If you haven’t heard of the British Welcome Club in Leamington Spa, you wouldn’t be the only one. In fact, search the internet for British Welcome Clubs in general and you will find hardly anything has been written about them.
The idea behind Welcome Clubs was to enable visiting Allied – particularly American – troops during the Second World War to socialise in a safe and genial atmosphere with local people: the first was set up in Sunbury in 1942 and there were eventually around 200 set up across the country. The Women’s Voluntary Services was responsible for the scheme and in this instance it was Mrs Ryland as Warwickshire’s County Organiser who initiated the club in Leamington – even though there were actually no American troops stationed there.
The premises were offered by the N.A.A.F.I. (Navy, Army & Air Force Institutes) at the rear of 19, The Parade. Three other Welcome Clubs were already operating in Warwickshire in Atherstone, Alcester and Nuneaton.
The ‘best type’ of English girls
A newspaper article in the Leamington Courier for 2nd June 1944 regarding the decision to open the club noted that it was important that the allied troops and residents should ‘get to know each other and understand each other’s point of view’. The article, however, also added a further element to the aims of the club:
‘It is stated that the best type of American soldier has all too few opportunities for meeting the best type of English girl. So far as Leamington is concerned, at any rate, the Welcome Club will seek to remedy this state of affairs… [we want to] give them evidence that all English girls are not of the type to be found waiting at street corners, and disporting themselves in public-house bars.’
All girls put up for membership would have to be over 17 and approved by the committee. By 27th September, the committee minutes stated that ‘so far, only one unsatisfactory application for membership of the Club had been received’ (no name is given!!).
The club held regular socials on Tuesday and Saturday evenings: dancing, ping pong and darts were all part of the menu. The junior committee suggested some improvements in January 1945:
‘1. That the bands should start more punctually.
2. That there should be at least one Paul Jones – possibly two each evening and that more fancy dances might be tried…
3. That there should be a Belgian host each evening who could make announcements in French.’
Paul Jones wasn’t the name of the most desirable dance partner as might appear at first glance but a type of ‘mixer’ dance where everyone changes partners at a signal during the course of the dance. The minutes went on to say that ‘the Red Cross at Stoneleigh had also asked if a special night could be arranged for men who were not good at dancing to practice’.
After the war
By January 1946, however, after the war was over, the Friday night club night was cancelled due to poor attendance and ‘the increasing difficulty of getting dance bands’. The club officially closed on 26th March 1946 due to a ‘lack of support and the poor attendance by the forces… the Club had served a very useful purpose but… it was no longer required’. Most Welcome Clubs were brought to a close during 1946.
If anyone has any recollections or knowledge of the Welcome Clubs in Leamington, Alcester, Atherstone or Nuneaton, your comments would be most welcome!
All quotes are taken from the Leamington Spa: British Welcome Club (Royal Voluntary Service) minute book (digital copy), Warwickshire County Record Office reference Z 1135(SM) and the Leamington Spa Courier (editions 2 June, 4 August, 13 October and 29 December 1944).
The minute book was originally sent to Warwickshire County Record Office by a member of the public but upon finding the connection to the Royal Voluntary Service, the minute book was transferred to the Royal Voluntary Service Archive and Heritage Collection (though a digital copy of the book will be available to view at Warwickshire County Record Office). The RVS archivist also found the minute book intriguing and has written about the club as part of their Heritage Bulletin blog.