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…


2. Time for pantomime


Despite their hectic schedules, nurses at many hospitals found time to put on a Christmas pantomime. Losing themselves in play-acting and fancy dress must have come as a great relief from the rigours of their everyday existence.

3. Memories in pictures

Edith Maud Drummond Hay has left behind a series of fascinating snapshots into her nursing career. During her time as a Red Cross nurse in Scotland and France, she drew many colourful sketches depicting her life in service. Here we witness the highlight of many patient’s whole festive season: the arrival of the Christmas plum pudding.


4. Turkey and all the trimmings

Christmas dinner was necessarily quite a static affair for many injured servicemen, as shown at this Red Cross hospital in Somerset. But even during such harsh times, the nurses made an effort to put up seasonal decorations.


5. Party time

Edith’s clever picture shows the nurses singing carols, gathering patients round the Christmas tree and showing Belgian soldiers how to do some traditional dancing. Even during war-time, the nurses knew how to have fun.


6. Entertainment

It’s Edith again. As the wording above the picture says: ‘Concerts in the day room were a welcome variety…’


Did your ancestors volunteer during the war? More than 90,000 people volunteered for the British Red Cross during the war, and they may have included members of your family. Using our unique online archive, you can now search for your family’s personnel records.

Read more of our First World War blogs.