Saturday, 5 July 2008

Australian VADs

There doesn't seem to be a great deal of information out there about the part played by Australian and Canadian VADs during the Great War, so I was interested to find this British Red Cross Society document which gives an account of the work of an Australian VAD detachment in England. I'm always puzzled that while Britain was struggling to staff its own hospitals; had few spare trained nurses, and was pushed to the limits to find suitable VADs to augment the numbers, the Canadians and Australians remained unwilling to release some of their own trained staff to the British and employ VADs to fill the gaps. The writer of the article sounds a bit puzzled too.


36, Grosvenor Place,

29th September 1919

The Australian Imperial Voluntary Aid Detachment was inaugurated in March 1918. Office accommodation was provided at the Australian Red Cross, 36 Grosvenor Place, and every possible assistance was afforded by Lady Ampthill, Colonel Murdoch and Lady Mitchell, to make the scheme a success.

Members who joined the detachment were assured of official recognition, their status being acknowledged by the Imperial Government and the Australian Red Cross Authorities. Therefore it was thought that the many Australian women who were working in England and France would be glad to be united in one organisation, the officers of which would be responsible for their welfare and be pleased to help them in all difficulties connected with their various duties. There was never at any time any intention to disturn members who were already on duty in British Hospitals, or workers with the Australian Red Cross. There were at liberty to join or not, just as they pleased.

In October 1916 Australia had sent over thirty V.A.Ds. to England. These ladies were all members of detachments in Australia and were lent to the British Red Cross to help nurse the wounded in the British Hospitals. These members, together with the various Red Cross workers at Headquarters, formed the nucleus of the detachment. The ranks were quickly filled, new members enrolling daily and officers were appointed. The Uniform worn by the members is the regulation dress of the British Red Cross Society, with the distinctive badges granted by the A.I.F. Authorities, i.e. the bronze “Rising Sun” with the Red Cross in the centre. The hat badge was the same as that of the Joint War Committee and Princess Mary's Detachment.

Generally speaking, all detachments are divided into two classes, Nursing Members and General Service Members, and the latter class included all descriptions of clerical workers, motor drivers, orderly workers in hospitals etc. For various reasons, the Australian Medical Authorities declined to admit nursing V.A.Ds. into their hospitals. This decision was difficult to understand, in view of the fact that Australian Hospitals in France were chiefly filled by British wounded and the Australian wounded were scattered in various British hospitals where V.A.Ds. were freely employed. General Howes had decided to employ V.A.D. General Service Workers at the 1st Australian Auxiliary Hospital, Southall. Very few Australian women did this kind of work in the hospitals and the members for these duties were mainly drawn from British Detachments. Arrangements were made, however, in the case of any Australian girl wishing to do this work for her to be given the first opportunity where any vacancy occurred.

Australian girls being barred from nursing in their own hospitals and wishing to do this form of work had to do it in the British hospitals in England and France. That they carried out their duties most successfully is evident from the reports of the Matrons of the several hospitals. I regret to report that Miss Kathleen Adele Brennan (N.S.W.) who had done excellent work, died on the 24th November 1918 while serving at the North Evington War Hospital, Leicester.

At Australian Red Cross Headquarters the members were divided into five sections – the Wounded, Missing and Enquiry Bureau; Prisoners of War Department; Entertainment Department; Hospital Visitors and Supplies, and the Newspaper Department. The Wounded, Missing and Enquiry Bureau was under the able direction of Miss Vera Deakin (Victoria) Assistant Commandant, with Miss Johnson and Miss Lily Wrybrow (Victoria) as Quartermasters. After the return of Miss Deakin and Miss Johnson to Australia, Miss Wrybrow was promoted Assistant Commandant, and carried on the work in a most efficient matter. The Prisoners of War Department, under the splendid organisation of Miss Mary Chomley (Victoria) as Commandant, and Miss Pauline Reid (W.A.) the General Service Superintendent, did work which will never be forgotten. The Entertainment Committee under Miss Florence A. Aikman, the Quartermaster and Assistant Secretary to the Committee, worked exceedingly hard to make the entertainments the success they undoubtedly were. The fourth section consisted of members of the detachment in charge of the Australian Red Cross Stores in various hospitals and Hospital Visitors. The Newspaper Section under the direction of Mrs. Aimee Hewson (Asst. Quartermaster) and Miss Florence Henty (Asst. Quartermaster) worked wonderfully and these ladies deserve particular thanks for their devotion to their entirely voluntary duties. The work was particularly well done.

It is not possible to speak too highly of the way V.A.Ds. have responded to the unique opportunity of training and practical work under supervision. At its maximum strength the membership of the Detachment was 186, comprising 37 officers and 149 members (nursing, clerical and general service). As explaining the large number of officers in proportion to members it must be remembered that V.A.D. officers were often in command of a large number of civilian workers in addition to V.A.Ds.

The advantages of the formation of the Australian detachment were apparent in many ways. The conditions under which the members were working and the accommodation provided by the several institutions where they were engaged were investigated and where necessary efforts were made for their improvement. Members were assisted to find suitable work for their several attainments, and encouraged to keep in touch with Australian Headquarters and each other. As a result of being attached to an organised unit they obtained privileges from which they would otherwise have been debarred. We have been able to render much assistance to members during the difficult process of repatriation, and in recognition of their long and arduous service special privileges were secured for Australian V.A.Ds. which have been greatly appreciated by the Members of the Detachment.

I cannot conclude this report without saying how greatly I appreciate the privilege of being associated with such a splendid band of workers, who have rendered such helpful and devoted services at great personal sacrifice and often under very trying conditions. They have thoroughly deserved the appreciation of those who have benefited by their efforts during this long and terrible war.

Rose H. Robinson

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