Forgotten for 60 years, a trove of photographs and diaries from the one million British women who served in the Women’s Voluntary Service in WWII has recently been rediscovered. Nicknamed “the army that Hitler forgot,” the WVS consisted at the time of one in 10 of all British women. These women transported toddlers in donkey carts, cleaned gas masks, and whatever else needed to be done. “These volunteers looked after the home front doing just about anything, never saying no,” said Keeping up Appearances actress Patricia Routledge, who is helping front a campaign to digitize the archives. “Until now their story has been a hidden one, forgotten by most but preserved in vivid monthly diaries.”
Historians such as Ruth Goodman believe the documents will further historical understanding of life and politics in England during WWII. “Overlooked amongst the clamor of parliamentary speeches, gunfire and official pronouncements… the diaries and letters of a host of less celebrated lives speak of the true temperature of the times,” said Goldman. “It is these unassuming thoughts, feelings and reports which tell us what was really happening behind the rhetoric.”
The Hidden Histories of a Million Wartime Women project has raised more than $28,000 dollars. To fully digitize the 300,000 pages of diary entries, however, another $13,000 more still to be raised.