BRF's War stories - Part one

BRF's War stories - Part one

Today’s VE Day anniversary celebrations have been muted but not diminished by lockdown and by the tragic number of Covid-19-related deaths across the world. Resilience, adaptability and creativity mean that Zoom parties are replacing street parties, solo buglers are replacing massed bands, and organisations, churches and communities are finding meaningful new ways to mark the day.

BRF is also marking the day in a number of ways, including posting extracts from the story of the Fellowship’s war. From a brief move out of London to a wing of the Dean of Gloucester’s house, to battles with The Paper Controller, to the devastating bombing that left an entire mailing of Bible reading notes scattered in the wreckage… Follow the first part of the story below, as told by our founder Leslie Mannering and General Secretary Margery Sykes.

Service notes - a special need
Leslie Mannering recalls: ‘By the summer of 1939 BRF had 238,000 members. In the words of the Secretary’s report, “the work goes forward with great promise in every direction”. Meanwhile the clouds of war were gathering over Europe. Then the storm broke. The office staff moved to Gloucester, where the Dean most kindly accommodated us, until its return to London in April 1940.

One of the first measures taken by the Fellowship was the production of the Service Notes for the use of men and women in the Forces.’

Those Service Notes were one of the key initiatives of BRF’s war years, meeting ‘a special need of the times’. Margery Sykes adds:

‘… the fact of having the Bible passage printed in the Notes greatly added to its practical use, as may be illustrated by quoting from one of the many letters received from men and women in the Services during the war. The writer in this instance was a stoker in one of our battleships, and he wrote: “It’s good to have the Bible part printed. I keep the little book under my cap, and so can read it whenever I get the chance, without having to rootle in my locker for my Bible.”

Miss Latford and The Paper Controller
Margery Sykes recalls:

‘Soon B.R.F. was facing the serious problem of paper-rationing, and during 1940 supplies were cut down to one-third of the quantity used before the war. No quota was allowed for the Service Notes, as these had not been issued before the war. In view of this the other Notes had to be reduced to 24 pages.’

The procurement of adequate paper supplies was a constant battle, fought for the most part by Miss Violet Latford:

‘The difficulties of producing the Notes under wartime conditions tended to increase, and Violet Latford was responsible for anticipating what quantity of paper would be necessary six months ahead or even more. In this she faced many dilemmas in negotiation with the Paper Controller. At one time the situation became so serious that our Chairman, then Bishop of Ripon, together with one of the editors, called personally on the Government Department dealing with paper allocations, and effected their purpose of obtaining the minimum increase necessary to meet the growing demand for the Notes. Even when the allowance was authorized, the next problem was to obtain it from the paper merchants who were, for most of the war, deep in their own predicaments.’

Go to part two of the story...

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