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Wolverhampton Women’s Volunteer Reserve c. 1915

The Women’s Volunteer Reserve emerged from one of the suffragette movements, the Women’s Social and Political Union. It was founded as The Women’s Emergency Corps in 1914 by Evelina Haverfield and Decima Moore to contribute to the war effort. The Corps later evolved into the Women’s Volunteer Reserve. The WVR was mainly involved in domestic fund-raising activities, and was primarily made up of middle-class women, due to the fact that they had to pay for their own uniform.

The Wolverhampton branch was patronised by the Mayor and Mayoress, and the group were advertised as an

opportunity for Women and Girls over 18 years of age to prepare themselves by Drill and other Training, viz.:- Signalling, First-Aid, Camp Cooking, etc., to render efficient service to the State in case of NATIONAL EMERGENCY.”

Wolverhampton Women’s Volunteer Reserve 1915

A public meeting was held on 29 April 1915 at the Girls’ High School in Tettenhall Road to inaugurate the group. According to the Express and Star, at their first drill in May 1915, “several hundred ladies pirouetted into the Brickkiln-street Schoolyard.” There were so many there that there was hardly any room for the spectators, and “Some who did not intend becoming members of the Reserve shyly agreed to fall in at the behest of one or two recruiting ladies.” Although officially the age limit was 18 to 50, the Express and Star slyly acknowledges that this means there is no age limit, as “few women admit to being over fifty.” However, a medical examination did form part of the process. One of the first tasks of the local branch was the collection of “thousands of respirators to save our men at the front from the dastardly actions of the Germans.”

Other work that the WVR conducted include assisting the Streets Department of the Council in clearing the main thoroughfares of snow. On one occasion in the winter of 1916,

they cheerfully braved the elements, and, energetically working, often in four or five inches of slush, attracted no small amount of attention, particularly from members of the ‘stronger’ sex, who, however, showed no great inclination to assist.”

They also packed Christmas parcels for prisoners of war and for local Tommies in the firing line.

The uniform worn by the women was a khaki tunic with four large pockets, with khaki blouses and green ties underneath. The skirts were meant to be “servicable and sensible, and could be worn at any time.”

The Imperial War Museum has a collection of clothing, badges and other items from the WVR.