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You are in: Dorset > History > Local History > WI's WWII book a 'hidden treasure'

Rebecca Donnan, Dorset History Centre

Rebecca Donnan, Dorset History Centre

WI's WWII book a 'hidden treasure'

A unique record of Dorset's vital role in World War II compiled by branches of the county's Women's Institute groups at the time has been recognised by the British Library as a national 'hidden treasure'.

The Dorset History Centre in Dorchester is a treasure trove of rare and ancient artefacts and documentation.

Among the many items in its vast stores is a unique book charting Dorset's significant involvement in World War II, as seen through the members of each of its Women's Institute groups at the time.

The book has just been awarded 'hidden treasure' status by the British Library.

Chief Conservator Rebecca Donnan from the Dorset History Centre explains more: "It's an accurate record of people's experience of the war. The Dorset Women's Institute were sensible enough to say 'we want our members to produce a document of what they did in the war', and it's beautifully presented.

The Charmouth page is Rebecca's favourite

The Charmouth page is Rebecca's favourite

"I think it's a really important document because lots of people [from that time] are still alive, and so many lives were really altered by the war."

Dorset's vital role

She says: "The book shows how vital Dorset was during the war, not just in coping with the huge numbers of evacuees that came to the area, but also the troops too, and all the ships that were involved in Dunkirk and the significant part Dorset played in that."

Some sections of the book illustrate this pointedly. On the page submitted by the WI of Portland, it describes the day when 10,000 French and Moroccan soldiers landed in Weymouth, a fact that still astonishes Rebecca:

"It's unbelievable - and these soldiers all needed somewhere to stay and something to eat, and the WI helped out with this!"

Some pages of the book are lavish and detailed illustrations, while others are more essay-like and text only.

The page from the Portland WI

The page from the Portland WI

Practical nature

What also comes through in the book is the practical nature of the people of Dorset, says Rebecca: "There's a sense of 'This is what happens in war, we just have to get on with it'."

Now the book's been awarded its 'hidden treasure' status, certain pages of it have been digitised and appear on the British Library's 'Turning the page' website, opening up the work to an international audience.

last updated: 17/02/2009 at 13:12
created: 06/05/2008

You are in: Dorset > History > Local History > WI's WWII book a 'hidden treasure'

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