In Uniform

Women were encouraged to volunteer throughout the war. A large part of this effort was organised by the Women’s Voluntary Services, which acted as a co-ordinating body to match volunteers with the needs of local government. At its peak in 1944, The WVS boasted almost one million members across a network of 1,750 local Centres (Hinton, 1998, p. 284).

Exterior of 18 Blenheim Terrace

18 Blenheim Terrace, the offices of the WRVS during the Second World War.

Womens Volunteer Service badge

Women’s Voluntary Service Civil Defence badge, as worn by a Ms. Marjorie Barnes of Leeds.

The WVS - 18 Blenheim Terrace

The Second World War was different from previous conflicts as the increased threat of air raids brought the war to the Home Front. Even before the war, civilians were encouraged to volunteer for defence organisations, like the Women’s Voluntary Services (WVS) (Grayzel, 2011, pp. 2-3).

The WVS was founded by Lady Reading in 1938. Over 3,000 women in Leeds joined that year. The volunteers helped to organise evacuation schemes and were trained to give medical assistance and first aid (WVRS Narrative Report, 1938, p. 3).

The WVS has been likened to a civilian army, with volunteers wearing a grey-green tweed suit, red jumper and a felt hat. The distinctive WVS uniform made volunteers recognisable, although many complained about the expense of purchasing it (Hinton, 2002, p. 33).

As the war progressed, the WVS set up a ‘Housewives Service’. This allowed working class women who didn’t have a lot of spare time to volunteer from home. The women put a blue ticket in their front windows and ARP wardens would call for them if they needed their help during an air raid (Yorkshire Post, 1 April 1941, p. 6).

The badge pictured belonged to Ms Marjorie Barnes, a Leeds WVS member. These chromium plated badges were issued in April 1941 for members with a “minimum of thirty days of regular W.V.S. service” (McMurray, 2009, p. 8). This makes it likely that Barnes was one of the volunteers to respond to the Leeds raid.

The WVS - Stansfield Chambers

The WVS had a recruiting office at Stansfield Chambers on Great George Street. The site is now the Electric Press.

Its volunteers played an important role during the Leeds raid. Volunteers drove ambulances, provided first aid and gave food and shelter to those made homeless by the bombing (Yorkshire Post, 14 March 1941, p. 3).

Mobile canteens were used to provide refreshments directly to firefighters and other Civil Defence personnel. The Yorkshire Evening Post reported that volunteers had to navigate cratered roads to reach the bomb sites. ‘The firemen were so grateful,’ one WVS worker told the Evening Post, they said we were the most welcome sight they had seen in years’ (Yorkshire Evening Post, 15 March 1941, p. 6).

The city’s head Air Raid Warden later praised the WVS for their work. He explained that ‘They did not hesitate to go out and to stay out, sticking to the work in hand despite all that was going on all around’. As an example, the Yorkshire Post reported that Mrs Marjorie Tobin had quickly tackled an incendiary bomb while acting as a runner to pass messages between different report centres unable to communicate because of the bomb that hit the city’s telephone exchange (Yorkshire Post, 21 March 1941, p. 6)

Stansfield Chambers

Stansfield Chambers Source: Leeds Library and Information Services (n.d.) Cookridge, Great George Street Junction [online]. Available from: (Accessed 7 December 2020).

A mobile catering van

Mobile Canteen Leeds Library and Information Services (n.d) Manston Lane, Charles H. Roe Ltd, Crossgates Carriage Works, W.V.S Mobile Canteen Conversion [Online photograph]. Available from: [Accessed 8 December 2020].

Princess Mary at the Salute the Soldier week celebrations

H.R.H Mary, Princess Royal at salute of the soldier week. Leeds Library and Information Services (1944) Visit of H.R.H The Princess Royal, Princess , Princess Mary. [online]. Available from: (Accessed 8 December 2020).

Princess Mary overseeing the salute of the Air Raid Wardens

Princess Mary overseeing the salute of the Air Raid Wardens. Leeds Library and Information Services (1944) Visit of H.R.H The Princess Royal, Princess , Princess Mary. [online]. Available from: (Accessed 8 December 2020).

Harewood House

WVS volunteers contributed to the war effort in their spare time, but others donned uniform for the duration. The Auxiliary Territorial Service allowed women to support the British Army by working in non-combat roles. The ATS was granted full military status in April 1941 and around 250,000 women served in it during the war (National Army Museum, n.d.).

The ATS was modelled on a similar organisation from the First World War. In both conflicts, the women’s army was given Royal Patronage – by Queen Mary in 1918 and her daughter Mary, Princess Royal in 1939-45. Princess Mary was Controller Commandant of the ATS and ‘toured the country to visit wartime canteens and welfare facilities’ (British Heritage Staff, 2020). As Countess of Harewood, she also gave over Harewood Hose for use as a convalescent hospital (BBC, Below stairs at Harewood House).