Yvonne Albon’s fingers put the books back together. As an Ipswich cadet, she volunteered for the Hospital Library Service, repairing books that entertained Allied troops. The service provided normalcy for soldiers. Mysteries proved especially popular, as Yvonne’s hands came to know well.
How were you trained?
“Friday night was cadet night. It was always St. John night.
We had to learn about the work of the Air Raid Wardens, and the blackout precautions; every house had to have sand available and buckets of water ready for incendiaries. We had to answer questions about black regulations, putting on the gas masks, knowing about the babies’ gas masks, and the different air raid shelters.
We had to know the different gases.And what the symptoms were, the ones that caused blistering, or the ones that caused eye watering, itching.”
What did you do?
“Apart from that, the only war service that we did was really the opportunity to help the [Hospital] Library Service.
We had this big table and all the books and things were stored there. They were brought in from the hospital, from the people who did the voluntary service in the hospital. This was the depot really, and they restocked [books] thought to be damaged.
They’d be fiction, popular novels and things. And romances. It would be the heavy usage popular ones that we were mending, detective stories and thrillers. The backs had come off or broken away from the flysheet. And so we learned how to do it from the librarian. She was the librarian for the Red Cross and St. John Hospital Library Service.
We enjoyed doing it. Because there weren’t many opportunities in the war for cadets to actually do duty. It was very limited. In the summertime we would go with our Officer…we would do charity and garden fetes. Quite modest.
It isn’t like nowadays where cadets go out on the duty and learn on the job.
There wasn’t a compulsory number of hours, [but] these book binding hours counted as our service. And as long as you did some, you were alright.”
Listen to Yvonne
St. John cadets were separated into girls and boys divisions during SecondWorld War. St John called its girl divisions ‘Girl Cadets’; beginning in 1943 the title changed to ‘Nursing Cadets.’ Each division’s nursing cadets followed a cadet officer and met once a week, although air raids and blackouts complicated the weekly routine. St. John nursing cadets membership numbers more than tripled during the first four years of war, with roughly 20,000 girls signed up in 1943. Find out more about St John Ambulance cadets.
The Joint War Organisation’s Hospital Library Service started in 1939 and sourced most of its books from public donations. In the first year of the war, the service received 500,000 books. The books provided a valuable distraction for patients recovering on the Home Front. Patients showed a strong preference for fiction, as the user records of one convalescent home illustrate. Out of a collection of 1000 items, three-quarters of the home’s books were fiction, including 300 crime stories, 150 romances, 125 adventures, and 125 Westerns. Find out more about the Hospital Libaray Service.
St. John Ambulance introduced the War service badge and set 300 hours War service per year as the minimum. War service deviated from standard cadet duties. To earn this badge, cadets volunteered for duties directly related to the war effort. Some cadets helped the Hospital Library Service keep its books in shape and on shelves. Other war service duties included serving soup at civil restaurants and even assisting in hospitals.