The Wartime Memories Project

- Civilian Service and Voluntary Organisations during the Great War -

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Voluntary Aid Detachment

   An Extract from Red Cross Description of VAD services.

What was a VAD, exactly?

In 1909 the War Office issued the Scheme for the Organisation of Voluntary Aid. Under this scheme, the British Red Cross was given the role of providing supplementary aid to the Territorial Forces Medical Service in the event of war.

In order to provide trained personnel for this task, county branches of the Red Cross organised units called voluntary aid detachments. All voluntary aid detachment members (who themselves came to be known simply as 'VADs') were trained in first aid and nursing. Within twelve months of the scheme's launch, they numbered well over 6,000.

Membership grew still further on the outbreak of war in 1914. The British Red Cross and the Order of St John of Jerusalem, a body which was also empowered to raise detachments under the War Office Voluntary Aid Scheme, combined to form the Joint War Committee (JWC) to administer their wartime relief work with the greatest possible efficiency and economy, under the protection of the red cross emblem and name. This was such a successful working partnership that when the Second World War broke out in 1939, the British Red Cross and Order of St. John joined together again to form the Joint War Organisation (JWO).

What kind of work did VADs do?

The VADs working under both the JWC and the JWO performed a variety of duties. Both the Committee and the Organisation administered auxiliary hospitals and convalescent homes in Britain throughout the world wars and much of the VAD service was performed in these homes and hospitals. Volunteers performed general nursing duties and administered first aid.

Qualified nurses were also employed to work in these establishments, while many VADs gave their service in military hospitals. In addition, VADs performed clerical and kitchen duties. With many men engaged in military service, women VADs took on roles such as ambulance drivers, civil defence workers and welfare officers. VADs were also sent abroad during both world wars as the Committee and the Organisation operated overseas in countries such as France, Italy and Russia.

   Horncastle Voluntary Aid Detachment used the Drill Hall on the Wong as a Red Cross Hospital, with much of the equipment and furniture and being donated or lent by locals.

   On the 16th August 1909 the War Office issued a scheme for the Organisation of Voluntary Aid in England and Wales, which set up both male and female Voluntary Aid Detachments to compliment the Territorial medical services. In December 1909 a similar scheme was launched in Scotland. The VAD's were for home service, intended to staff auxiliary hospitals and rest stations should the need arise. Across the country detachments were formed and began training in first aid, basic nursing duties, cookery and hygiene. The male and some of the female detachments also trained in stretcher bearing, transportation and improvisation of caring for the wounded outdoors. There was no pay for any of the duties and the majority of the volunteers were those of the more affluent levels of society.

When war broke out in 1914 the VAD's were came under the administration of the Joint War Committee of the British Red Cross Society and the Order of St. John, which was based at Devonshire House, Piccadilly, London. Their role had already been clearly defined and the units at once leapt into action, gathering donated linen, kitchen equipment and medical supplies, borrowing cars and setting up hospitals and rest centres in village halls and country houses.

If you can provide any additional information, please add it here.

Those known to have served with  Voluntary Aid Detachment during the Great War 1914-1918.

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  • The Wartime Memories Project is the original WW1 and WW2 commemoration website

    This website has been running for 18 years and receives in excess of a million hits per month. The website and our group will continue long after the 2014-18 events are over. We hope that people will continue to support us by submitting material and stories in addition to submitting to the new websites set up for the anniversary.

  • We are looking for volunteers to help with researching the activities of units of the Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers, Territorial Force, Regular Army, Pals Battalions, Kitchener's New Armies, Voluntary Organisations and the Ships of the Royal Navy. We currently have a huge backlog of stories and historical documents which need to be edited or transcribed for display online, if you have a good standard of written English, an interest in the two World Wars and a little time to spare online we would appreciate your help. For more information please see our page on Volunteering.

Wanted: Digital copies of Group photographs, Scrapbooks, Autograph books, photo albums, newspaper clippings, letters, postcards and ephemera relating to the Great War. If you have any unwanted photographs, documents or items from the First or Second World War, please do not destroy them. The Wartime Memories Project will give them a good home and ensure that they are used for educational purposes. Please get in touch for the postal address, do not sent them to our PO Box as packages are not accepted.

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Dec 2017

    Please note we currently have a backlog of submitted material, our volunteers are working through this as quickly as possible and all names, stories and photos will be added to the site. If you have already submitted a story to the site and your UID reference number is higher than 237716 your submission is still in the queue, please do not resubmit without contacting us first.

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Did you know? We also have a section on World War Two. and a Timecapsule to preserve stories from other conflicts for future generations.

Recomended Reading.

Available at discounted prices.

We That Were Young

Irene Rathbone

This fierce antiwar novel by Irene Rathbone (1892-1980) is told from the perspectives of a cultured former suffragist and several of her friends - young women who work at rest camps just behind the lines in France and as nurses of the severely wounded in hospitals in London. When Joan loses both her brother and lover to the war, she volunteers for work in a munitions plant - but by the end, she is a confirmed pacifist. This book is semi-autobiographical fiction based on Irene Rathbone's experiences as a volunteer worker during the Great War. It tells of life both as a VAD nurse and as a YMCA canteen worker in France, and includes a wealth of interesting detail not found elsewhere. Her story is one of loss and grief - both she and her friends lose many loved ones during the course of the war, but it's also a tale of strong family ties and lifelong friendships. It's longer than most of its genre, and although the language is rather stilted by today's standards, the story bowls along a
More information on:

We That Were Young

Britain's Civilian Volunteers: Authorized Story of British Voluntary Aid Detachment Work in the Great War

Thekla Bowser

This scarce antiquarian book is a facsimile reprint of the original. Due to its age, it may contain imperfections such as marks, notations, marginalia and flawed pages. Because we believe this work is culturally important, we have made it available as part of our commitment for protecting, preserving, and promoting the world's literature in affordable, high quality, modern editions that are true to the original work.
Reminiscences of a V.A.D.

Grace Pulvertaft

Grace Pulvertaft was born in Dublin of Irish parents. She was educated in London and at the out break of the Great War, aged 20, became a nurse by joining the Voluntary Aid Detachment. Working in busy hospitals in London and Brighton throughout the war, she kept a diary recording her experiences along with contributions from patients and colleagues. The daily round has its lighter moments never far removed from the shadow of a terrible war. 100 years later, edited by her son John Brunsdon, Grace's diaries are presented in this beautiful hard back, full colour book.
More information on:

Reminiscences of a V.A.D.


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