Category: World War One

Art from the past: a dangerous journey in the First World War

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Stobart and Serbia retreat in First World War cropped

Every month, we’re dusting off a piece of art from the British Red Cross collection to give it the attention it deserves. This month, we look at a painting that captures an extraordinary retreat from Serbia in the First World War – led by one of the many women who volunteered to give medical support on the frontline.

Just over 100 years ago, Mabel St Clair Stobart was forced to flee her field hospital in Belgrade, Serbia.

Events in the First World War were escalating. Serbia had been invaded – and lives and vital medical equipment were now in danger.

As head of the hospital unit, Mabel Stobart had to lead the sick and wounded, and the nurses, on an 800-mile escape over snow-capped mountains.

Yet most people have not heard her name – or know anything about her incredible life. More

In our own words: July 1914

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Fundraisers in Sussex

Volunteers from Sussex pose with their secret fundraising weapon: a dog

Only a month before the First World War began, British Red Cross volunteers were in full training mode. Their first aid skills were improving by the day. They were learning all kinds of practical tasks that would come in handy, from fire safety at field hospitals to cooking for invalids. Whole communities joined in to help, both volunteering and fundraising – and even animals were made to do their bit.

In Kent, a camp was underway to train local volunteers in hygiene and running a quartermaster’s store. It was reported that “the earliest arrival on the afternoon of the opening day was the camp cow.  More

Art and letters reveal true stories from the First World War

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Pencil sketch of a First World War cemetery in Etaples

British military cemetery in Etaples by Olive Mudie-Cooke

First World War letters, diaries, reports and volunteers’ possessions are telling some fascinating stories in a brand new exhibition.

“When you think of First World War volunteers (VADs), ‘nursing’ may come to mind. In fact you may be surprised at the variety of work that British Red Cross VADs carried out,” says Emily Oldfield, curator at the Red Cross.

Within a few hours of being picked up on the battlefield, wounded men were transferred home to “Blighty”. As more men were injured, the number of nurses engaged for home service – both trained and voluntary – increased. More

In our own words: June 1914

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Fulham VAD inspection

Fulham VAD inspection

In the days before Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot on 28 June, British Red Cross volunteers were preparing to act “in the event of war”. This meant tackling everything from a plane crash to the ultimate challenge: hot water bottles.

A terrifying scene unfolded out at sea in Somerset and was reported in the June issue of the Red Cross magazine.

Mr Salmet – “the ‘Daily Mail’ airman” who had been sponsored by the newspaper – was flying over the town of Watchet.

“The piers and esplanade were thronged with onlookers. At 3.40pm the waterplane appeared in sight well out at sea.” More

World War One in our own words: May 1914

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Staff at Richmond hospital dress up to take part in a Red Cross fundraiser during the First World WarNewsletters from May 1914 show that British Red Cross volunteers up and down the country were fundraising and competing to be crowned the champions of first aid skills. These skills would prove to be vital in only a few months’ time.

Volunteers (VADs) who had signed up to the Red Cross worked hard to learn skills that would come in handy at hospitals during a war. These included bed-making, nursing and hygiene, as well as a range of first aid skills. Competitions were organised to keep volunteers on their toes and encourage them to improve. More

Conscientious objectors and the Red Cross in the First World War

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Watercolour showing First World War Red Cross ambulance depot at Etaples

On International Conscientious Objectors’ Day we remember our work with conscientious objectors 100 years ago, during the First World War.

In 1914 a group of young Quakers set up a humanitarian first aid project in France called the Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU). Most of its 1,200 members were pacifists and they were all civilians. The FAU provided conscientious objectors with a means to support the wounded – but not the war. More

True stories from WWI: The Crimson Field and flirting

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First World War soldiers on donkey rides accompanied by Red Cross nursesWhere there are male soldiers and young female nurses, there’s bound to be trouble. At least, that was the view of many when the First World War began. Red Cross volunteers were under strict instructions not to socialise with soldiers. But what could you do when young men flirted with you?

Helen Beale, a VAD in France, bemoaned the strict rules about socialising with men in her letters home: “The rule is that nobody must go out with a man, even if it’s your own brother and you are with other people, too.”

The rules, she said, simply didn’t make sense: “Although you mayn’t go and have tea at a shop with anyone it’s apparently quite permissible to go with them for a lonely walk on the sandhills and bring them back for tea. More

True stories from WWI: The Crimson Field and playing by the rules

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Three Red Cross nurses from the First World WarThere was no room for rebels in the field hospital at Etaples, France in 1915. The daily routine of Red Cross volunteer nurses was strictly controlled by rules and regulations. But in their own huts, there was no one to stop them giggling, munching cake or throwing a pyjama party…

During the First World War, Helen Beale volunteered as a nurse in Etaples. Her letters paint a vivid picture of life at No. 26 General Hospital – the hospital that inspired The Crimson Field. More