Category: World War One

‘Oh, yes they did.’ How First World War nurses put on a pantomime


Xmas-pantoOur Red Cross nurses saw untold horrors and worked themselves to exhaustion during the First World War – but many still found time to put on a Christmas pantomime.

As most of us settle in for another warm, well-fed festive season, it seems almost incredible to think of how different life was for many Britons a hundred years ago.

That’s certainly the case for the Red Cross nurses – known as Voluntary Aid Detachments – who served in military hospitals across Europe during the Great War.

These young women (and sometimes they were very young) saw and dealt with scenes that are unimaginable to us now. More

Looking for loved ones in the First World War

Red Cross enquiry department for wounded soldiers: Boulogne 1917.

Red Cross enquiry department for wounded soldiers: Boulogne 1917.

Every year, we try to help people find missing family, after they go missing in a disaster or conflict. This service is now 100 years old – and it all started on the First World War battlefields.

Many soldiers went missing during the First World War. Families back home had no idea what had happened – or if their loved ones were even alive.

At the time, The Sunday Times wrote that “anxious mothers and wives began to plead that someone should look for men who had disappeared to a silence as still and more cruel than the grave”. More

A day to remember volunteers in the First World War

Carol Haselwood's grandmother, Marjorie Edith Taylor.

Carol Haselwood’s grandmother, Marjorie Edith Taylor.

Every Remembrance Day, we pay our respects to the millions of people who died in the First World War. During those four years, the British Red Cross signed up thousands of volunteers to help the sick and wounded. And now our new archive is helping people learn about the volunteers in their own family – and discover some surprises.

Volunteer Carol Haselwood, 60, from Somerset, has been busy typing up our wartime records, from thousands of handwritten index cards. So far, she has gone through around 700 cards – and it was all triggered by her desire to get to the bottom of a family mystery.

“I’ve got a photo of my mother’s mother in what looks like a nurse’s uniform. It sparked some discussion with family members: one of them said my grandmother wasn’t a nurse, she was a cook.

“I thought, this is interesting – and when I went on the British Red Cross website, I realised my grandmother had been a VAD.” More

Dan Snow finds out family history facts in our First World War records


Dan Snow First World War records

Broadcaster and historian Dan Snow knew very little about his great-grandmother’s role in the First World War – until he saw her records at the British Red Cross. We hold information on all our historical volunteers, from what they did to where they worked – and it’s now online for the very first time.

“My great-grandmother died 20 years ago, and being able to see her index card is as close as I’ve managed to get to her since then,” says Dan Snow, as he stands in our museum archive.

“She was clearly a young woman living an unimaginably difficult life, so different to the lady who I knew in her 90s.” More

Pull the udder one: 100 years of quirky charity shop stock

© James Sharrock

© James Sharrock

The British Red Cross set up our first charity shop at the start of the First World War. People donated some very interesting things to sell; including pedigree pets. A century on, we now have hundreds of shops around the country – and we still receive the odd item that raises a smile.

It’s the thought that counts.

So we were extremely grateful for the unopened jar of udder cream, which someone handed in to our shop in Somerset – even if it wasn’t suitable for sale. More

Secret history: unusual volunteering in the First World War


Fundraising activities of Gwent Branch of Red Cross

We’ve just launched a digital archive, presenting historical records from the First World War online for the first time. It shows that our volunteers were a motley bunch, of every class and age – and they weren’t all nurses, either.

In fact, the new archive reveals that some volunteers boosted the war effort in surprising ways.  More

Art from the past: ‘diary paintings’ from a First World War volunteer


Ambulance depot 2 Procter

Every month, we dust off a piece of art from the British Red Cross collection to give it the attention it deserves. This time, it’s some paintings by Ernest Procter – who used his extraordinary talent to capture life as a First World War volunteer.

During the war, Procter documented so many scenes from his time on the frontline that he became known as his unit’s ‘official artist’. More

The curious tale of the ‘black doctor of Paddington’


Dr-John-Alcindor-BLOGA determined doctor who overcame bigotry and prejudice to help others during the First World War has finally won recognition. 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’.