If you’re one of the ten million people enjoying the new series of Downton Abbey, you’ll know that one of the characters, Lady Sybil, has joined the Red Cross.
This year’s series follows the Crawley family and their servants as they try to survive the First World War.
The British Red Cross was instrumental in helping soldiers survive the appalling conditions of the Great War. Our archivist, Jenny Shaw, explains how the Red Cross helped:
During the First World War the British Red Cross, operating as the Joint War Committee with the Order of St John, recruited and trained thousands of volunteers who served alongside professional staff mainly in the UK, but also overseas.
These volunteers provided vital services to the sick and wounded, helping ease pressure on the medical and military services. There were four main services provided by the Red Cross during the war, paid for by extensive fundraising.
1. Transport for the wounded
We were the first organisation to supply motorised ambulances, instead of horse-drawn ambulances, to the battlefields with the first convoy arriving in France in September 1914.
As more men were called up to fight, women were trained to drive the ambulances as well. Trains and boats were also equipped to act as mobile hospitals.
2. Auxiliary hospitals and convalescent homes
Over 3,000 auxiliary hospitals and convalescent homes were organised, equipped and staffed by the Red Cross. In readiness for war, the Red Cross had already secured buildings, equipment and staff so many temporary hospitals were available as soon as wounded men began to arrive back in the UK from the battlefield.
Thousands of women volunteered to serve in their local hospital supported by medical professionals. Patients at these hospitals were generally less seriously wounded or those who needed to convalesce. Servicemen often preferred the auxiliary hospitals because discipline was not as strict as in military hospitals, they were less crowded and the surroundings were more homely.
3. Work parties
Work parties were set up across the country to help supply hospitals. Women often did knitting and sewing in their own homes to produce items such pyjamas, socks and dressing gowns for patients. Instructions and patterns were provided which helped to make the most of limited supplies.
4. Wounded and missing soldiers
Centres for recording the wounded and missing were set up in France with Red Cross searchers going to villages where fighting had taken place and to local hospitals. Information could then be passed to families nervously waiting for news of loved ones.