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In September 1939, Britain and the allies were at war with Germany. Almost immediately, the London Passenger Transport Board (LPTB) set up the War Funds Comfort Association to help its staff and their families until peace returned.
Photograph showing a War Comforts Fund Association panel at LPTB Headquarters 55 Broadway. 22 July 1940. Image courtesy of the London Transport Museum 1998/44425
Dubbed ‘Warco’ by staff, its mission was to provide financial support to the dependents of enlisted men as well as to households devastated by air raids at home. It also endeavored to provide knitted garments and cigarettes to staff in war service.
Front cover of staff magazine 'Pennyfare' announcing the launch of Warco. December 1939. Archive ref num: LT000030/018 Pennyfare_Dec_1939_00001
Extract from staff magazine 'Pennyfare' outlining the objectives of Warco. December 1939. Archive ref num: LT000030/018 Pennyfare_Dec_1939_0001
Lady Ashfield, wife of LPTB Chairman Lord Albert Stanley Ashfield, was appointed President of the London Transport War Comforts Fund Association (Warco). A management committee was also created led by Mr John Cliff who was Deputy Chairman of London Transport during the war.
Portrait of Lady Ashfield from staff magazine 'Pennyfare'. December 1939. Archive ref num: LT000030/018 Pennyfare_Dec_1939_0001
Staff enrolled into the scheme voluntarily. They were required to pay a subscription of 1d (pence) a week, which was automatically deducted from their wage or salary. The fund was also supplemented by donations. These were made by LPTB Board members, staff sports and social clubs, individual trolleybus depots, external organisations, and retired staff.
Extract of article showing how £5,000 was collected in the first round of donations from various LPTB associations and employees. December 1939. Archive ref num: LT000030/085 LT000030_018_00005
Funds raised were used to provide financial support to the families of men on war service and housing air raid victims, as well as to buy medical aid supplies, wool to make knitted garments for staff, and cigarettes to send to prisoners of war. By August 1940, the fund had 54,633 contributors out of an 86,500 strong work force, with the Country Buses & Coaches section having 95% of their staff registered.
Article showing how Warco donations were up to over £6,500, with contributions coming from various depots, garages and associations, including the Girl Guides and the Golders Green Swear Club. August 1940. Archive ref num: LT000030/078 Pennyfare_011_00003
November 1940 saw the cost of subscriptions increase from 1d to 6d for staff who could afford it. This incurred as Warco had to find thousands of pounds for the temporary relief of staff who lost their homes due to air raids and, in some cases, suffered bereavement.
Article acknowledging an increase in Warco subscriptions. The much-needed boost in contributions came just as the fund was facing anxiety about heavier demands. November 1940. Archive ref num: LT000030/078 Pennyfare_014_00004
Cover of the staff magazine ‘Pennyfare’ on Warco discussing the financial standing of the fund, alongside figures pertaining to the number of participants, grants and donations. August 1943. Archive ref num: LT00030/078 Pennyfare_047_00001
Warco was renowned for its “army of war knitters” - volunteers recruited from staff and the wives and relatives of LTPB men in war service.
Photograph of four women staff workers at LPTB’s Effra Road Printing Works knit 'comforts' for servicemen during the Second World War. January 1940. Image courtesy of London Transport Museum 1998/23471
The Wool Knitters Roll of Warco was reportedly growing by 50 knitters each day, with more than 12,000 people contributing comfort items. LPTB employees knitted garments whenever and wherever they could.
Photographs of the Warco knitters at various LPTB office and operational locations. February 1940. Archive ref num: LT000030/078 Pennyfare_005_00005
Article saluting LPTB staff for making contributions to Warco including the many knitters and those who have enrolled as penny contributors. March 1940. Archive ref num: LT00030/078 Pennyfare_006_00005
Within its first year, 111,000 knitted comforts were sent to all enlisted men serving at home and overseas and within three years 183,239 woollen items had been sent to troops. This amounted to 23 tonnes of wool! 214,800 knitting needles had also been sent out to volunteers by October 1942.
Article presenting statistics relating to Warco's knitting "army". December 1942. Archive ref num: LT000030/078 Pennyfare_039_00002
It wasn't just the women who made up the army of knitters. A "well known" male employee from the administrative staff signed up to knit during his time of recuperation in hospital, claiming it helped to aid his recovery.
