Category: Volunteering

Christmas during the First World War: in pictures

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WW1-xmas-hospital-ward

British Red Cross nurses had to celebrate the festive season hungry and over-worked, yet they were still determined to be cheerful. See the First World War through the eyes of the women who were actually there.

1. The busy life of a nurse

This witty cartoon triptych depicts the typical life of a Red Cross nurse (they were known as Voluntary Aid Detachments) serving abroad during the war. The sketches show how her life officially should be, how she dreams it might be, and how it actually is. Poor woman…

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The curious tale of the ‘black doctor of Paddington’

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Dr-John-Alcindor-BLOGA determined doctor who overcame bigotry and prejudice to help others during the First World War finally won recognition a hundred years later. As Britain celebrates Black History Month, we trace his story.

John Alcindor was a gifted doctor, respected and trusted by his many patients.

Originally from Trinidad, John graduated with a medical degree from Edinburgh University in 1899. He then worked in London hospitals for several years before going into practice on his own.

When the First World War broke out in 1914, he naturally wanted to use his skills to help with the war effort.

But despite his qualifications and experience, he was rejected outright by the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1914 because of his ‘colonial origin’.

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Hospital food: even worse during the First World War

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If you or a loved one has had the misfortune to eat hospital food recently, spare a thought for the wounded soldiers of the First World War who had to eat dishes like calf’s foot jelly and beef tea custard.

Red Cross volunteers prepare food during the First World WarWe’ve seen wounded soldiers being cared for in the luxurious surroundings of ITV’s Downton Abbey. During the war, Red Cross nurses looked after men in lots of different types of accommodation, including stately homes. But they certainly wouldn’t have eaten the same rich and delicious food that the homes’ titled owners did.

Food for wounded soldiers was chosen for its ease of digestion, not its taste. Our archives have a recipe book teaching volunteer cooks how to choose and prepare hundreds of dishes for the men. Men were put on different diets depending on their injuries (there’s actually a beef tea diet outlined in the book).

The book even includes a definition of salad.

You can see excerpts from the recipe book below. Just in case calf’s foot jelly or beef tea custard tickles your tastebuds, you may want to wash it down with a tall glass of albumen water (mix equal parts egg white with water).

And if you do make them, please don’t invite me over for dinner. I’m a vegetarian.

Beef tea (pg 65)

1 lb. beef to each one pint water.

Scrape the meat, removing fat, gristle and bone. Place in cold water as scraped, press with fork. Cover with paper, place in pan of water and bring water barely to the boiling point, so that meat is just coloured only. Strain, remove any fat with paper and serve. Season as required.

Double quantity of meat may be used.

Beef tea custard (pg. 58)

Required: Two or three eggs to each pint beef tea. Sugar to taste.

Method: Strain the beef tea well before using or a heavy sediment falls to the bottom of the dish. Beat the eggs, add beef tea and beat again, well strain into buttered dish and bake 20 to 30 minutes. Custards must be baked very slowly. The pie-dish may be stood in a baking tin of water, which helps to set them firmly by preventing too quick a heat from reaching them.

Calf’s foot jelly (pages 70-71)

[To make] stock for jelly:

(1) Gelatine or isinglass, 1 oz. to one quart liquid. Soak the gelatine in 1/2 pint cold water six to seven hours, or in boiling water 20 to 30 minutes, if needed in haste.

(2) One calf’s foot, quartered, washed and blanched, to one quart liquid. Boil the calf’s foot gently for four or five hours in one quart water, skimming well. Strain into a basin, and when set wipe off any grease from the top with a cloth dipped in hot water.

To make one quart [calf’s foot jelly], using the calf’s foot stock. Strain in the juice of one lemon, add slices of thinly peeled rind, the shells and beaten whites of two eggs, sugar to taste, and whisk all thoroughly together until they come to the boil. Draw to the side of the fire and allow to stand for 15 to 20 minutes, when a crust will be seen to form, then strain and add a wine-glass of wine – sherry is generally preferred, but port wine or any white wine may be used.

Letters home from a First World War nurse

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Three Red Cross nurses in the First World War

Copyright – British Red Cross

Downton Abbey fans will remember Lady Sybil in action as a Red Cross nurse helping wounded soldiers.

In our archives, we’ve found letters from one of our nurses who sheds more light on the difficulties of nursing, as well as some of the lighter moments.

According to our records, Miss Dorothy M Robinson, daughter of Major General Sir C W Robinson KCB (ex Rifle Brigade), was a nurse at Waverley Abbey Military Hospital in Farnham, Surrey.

Dorothy tells her mum about the trouble she has to go through to get a bath, the jokes wounded servicemen play on each other, and the nervous anticipation everyone feels when the Zeppelin warning bell goes off one night.

Here you can see some of Dorothy’s letters, or read the transcript below.

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