Selected by Janine Bancroft, Archivist (Records & Accessions)


Photograph of British nurses in a Red Cross motor ambulance, about to set off from Boulogne, France, 1915. From a selection of official photographs from the Dardanelles Expedition in 1915-16, supplied by the Central News Agency.

Following the outbreak of war in August 1914 the British Red Cross and the Order of St John formed the Joint War Committee, which recruited and trained thousands of volunteers to serve alongside professional nurses. Members were organised into Voluntary Aid Detachments (the term VAD later came to be used for an individual member as well as a detachment); all were trained in basic first aid and some also in nursing, cookery, hygiene and sanitation.

The Joint War Committee was the first to supply motorised ambulances to the battlefields, operating under the protected emblem of the Red Cross. The first convoy arrived in France in September 1914 and proved much more effective in war terrain than the horse-drawn ambulances of previous conflicts. As more men enlisted, women were trained to drive and maintain the ambulances.


British Red Cross nurses and VADs provided vital care to thousands of wounded soldiers in the UK and abroad. The First World War provided the final impetus to the establishment of nursing regulation in the UK, partly because of the specific contribution made by nurses to the war effort.

Ref: Hamilton 7/12/219

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