Article describing male member of staff who takes up knitting while recovering from an operation. He impresses the nursing staff and hospital matron with his sock-making skills. August 1941. Archive ref num: LT000030/078 Pennyfare_023_00002
Article on the impact of Warco knitted donations, which have provided "all men in H.M. Forces... socks, mittens, gloves, pullovers, helmets, etc." November 1940. Archive ref num: LT0000/30/078 Pennyfare_015_00002
Article describing Warco’s output of over 111,000 knitted comfort items produced for the children of London Passenger Transport Board men and for servicemen abroad. March 1943. Archive ref num: LT000030/078 Pennyfare_018_00002
Warco and the Benevolent Fund in alliance came to the aid of staff and their families who suffered due to air raids, especially where death took the bread-winner, and gave money to get food, clothes, lodging and other immediate wants.
Photograph showing air-raid damage in Euston, London. 2 November 1940. Image courtesy of the London Transport Museum 1998/84784
By October 1940, £7,500 had been distributed from Warco and the Benevolent Fund. Come November 1940 this had risen to £13,500 (£761,000 in today’s money) being distributed from Warco alone. By 22 January 1941, 4,145 grants had been made to sufferers from damage to property or from personal injury by air raid.
Article describing the support that Warco has provided to victims of air raid destruction. October 1940. Archive ref num: LT000030/078 Pennyfare_013_00002
Article describing how Warco provided financial assistance to orphans, discharged soldiers and victims of bombings. June 1942. Archive ref num: LT000030/078 Pennyfare_033_00005
Report on Warco's funds and distribution including cases of staff who lost means of livelihood after air raids. November 1941. Archive ref num: LT000030/078 Pennyfare_034_00005
Article demonstrating Warco's support for the families of deceased members of staff. November 1942. Archive ref num: LT000030/078 Pennyfare_038_00002
The scheme was doing a phenomenal job and yet despite having given more than £40,000 (£2.2 million equivalent) in grants by February 1944, an article in the staff magazine made it clear that there was a regret at having to refuse aid to some because they did not subscribe.
Article describing how air raid victims received £40,000 in relief thanks to Warco. March 1944. Archive ref num: LT000030/078 Pennyfare_055_00001
Warco also sent care packages to prisoners of war which comprised of knitted garments and cigarettes.
Article describing how Warco sent comforts, including cigarettes, to prisoners of war. August 1941. Archive ref num: LT000030/078 Pennyfare_023_00002
Article announcing that Warco's prisoner of war relief packages will be given to immediate family members of staff serving in the Armed Forces who contribute to Warco. November 1942. Archive ref num: LT000030/078 Pennyfare_038_00001
In 1939, a Christmas pudding and a pair of knitted socks were sent to staff on war service both on the home front and in the armed forces. Every comrade serving overseas also received an extra one hundred cigarettes. 7,000 Christmas puddings were sent to enlisted troops along with 7,000 knitted comforts to London Passenger Transport Board’s own Anti-Aircraft batteries and 1,240 men in other regiments. 1,024 knitted articles were also presented to the children of serving LPTB men.
Photograph of one of London Transport's Christmas puddings. From the late 1940's, they were produced at the London Transport Food Production Centre. Christmas puddings were sent to staff on war service during World War II. 1970. Image courtesy of London Transport Museum 2012/55357
As the war ended, LPTB’s Management Committee came to the decision to cease collecting subscriptions from July 1945. The fund’s remaining balance of £210,000 was used to support the families of staff killed in active service or during air raids. The scheme had been an overwhelming success. As of July 1945, a total of £88,974 had been allocated to 14,000 cases relating to air raid damages and 2,600 claims made caused by some kind of distress. In addition to this, the fund had spent £20,000 on 211,500 woollen comforts and £5,500 on cigarettes sent to staff held captive in prisoner of war camps.
Article describing the decision to cease the Warco fund after "splendid support". August 1945. Archive ref num: LT000030/078 Pennyfare_071_00002
Even after the War ended, LPTB’s Warco continued to support staff and their dependents. Following the death of Wood Green bus driver W.C. Fowle, who died from his injuries sustained in a rocket attack nine months later, Warco campaigned on the widow's behalf to reclassify his death under the Personal Injuries (Civilian) act, increasing her pension as a result.
Article describing Warco's support of a driver's widow. October 1946. Archive ref num: LT000030/078 Pennyfare_085_00005