land their boats and thus invade the north of England!).

"How many blankets and sheets do you need?" asked the Laceby WVS billeting officer of the still surprised housewife. At this stage the housewife was wondering if joining the Land Army wouldn't have been a better prospect. But our WVS lady countered that suggestion by saying that billeting children was to be compulsory for country women even if childless and single. So another household awaited the arrival of a Cleethorpes child and accepted the 3 sheets and 3 blankets that seemed to be the standard issue. (One underneath, one on top and one in the wash, according to an experienced Cottagers' Plot lady!)

On Friday 1st September 1939 the WVS were ready at dawn to organise evacuation from cities and towns away from expected bombs. Their emergency feeding stations and field kitchens were being made ready all along the south and east coasts to cope with people who had only what they stood up in. But in Laceby it didn't happen quite like that. The Cleethorpes evacuees were welcomed cheerfully in the Church Hall by the WVS ladies and their host mothers picked out a likely looking child to take home and care for. Around 30 came from Barcroft Street School with their teacher and were admitted to Laceby School the next week. Naturally the seaside mothers were anxious about the war, their husbands and most of all their children so they came out to the village to visit them and view the surrogate mums.

Some were apprehensive about country life and what with the tension and all they decided to take their child home. More mums came out the following Sunday and against WVS advice and as the expected bombs had not yet fallen in Cleethorpes, opted to take their offspring home. Most had returned to Cleethorpes in a fortnight.

Other urgent things occupied the WVS ladies once the evacuees had safely gone back. The country needed every bit of metal to process for the making of guns, bombs, bullets and the like so 4 ladies - Mrs. Insley, Mrs. Ward, Mrs. Lewis and Mrs. Lowe made themselves into a team and toured the village collecting scrap iron, tins, bedsteads, iron railings, and anything that could be used in the war effort.

Mrs. Ella Ward borrowed her farmer husband's horse and cart which was normally housed at his farm on Caistor Road corner and with Mrs. Insley in charge of the reins they set off for all points of the compass in Laceby and district. Mrs. Insley, being Irish, could get the best out of the horse by talking to it or failing that, blowing up its nose if it wouldn't go. The scrap was brought back to the farmyard and unloaded to await collection by the authorities. The metal items that they carefully kept OUT of the scrap collection were the badges they very proudly wore on each duty which proclaimed "WVS For Civil Defence". When the horse and cart were not available they collected clothing for refugees by biking round the village and stowing the heavy bags on sometimes wobbly handlebars, then taking that back to the garage behind Abstainer's Cottage in Caistor Road for storage. They collected any sort of salvage which could be used in the war effort with thetrue zeal of the magpie.

Their patriotic actions were multiplied throughout Britain for by 1941 there were over a million members of the WVS. Although few were called to drive horses and carts, many drove hospital cars, manned rest centres, issued vital supplies, cooked meals and generally gave valuable service where and when needed. When they returned home tired after duty and danger there was yet more duty to be done; picking up the knitting needles to knit blanket squares for refugees or balaclavas for our boys at the front.

"Civilians and service people alike came to know and respect this devoted body of women volunteers which proved such a useful and integral part of the national life that it was decided to continue their organisation after the war ended".

So said the Grimsby Evening Telegraph in 1948. What was there to do for the Laceby WVS after the war? Well, they organised a collection of rose hips from the hedgerows to make syrup providing vitamin C for Children, make-do-and-mend classes were great fun, food from abroad was distributed to the needy and on production of a 2d coupon old clothing was exchanged for newer items.

In the 1950's, due to the cold war their work moved again towards civil defence. Courses were organised in the school and over the next 10 years women were trained in first aid, rescue, outdoor cookery, building and using a trench cooker. They were sent on emergency exercises with other groups at Market Rasen and Scunthorpe.

On the 25th anniversary of the movement in 1963 the Queen granted a Royal Charter in recognition of the outstanding efforts and achievements of the ladies.

