Mystery of WLT’s wartime uniform

A nostalgic picture of the WVS
A nostalgic picture of the WVS

Wigan Little Theatre’s quest for historical accuracy has thrown up a real local relic – and they are now wondering whether they can find the original owner of it: or one of her descendants.

Ploughing through their extensive store cupboards for 1940s costumes for their recent production of Goodnight Mister Tom, the wardrobe team came across an authentic Women’s Voluntary Service uniform.

The authentic 1940s Women's Voluntary Service uniform found in Wigan Little Theatre storage

The authentic 1940s Women's Voluntary Service uniform found in Wigan Little Theatre storage

Not only that, it also bore the Wigan branch livery, thus increasing the local interest.

The WVS was founded in 1938 by Stella Isaacs, Marchioness of Reading, to recruit women into the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) services to help in the event of war.

But as recruitment far outstripped expectations, its brief broadened to include all kinds of assistance to the authorities, whether it was to drive ambulances, to be a member of a knitting work party or collect National Savings.

The WVS was tasked with pinpointing areas of safety and billeting for evacuated children (as featured in Goodnight Mister Tom), and also played a major role in the collection of clothing required for the needy.

By 1941, one million women belonged to the WVS and it helped with the organising of food rationing and organised campaigns such as Salute the Soldier, Wings for Victory, Spitfire Funds and Warship Week.

The organisation did not outlive its usefulness at the end of the war and carries on with voluntary work now, gaining a Royal in its title in 1966 and then being shortened to WRVS in 2004 in recognition that 10% of members were by then male.

So this uniform, which has been put on display at the theatre, is quite a piece of local heritage.

WLT spokeswoman Anne Woolley said: “While sourcing costumes for Wigan Little Theatre’s production of Goodnight Mister Tom, the wardrobe team dug deep into the depths of its many storage cupboards and were delighted to discover many original pieces which helped to create the 1939/40s on-stage atmosphere.

“They were amazed to find an original WVS uniform (Wigan Branch) which, although not required for the play, the team felt compelled to put on display in the upstairs foyer, as it was such a reminder of all the dedication of an army of civilians who contributed to victory in World War Two.

“As it’s a Wigan uniform, we can’t help wondering who might have owned it, did it belong to someone’s grandmother and if anyone knows who might have donated it to WLT.”

Anyone who knows whose uniform it might have been can contact the Wigan Today news desk on 01942 506271.