Manor Gardens made important contributions related to WWII.
We tried to maintain existing services in very cramped conditions, and with staff time stretched to the limit by war-related work. The wards did close, but by 1945 number of attendances were comparable to those in 1939.
The Centre was involved with preparations well before war was declared in September 1939. In April 1939 the Conjoint Committee of the Islington Centres discussed arrangements for possible evacuations. Expectant mothers were required to “bring proof of pregnancy” to the Centre to receive a ticket entitling them “to go by train immediately” in the event of evacuation. Islington Borough Council also asked to use our premises as depots for stretcher parties in time of emergency.
Once war was declared many of the Centre’s staff were made redundant following a “catastrophic meeting” in which the Borough Council announced its withdrawal of funding. Mrs Davis, the Centre’s superintendent was seconded to train the area’s First Aid Volunteers, and many staff joined the Women’s A.R.P Unit. Most, however, continued to work at the Centre as well.
The Centre was responsible for the distribution of food supplements to members of the general public. The 1942-23 Annual Report describes how volunteers helped to distribute 1000 bottles of orange juice, 150 bottles of cod liver oil, and 200 packets of National Dried Milk at the Centre every week. The Women’s Council also met regularly to support the Government’s Make Do and Mend Campaign.
The Centre also assisted with the evacuation of mothers and young children. One of the Committees recalled that “Many special visits were required to go and see mothers who needed to be urged to evacuate”. By November 1940, 75% of children at the South Islington Centre, a sister centre off Essex Road, had been evacuated. As the war progressed, however, many evacuees came back to London.
37,296 Islington homes were destroyed or damaged between 1940-1. On 9 September 1940 a bomb fell just 200 yards from the centre. During this desperate period the Centre’s staff and volunteers continued to support local residents affected by bomb damage, providing families with clothing and tracing those that had moved address.
In the archive, we have an account (probably by Florence Keen’s daughter, Althea Davis) of help given to returning Prisoners of War. The servicemen were given “the appropriate badges, flashes, stripes, and medal ribbons etc. issued to them … [for] their new clothes”. For some, these were the first women they had seen in more than five years. The soldiers described the “terrible marches at Christmas time in Eastern Europe, frostbite and starvation”. The men spoke of how ‘What kept you going…was thinking of home and what you are going back to’.
After the war the Centre’s Observation Wards were attended by women whose formative experiences before arriving in the Borough were closely connected to the conflict. One account describes a German mother, whose family had all been killed in the Cologne raids. “She was most grateful and appreciated all were able to do for her.” A second mother, described as “very inexperienced, worried and tired” had spent the war in a “forced labour camp in Germany for four years and her husband was a prisoner of war for seven years.” Little surprise, therefore that “her thoughts [were] very sad at times”. To women like these the Centre provided a vital space in which they could rebuild their lives in the shadow of a horrific conflict.
Article written by Jono Taylor