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Caring on the Home Front - Volunteer memories from World War Two

Stories » Wounded, Missing and Prisoners of War » Parcel Packing Centre

Parcel Packing Centre


They need food

parcel1The volunteers lifted, looped, pulled, and knotted. As ‘stringers’ at a packing centre in Hove, they secured the parcels that held vital foodstuffs for POWs and refugees. Following the ‘filling’ and ‘packing’ stages, the stringers rounded out an efficient system. 4000 parcels were strung weekly. But like numbers, spirits ran high as well.

What did you do?

parcel2One volunteer remembers:

“The contents of the parcels came into the building via the front door, and went down to the basement. A group of ladies, probably about six or seven only, did the filling. They put the tins into the parcels. In the end, they would weigh roughly ten pounds each.

Then they would all move upstairs onto the ground floor. In the front of the house, there was a very a large room and that was the packing room.
The ladies sat at long trestle tables on stools and they packed. Packing meant making sure that the exact number of tins went [in]. They had to count and put in the exactly stipulated place, each piece of the food parcel.

parcel3A tin of butter, a tin of preserved meat. There’d be a tin of dried fruit and there’d be chocolate. They were very good parcels.

The parcel would be travelling all the way to the prisoner of war.”

Any special memories ?

“It was an enormously friendly place, from top to bottom. The packing centre staff got to know each other really wonderfully well. Especially those who were there nearly every week.

parcel4All must have known that there was a need for help and come to answer that need. But a lot of them must have come for some personal reason. Either their son or daughter was in the forces, or in some cases, a prisoner of war.

Everybody could feel, in everybody’s very different ways, fulfilled. It may seem very monotonous, if you look at it from outside, but then so is the life of the prisoner of war.

parcel5And you don’t need to know the people who need food. It’s enough to know they need food. It’s a way of looking at life. It always was!”


Under the Geneva Convention, POWs were allowed to receive postal parcels containing food. Each British POW would have received one food parcel per week. Special parcels were packed at Christmas from 1940-1944 and in 1944 this included Christmas cake and Christmas pudding. Find out more about Joint War Organisation Parcels.


The Joint War Organisation sent 20 million food parcels over the course of the war. As well as the packing centre in Hove, there were others in Ashbourne, Tutbury, Guildford, Lee Green, Hitchin, Stirling, Glasgow, Dumfries, Chippenham, Edinburgh, Hawick, Caernarvon, New Mills, Birmingham, Leicester, Northampton, Perth and seven more across Greater London


Every part of the Joint War Organisation parcels was re-used by the prisoners who received them. They made some amazing things with the string that was used to tie up the parcels, like the clock on this page and the shoes in Douglas Isherwood’s story in the Wounded, Missing and POW section.