Thursday, 3 February 2011

She Came from Home

I recently came across a book written in 1916 by actor Harley Granville Barker about his time serving with the British Red Cross Society in France. He was, perhaps, a rather unlikely volunteer. The book starts with an introduction by Sir Frederick Treves, and I found his final few paragraphs very touching - an emotional tribute to the thousands of women who also volunteered their services during the Great War:

'It is said that the Great War has produced no Florence Nightingale. That may be so; but it has produced a much esteemed and lovable lady, hitherto unknown in any war, who has earned for herself a reputation little less than that attained by the great pioneer of Red Cross work. She is known by the curious title of 'the V.A.D.' She works as a volunteer. She is quite a new being, yet she represents the womanhood of England, the tender-hearted, unselfish, capable woman, whose sole desire is to help the wounded soldier. She seeks no glory. She has no name. She is merely a 'V.A.D.'

She will work as a cook, as a housemaid, as a kitchen-maid, and none will beat her. She will carry trays all day and be proud of it. She will live in a railway carriage and there keep a buffet for tired men. She will tramp a station platform night and day if only she can give some comfort to a sick man in a passing train. She will nurse as far as her abilities will permit, and her abilities are considerable. She will feel it an honour to be a ward maid if only she can help to make things comfortable for the patients she scarcely sees. The men are devoted to her, and in that devotion she finds the sole reward she seeks.

One little episode that I saw in France will remain in my mind as the embodiment of the spirit of Red Cross work. A V.A.D. was holding a cup to the lips of a dying man. Looking at her with a dim curiosity he asked faintly,
"Where do you come from?"
"I come from Home," she replied
A smile spread over his face and in a while he was dead. Such was the secret of his last pleasant thought - she came from Home.'

Introduction to: The Red Cross in France: Granville Barker, Hodder and Stoughton, 1916.

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