Following the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the British Red Cross formed the Joint War Committee with the Order of St John. Under the protective emblem of the Red Cross, they worked together and fundraised.

As well as organising professional staff, the Joint War Committee organised volunteers, supplying machinery and services at home, it also worked in the conflict areas of Europe, the Middle East, Russia and East Africa.

Members of the British Red Cross and the Order of St John were organised into Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs). The term ‘VAD’ was used for an individual member as well as a detachment and the War Hospitals and Auxiliary Hospitals were staffed by both British Red Cross nurses and VADs.

There were both male and female VAD detachments and some female VADs worked as drivers. One female VAD is recorded as starting nursing duties at the Huddersfield War Hospital, moved to the Transport Section and finished the war as a chauffeuse for the Joint War Committee in France.

All Members were trained in first aid and some also trained in nursing, cookery, hygiene and sanitation. The majority of female VADs volunteered as nurses, trained by the Red Cross who were despatched throughout the United Kingdom and Europe during the First World War. Other members opted to work in their local auxiliary hospitals where they could work on a part time basis to fit in around their day to day work at home and in the towns and villages.

Click on the link below to learn more about the work of the British Red Cross during the First World War:

The nature of the fighting during the Great War led to a huge number of injured soldiers, and the existing Military medical facilities in the United Kingdom were soon overwhelmed. A solution had to be found quickly and many civilian hospitals were turned over for military use. Numerous asylums were also converted to military hospitals with the asylum patients being sent home, often to unprepared families.

As demand for beds grew, large buildings such as universities and hotels were transformed into hospitals and wooden huts sprang up in hospital grounds, and at army camps, to cope with the huge numbers. Additional nursing staff was needed, and this was met by a mixture of qualified nurses and volunteers.

A soldier who was injured in the field would be first treated at a Regimental Aid Post in the trenches by the Battalion Medical Officer with his orderlies and stretcher bearers, then he would be moved to an Advance Dressing Station close to the front line which was manned by members of The Field Ambulance, RAMC.

If treatment was needed the wounded serviceman would be moved to a Casualty Clearing Station, a tented camp behind the lines, and then if required moved to one of the base hospitals, usually by train. 

The seriously wounded were taken back to Britain by Hospital Ship and onto the relevant hospital for further treatment.

With the wide range of serious injuries faced, hospitals began to specialise in certain types of injury in order to provide the best treatment and soldiers were sent by train to the relevant hospital.

Those being treated wore a uniform, usually blue with a red tie which were informally known as “Hospital Blues”. Not all hospitals round the country adopted this colour, but all wounded soldiers wore a hospital uniform whilst they were patients. Once a soldier was deemed fit enough following convalescence, he would return to one of the Command Depots for rehabilitative training. After this he would be allocated to a battalion. This was usually a different battalion or regiment to that in which he had previously served, as his place would have been taken by another man to maintain numbers.

Those who did not recover sufficiently to return to active service were issued with a Silver War Badge, SWB, to wear on their lapel which signified that they had completed their war service. The badges were individually numbered, and these numbers were recorded on the medal cards of those who received them. Silver War Badges were also issued to soldiers who had completed the length of service they had signed up for. These were mainly regular soldiers who had served before the war and whose period of service had expired before the end of the conflict.

Sources: British Red Cross, the Wartime Memories Project, and rsmcreunited.