At the outbreak of war in 1914, the Red Cross formed a Joint War Committee with the Order of St John, raised funds, organised volunteers and paid staff to provide equipment and services in the UK and the theatres of war. Everyone was trained in first aid, some trained in nursing, cookery, hygiene and sanitation.
Most of the women became
nurses, initially in hospitals in Britain, but as the casualties
mounted, more were sent overseas to casualty stations on or near the
battlefield or to hospitals. Many people offered their houses as
convalescent homes for the wounded or as auxiliary hospitals; some town
halls and primary schools were used too.
There were over 3,000
auxiliary hospitals across the UK. They were staffed by a commandant, a
quartermaster, a matron, a cook and nurses. Local GPs often volunteered
for work in the hospitals in addition to their ordinary work. The nurses
were all volunteers, often they were too young or old or had family
commitments to serve full-time. Male volunteers usually drove or
accompanied the ill or wounded to and from hospitals, many acted as
stretcher-bearers, a lot were sent to France as ambulance drivers, some
being wounded in enemy action.
Volunteers also collected
clothing and books for soldiers in hospitals, raised funds, made
bandages and splints, acted as cooks, store-keepers, worked in the
offices and just as importantly, provided food and cigarettes to
soldiers arriving by ambulance train. One of my great-aunts married a
soldier she met on such duty.
A lot of people were displaced by
the war, in 1915, volunteers started visiting hospitals looking for
people who had been recorded as missing; work that the Red Cross is
still involved in. By the end of the war in 1918, 90,000 volunteers had
worked in the UK or abroad. There were lots of famous volunteers
including Agatha Christie and Vera Brittain, perhaps some of your family
To find out, use the index of World War I Red Cross volunteers..
can search by forename, surname, location or hospital or role.
Be careful when searching by location. I found that searching for Berwick-upon-Tweed found no results, for Berwick-on-Tweed there were 33 results, for Berwick there were 118 results including some in Sussex and those for Berwick-on-Tweed.
initial search takes you to a search results page that shows name,
county, date of engagement, age when engaged. Clicking on the name takes
you to a detailed page about that person.
The information provided comes from record cards and may include name,
address, age, character, service dates, hospital, rank, pay, duties,
commission, honours awarded. Pictures of the cards are also included.
Annoyingly, first names weren’t always recorded, some just gave