Soldier’s legacy lives on through a century of voluntary action

Ww1graveweb2

Chief executive honours the WW1 hero whose legacy lead to the creation of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations 

Susan Smith's photo

5th August 2014 by Susan Smith 0 Comments

Edward Vivian Birchall

Edward Vivian Birchall

National Council for Voluntary Organisation (NCVO) chief executive Sir Stuart Etherington has written a letter of thanks to the First World War soldier who bequeathed £1000 to set up the organisation.

The cash to launch NCVO came from Edward Vivian Birchall from Gloucester, who died at the Battle of the Somme on his 32nd birthday on 10 August 1916.

A volunteer and philanthropist, Birchall left a legacy of £1000 to his friend P. Grundy to set up an organisation for the promotion of voluntary services.

In a letter to Grundy before he left for war, Birchall said: “If I am scuppered I’m leaving you £1000 to do some of the things we talked about.”

The national umbrella body for charities in England opened its doors as the National Council of Social Services in 1919.

A massive 18,000 charities were founded during the four years of the First World War. The National Council of Social Services played a key role in legitimising and strengthening voluntary organisations and charities after the war.

It became the National Council for Voluntary Organisations in 1980.

Birchall had a passion for voluntary action and he wanted to see this field promoted and legitimised

Etherington said: “I have chosen to mark the centenary of World War One by writing a letter to Edward Birchall, a soldier whose legacy went on to found the National Council of Social Services, later the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.

“Birchall had a passion for voluntary action and he wanted to see this field promoted and legitimised. Birchall represents the millions of soldiers who volunteered, some in their communities at home, others who went freely to the front. My letter is addressed to one man, but on this day, the anniversary of the Great War, we commemorate the contribution of all.”

In 1939 at the outbreak of World War II, a Scottish Advisory Committee of the National Council of Social Services was created in Edinburgh. It later broke away and became the independent Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.

To Edward Vivian Birchall, 1884-1916

The letter you wrote to your friend P. Grundy before you left for the War was brief: 'If I am scuppered I'm leaving you £1000 to do some of the things we talked about.' The impact of that generosity has been felt for almost a hundred years.

Nearly a century on from the creation of the National Council of Social Services in 1919, founded with your legacy to preserve voluntary services in England, it is impossible to imagine life without the charities and volunteers that enrich our society. It is bittersweet that the war which took so much also spurred people on to give so much: while soldiers fought in the trenches, people at home poured their energies into voluntary action. Nearly 18,000 charities were founded in the years 1914-18, providing home comforts to soldiers, aid for disabled servicemen, and support for refugees and prisoners of war.

I hope it would cause you pride to know that not only did you give your life to protect future generations whom you would never meet, you also helped to establish the voluntary sector in this country, allowing those generations the opportunity to give something for people they may never have met.

Today, on the anniversary of the Great War, it is fitting to renew our commitment to the principles you held so dear, and to thank you – one hundred times over - for the sacrifice you made.

Sir Stuart Etherington

Chief executive

National Council for Voluntary Organisations