“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 17. This was just five months after his older brother, Colin, was killed in action.
Saved by the sight of the Red Cross
During a flight over Belgium, Jo suddenly found himself being shot at.
Luckily, despite being hit by a bullet that got stuck in his back, he saw a large Red Cross painted on a building’s roof.
It was a Red Cross dressing station and he managed to land his plane close by. Jo was quickly treated and his life was saved.
“I still have my father’s flying jacket with a tiny hole in the back where the bullet went in,” Amanda shared.
“There was no exit hole because the bullet remained lodged in his back for more than 20 years until 1936 when part of it was finally removed.”
Amanda’s father went on to live until he was 80. Despite ongoing health issues, he became an MP for South Ayrshire.
“He was a great man but seldom spoke about his experiences during the war except when he was getting older.
“He could remember everything about his flying despite his memory failing him.
“I always feel particularly sorry for his poor mother, my grandmother. I have a photo of her with my father in uniform just as he was about to go off to serve his country.
“She is dressed in black as she’d just lost one of her sons in the war and she was already a widow. It must have been just awful watching another son go off to fight.”
One family, the Red Cross and the First World War
While the Red Cross was supporting Amanda’s father, two of her family members also got involved with the war effort.
While the men went off to fight, Eva MacAndrew, Amanda’s aunt, and Amy Anderson, her husband’s cousin, volunteered for the British Red Cross.
They were among more than 90,000 volunteers who worked in hospitals at home and overseas.
Amy Anderson first served as a nurse in the Waverley Abbey Military Hospital in Farnham. Later, she worked in the Astoria Hospital, Paris, where she was awarded the ‘Medaille d’Honneur’ for her services.
After the war, Amy went on to become a president of the British Red Cross.
A connection lasting a century
Amanda followed in her footsteps, becoming president of the British Red Cross in Buckinghamshire in 2008. She has also been a trustee of the charity for four years.
As an active member of the Tiffany Circle, a women’s group that supports the British Red Cross, she is an enthusiastic fundraiser as well. She has even abseiled off the County Hall in Aylesbury for the Red Cross!
“My time with the Red Cross has been most rewarding,” Amanda said.
“I have met so many interesting people and I appreciate enormously the principles of the organisation, which are very important to me.
“I enjoy that there is a long connection with my family and the Red Cross going back more than a century.”