So now the WRVS in Laceby set to with renewed spirits and under Mrs. Rowson's direction knitted layettes for babies which on completion were mainly sent to India and vests for African children. When the Kenyan Asians were billeted at RAF Hemswell Laceby WRVS ladies were involved in providing food and clothing for them. Some Nottingham children were given holidays in the village being brought from the city by WRVS volunteer drivers. Host families could claim a very small grant to help with the expenses and during their week's stay in Laceby had the time of their lives; some seeing the sea at Cleethorpes for the very first time and one girl remarking it was the first time she had ever run barefoot on grass! Mrs. Rowson had carefully matched hosts to visiting children and the successful scheme lasted many years, some children still visiting their Laceby friends long after the WRVS scheme had run its course.

"Service Beyond Self" was the motto to which all the ladies adhered and when the next big scheme came into operation was tested to the limit on occasions. With a grant which had to be accounted for, from the Home Office, Laceby was able to start a meals-on-wheels scheme for people who needed and would benefit from such a service. Mrs. Rita Rowson again was the driving force behind the scheme and rising from the ranks of the WRVS Civil Defence movement Mrs. Jean Ellis and Mrs. Valerie Barwood came into their own and have run the very successful operation from its inception in 1967. The twice weekly hot meal was cooked in the Church Hall by a paid cook and taken out by volunteer car drivers and mates. Big publicity surrounded the first day's meals and a photographer and reporter from the Louth Standard followed the WRVS ladies to the initial 12 recipients who with the exception of Mrs. 'Granny' King were all quite happy to get their names and photographs in the paper. The cost of the meal to each person was 1/6d. The meals were kept up to temperature in a hotlock box which was designed to hold special food tins. The empty tins had to be taken back to the Church Hall and washed up by the volunteer driver and mate on completion of their round. Proceeds from Harvest Festival produce sales by the Nag's Head and the Waterloo in the village have provided another set of tins and various supplies for the Laceby meals-on-wheels service.

One incident which tested a member's adherence to the above motto happened one Thursday in February 1979 when the morning blizzard brought so much snow that it was a white-out; roads became blocked by huge drifts and almost everything came to a full stop in Laceby. That is everything except the meals-on-wheels service. Mrs. Pat Gladding who was the cook at that time persuaded her husband to get his tractor out, travel all the way down New Road in worsening conditions, pick up the vegetable hand from Cooper Lane and thense to the Butt Lane pavilion where the dinners were cooked. No cars could travel that day so Mrs. Ellis and Mrs. Barwood and other volunteers delivered over 20 meals-on-feet!

What else have the ladies done? Well, Mrs. Jean Ellis started a trolley shop in 1976 going round the Day Centre at Beech Court, the shop started life in a bakers basket; the Day Centre itself is run for Social Services by WRVS and the trolley shop is still being run successfully by Mrs. Jane Gamon; another Day Centre for handicapped people goes on in the Stanford Centre and Laceby members participated in an 'accidents in the home' survey run by Grimsby District Hospital.

The WRVS' 50th birthday was celebrated in Laceby with a party in Beech Court when everyone who helped WRVS were invited to attend. Mrs. Peggy Howes the Area Organiser cut the cake and she also presented a certificate to Mrs. Edlington for being the longest serving member in Laceby. The meals-on-wheels cooks were remembered and some of the following were able to attend:

Mrs. Sheila Grocott : 1967 - 72

Mrs. Teresa Freeman : 1972 - 73

Mrs. Margaret Peek : 1973

Mrs. Pat Gladding: 1973 - 80

Mrs. Beryl Greetham: 1980 - 87

Mrs. Ann North: 1987 - 88

Mrs. Mary Winn: 1988

Mrs. Clair McNamara: 1988 - 89

Mrs. Kath Brumpton: 1989

Some gentlemen help the ladies of the WRVS now and their knowledge of car engines is appreciated. No green uniform is available for them though. The famous uniform can now be seen proudly worn alongside the service uniforms at the annual Service of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall and at the cenotaph ceremony in November each year.

The Golden Jubilee Annual Report on the WRVS states that 'there will always be a need for a body of volunteers such as that provided by the WRVS. Women and men who give unselfishly of their time, who take trouble to train and learn skills which enable them to help others and who use their sympathy and good sense to find some ways of assisting individuals or family in need of help. To those priveleged members, WRVS is not just another voluntary body or another charity, it is a voluntary service and to be part of a service implies commitment, reliability and loyalty'. Three Laceby ladies have been awarded long service medals for just such qualities:

Mrs. R. Rowson, Mrs. V. Barwood, Mrs. J. Ellis

by B. Anderson