Saturday, 14 November 2009

VADs - One hundred years

This year is the one hundredth anniversary of the formation of the Voluntary Aid movement in the United Kingdom. On the 16th August 1909 the War Office issued its 'Scheme for the Organisation of Volunatary Aid in England and Wales' which set up both male and female detachments to fill gaps in the Territorial medical services, with a similar scheme following in Scotland in December of that year. Somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000 women served as VADs during the Great War, the majority of them unpaid - probably the largest single example of voluntary service ever seen in the United Kingdom. In addition to working as nurses in almost every theatre of war, they worked as dispensers, cooks, drivers, clerks, storewomen, orderlies, waitresses and laboratory assistants.

Has their contribution been forgotten? In an age when the story of the Great War soldier has reached a level of great importance, the story of the service of women at that time has remained low-key - they continue to be seen as the 'also-rans'and often viewed as being of more use as a morale booster for the troops than as a group of skilled and hard-working women who put their own lives on hold for the good of their country. Family historians who find a VAD in their family tree are usually rather proud of them, and interested to find out what their contribution was during the war, but in general their part in the story has been written out. Last week included both the day when we 'remember' and also the announcement that nurses would, in future, need a degree to do their job. No degrees for the VADs - they were well-bred, educated women, with drive and integrity; with the resourcefulness to see what needed to be done without being told; with compassion, and an inbred ability to cope with the unexpected. I hope that today's young women who enter nurse training can put claim to the same attributes.


  1. Yes of course it is 100 years. I should have rememebered that. Is the event being commemorated in any way? Any new publications in the offing?

  2. It does seem to have passed by without anyone noticing - except the New Cavendish Club. Not even the BRCS seems to have mentioned it on their web site - perhaps a sign of even more erasing of women's history? Maybe the two world wars have dominated the movement as a whole, and come the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War the story of the VADs will pick up again.