Tag: history

The Red Cross saved my father’s life in the First World War

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Amanda Nicholson holds her father's First World War flying jacket to show where the bullet went through the cloth

Amanda Nicholson holding her father’s flying jacket with the bullet hole still in the back

“If it wasn’t for the Red Cross I wouldn’t be here.”

For Amanda Nicholson, the ceremonies to mark 100 years since the end of the First World War on 11 November will be especially poignant.

Her father, James Orr MacAndrew – known as Jo – was one of Britain’s first fighter pilots during World War One.

“My father came from a family of six where all three sons served during the First World War,” Amanda said.

“My father was terribly anxious that the war would end before he had a chance to enlist.”

But Jo did manage to join up in March 1918 after leaving school at the age of 19. This was just five months after his older brother, Colin, was killed in action.

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

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Stobart and Serbia retreat in First World War

‘Lady of the black horse’, by George Rankin

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

One of many women who volunteered with the Red Cross, she was head of a hospital unit on the front line.

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

As head of the hospital, 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

Art from the past: the secret artists in prisoner of war camps

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Jenny Martin with the Changi quilt in 2015. © Teri Pengilley

Jenny Martin with the Changi quilt in 2015. © Teri Pengilley

Every month, we dust off a piece of art from the British Red Cross collection to give it the attention it deserves. This month, we look at some items crafted in the most desperate of settings – and the remarkable efforts it took to make them.  

In 1942, Daphne Davidson’s life changed forever.

She was living in Singapore with her husband. She had a good job and had just become pregnant.

But then Singapore surrendered to invading Japan. James left for the front and Daphne was sent to a prisoner of war (POW) camp.

The days were long, tedious and full of hard work and hardship.

So how did arts and crafts become an act of rebellion? 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 nurses

Where 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

Five formidable women who shaped the Red Cross

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Claire Bertschinger sitting outside a feeding centre

Claire Bertschinger sitting outside a feeding centre – ©ClaireBertschinger

Women have made a huge contribution to the British Red Cross right from our very beginnings. They have always outnumbered men in our ranks and often held highly influential positions.

Here are five inspiring ladies who represent the hundreds of thousands of women who have given their time, skills and passion to our humanitarian work.

They include a pacifist and poet, an artist who swapped society portraits for the battlefield, a woman who falsified her age to serve in France and the nurse who inspired Live Aid.

1. The lady with the lamp – Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale

Image: British Red Cross

No account of women’s history within the Red Cross would be complete without Florence Nightingale.

Best known for her work during the Crimean War, she also inspired Red Cross founder Henry Dunant.

She went on to directly influence the setting up the British Red Cross in 1870.

Hundreds of thousands of women have followed in Florence’s footsteps, becoming wartime nurses in conflicts and disease outbreaks across the world.

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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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