Black and white image of Judy Stokes in a Red Cross nurse uniformThe British Red Cross turns 140 years young this summer, and there’s at least one woman who’s been volunteering with us for half that time. Talk about dedication!

Listen to Judy Stokes share her incredible memories – from war-time nursing to teaching young people first aid.

[audio:|titles=Volunteer for 70 yrs – Judy Stokes]


JUDY STOKES: “When World War Two broke out, I was still at school. But my eldest sister was already in the British Red Cross and when the local church hall was changed into a first aid post she was amongst the people who were working there.  And of course as soon as I was old enough I wanted to join too.”

NARRATOR CARLA DOW: “Judy Stokes, a volunteer of more than 70 years, shares her memories.

“From wartime nursing to first aid training in schools to providing first aid at local events – she has been the face of the Red Cross to vulnerable people in her community for seven decades. Judy’s first role with the Red Cross in 1941 was as a penny-a-week volunteer – raising money to pay for parcels to send overseas to prisoners of war. But she soon changed her direction to a more hands-on type of care.”

Judy StokesJUDY: “I’d already made it very clear that I wanted to be a nurse, VAD.  When I was able to join in 1942 I’d already qualified to have the Red Cross on my apron. Following D-Day when nurses were in great demand I was given a week to get into a nursing post. And so my first job was to be posted to a Red Cross convalescent home at Liphook and we had 40 patients. These were people who perhaps already had their hospital treatment, were recovering from operations, from wounds. Those of us who were not actually working in hospitals at the time would help meet, wash, change into pajamas, some of these men who were still in khakis, still in field dressings.

“When they were coming back from France, they were coming back in a wave – by boatloads, busloads. You had to get rid of some to make way for others.

Judy Stokes with Red Cross nurse uniform“Some of the patients were too badly injured or some had been too close to an explosion and he was left deaf so… Of course some of them went for medical discharge from there and of course some of them were so badly mentally damaged that they couldn’t go back to the front.

“Most of us were only 18, 19 – it was a baptism of fire. We completely missed out on our teenage years – I’ve been making up for it ever since.”

NARRATOR CARLA:“ Judy’s biggest challenge as a Red Cross nurse came when she took a post at Park Prewett in Basingstoke, assisting in the plastic and jaw unit.”

JUDY: “I was allocated to Rooksdown House and had the extreme privilege of working under Sir Harold Gillies. This was obviously pioneering work very much trial and error, sometimes things worked, sometimes they didn’t. Very early days of penicillin and most of the patients were severe burns cases.

“Because some of the disfigurements were really quite gross, prior to even joining the staff  we were put through what we politely called the chamber of horrors to look at these photographs and watch our reactions because some people just couldn’t do it. And of course not only were you healing the man physically but the last thing he wanted was people recoiling from his appearance, and in actual fact you just didn’t see his appearance you somehow saw the man underneath. But when families used to come and visit and show you a photo of what he used to look like, you could understand their heartbreak.”

NARRATOR CARLA: “Reflecting back on her 70 years with the Red Cross, Judy feels a true passion for the organisation’s fundamental principles – the foundation of all its work as much in the 1900’s as today.”

JUDY:  “Red Cross is completely neutral and I think this is important. You see when I was in Park Prewett they were bringing back casualties from prisoners of war camps.  We were dealing with men who’d suffered atrocities and we had every colour, class and creed. You took all kinds, they’re all sick men. And I think this is the point of Red Cross, neutrality and humanity –humility too, because it does teach you how lucky we are.”

NARRATOR CARLA: “But it wasn’t all hard work – the Red Cross gave Judy some very dear friends, whom she had a lot of fun with. They, she says, were her family.”

JUDY: “We used to go out to tea, we used to go out to dances, we used to go to the cinema. The people of Basingstoke were wonderful – they opened their hearts, they opened their homes.

“Obviously some of the patients couldn’t go into town they were still in bed so the beds got pushed into the pavilion. And we’d have dances, we’d have quizzes – well housey-housey as it was called in those days, bingo today. Anything and everything to help these men heal, mentally and physically. And of course it was a wonderful matrimonial agency – a great many of the staff and patients ultimately married.

“There was one man in particular I always remember – Geordie Ray – terrible man (chuckles), no he’s a lovely man really. But he’d lost both hands, and his party trick was to shake hands with you, slip his hand, and you’d be left holding it and he’d be laughing his head off.  That’s the sort of thing we worked with.

“It was hard work, it was harrowing work, but on the other hand it was what you made of it. And there was a great deal of joy and love and happiness there because as you saw people getting better it was so, so rewarding.”

NARRATOR CARLA: “Judy finished her services as a Red Cross nurse when the War was declared over. But this did by no means end her devoted service to the charity. As well as caring for her mother and taking a day job, Judy took up the role of cadet officer – running the youth arm of the organisation in her local village of Titchfield.”

JUDY: “I had Titchfield girls and these were little people from 11 – 15 who we taught first aid, junior nursing, infant and child welfare, and we also used to take part in all the parades. It was quite a poor area and quite a lot of the children didn’t have the necessary uniforms. So we bought it up from second-hand shops, the children would then get changed, dress into Red Cross uniform – look absolutely marvelous – go on parade, come back, get changed again and we would have to hang on to the clothes for next time otherwise they would have disappeared.”

NARRATOR CARLA: “After six years coaching the cadets, Judy married and took some time out to have her children. But she was eager to return and as soon as her children were old enough, in the early 1950s, she began training first aid, which she did for more than 20 years.”

JUDY: “I was an instructor for many, many years. Initially of course we used to just teach other units. Then of course we started expanding into other activities such as Duke of Edinburgh Awards, Scouts, Guides. Some of us were also recruited by the school doctor, who existed in those days. And there we used to teach health education which covered drugs, drink, contraception, any other aspect. Quite often I would go into a school and say ‘what do you want to know most?’.  Sex, they always wanted to know about sex, hoping I would go red and run but of course I never did (chuckles).

“In those days we always used to do examinations by using simulation casualties. You learnt the skills – RADA had nothing on some of us – and of course you had to learn the makeup , the different colours of bloods and what they meant. We even had one girl who had great skills – in those days you could buy all sorts of things in the butchers and she bought a sheep’s eye which she would put out on somebody’s cheek.”

NARRATOR CARLA: “As our volunteers do today, Judy and her Red Cross colleagues spent many weekends covering first aid duties at local events.”

JUDY: “Farnborough Air Show – we were called in for duties for that. And this was when we could have 800 people on staff spread over eight different units. We dealt with absolutely everything from a wasp sting to sudden death. You never knew what was coming next.

“I think one of the most exciting things that I had to deal with was there was a big flight of concrete steps and some poor man who was an epileptic was standing at the top when he had an attack. So of course he came down these steps, terrible head injuries. And this is the only time in my life I have ever gone to hospital under screaming sirens and lights. But we never get to hear the end of the story – I don’t know if he lived or died or recovered or what?”

NARRATOR CARLA: “Today, having stepped down from active service, Judy spends her volunteering hours with the Red Cross in Hampshire at the Balfour Museum. As part of a small team, she helps to preserve the history of the Red Cross and engages with the local community to inform, educate and inspire future generations to become good humanitarians. In 2009, she enjoyed taking a major role in organising events to celebrate the centenary of Hampshire Red Cross.

“In summing up her experiences as a long-standing volunteer, Judy said:

JUDY: “I have found it very worthwhile, most interesting. I have loved a great deal of it. I must still do to be with it now.”

Image 1 © unknown
Image 2-3 © Carla Dow/British Red Cross