In this short doc, the Women’s Voluntary Service stitches a map of the British countryside.

When World War II broke out in September 1939, some 165,000 British women joined the Women’s Voluntary Service. For no pay (save for a few administrative staffers), they lent their time and skills to the war effort, mainly aiding with air-raid precautions on the homefront. They led massive evacuations for urban residents, fed, clothed, nursed and sheltered bomb victims and war refugees, and set up canteens for firemen and rescue workers.

They also contributed to wartime cartography. In this chummy 1943 British Pathé film, jumpsuit-clad WVS volunteers work cheerfully on a large jute mat that they’ve painted, stitched, and accessorized with model homes, trees, and train tracks to represent the British countryside. (“Dear Mrs. Wood would work on a wooly wood for us, wouldn’t you, Mrs. Wood?” puns the perfectly mid-century British narrator.) The film doesn’t mention what this mat-map was used for, but the WVS organized evacuations from cities to rural parts. Their home-spun cartography may have aided in strategizing. Regardless, it’s an example of the many, unseen ways women have participated in historic mapmaking efforts, with or without professional training.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A young man rides a hoverboard along a Manhattan street toward the Empire State Building in New York
    Transportation

    Why Little Vehicles Will Conquer the City

    Nearly all of them look silly, but if taken seriously, they could be a really big deal for urban transportation.

  2. A photo of high-rises in Songdo, billed as the world's "smartest" city.
    Life

    Sleepy in Songdo, Korea’s Smartest City

    The hardest thing about living in an eco-friendly master-planned utopia? Meeting your neighbors.  

  3. Equity

    The Problem with Suburban Police

    The East Pittsburgh police department that is responsible for killing the unarmed teenager Antwon Rose, Jr. is one of more than a hundred police departments across metro Pittsburgh—and that’s a problem.

  4. Maps

    Inside the Massive U.S. 'Border Zone'

    All of Michigan, D.C., and a large chunk of Pennsylvania are part of the area where Border Patrol has expanded search and seizure rights. Here's what it means to live or travel there.

  5. Life

    When Pride Comes to Town

    Several smaller U.S. cities are hosting their first Pride parades this year. For locals, it’s a chance to assert that they don’t need to leave their community to be gay.