In the shire counties as in the towns, the WVS built on existing women's networks, notably the Women's Institutes which, despite their formally democratic structures, usually served to uphold middle and upper-class social leadership in rural England. In the absence of any rural equivalent to the challenge represented by the urban labour movement, the WVS hierarchy had little need to intervene in established structures of authority. The major rural trauma of wartime and the invasion of evacuees from the towns tended to reinforce existing assumptions, shared across class boundaries, about the distinctness of rural life. In handling the problems thrown up by evacuation, established social leaders reaffirmed their right to speak on behalf of country folk as a whole. The need to defend the rural community against the depredations threatened by the urban invasion provided, in the traumatic autumns of 1939 and 1940, powerful new cement for the old social order.
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