The Territorial and Reserve Forces Act, 1907, enabled a scheme for voluntary aid organisations to be established in England and Wales.  These organisations were formed in August 1909 and became known as Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs).  They were attached variously to the British Red Cross Society, the Order of St John or the Territorial Forces Association.  Aunt was attached to the Order of St John.

VADs played a useful role.  The majority of their members were women, most men having been called up for military service.  The Detachments were numbered by the War Office; male companies were given odd numbers and female even numbers.  Women’s Detachments were smaller than the men’s, with one Commandant (either male or female), a Lady Superintendent (preferably a trained nurse) and 20 women (four of whom had to be trained cooks).

VADs worked alongside qualified nurses during WW1 (1914-1918) and WW2 (1939-1945).  Trained by the British Red Cross in first aid, bed-making, feeding a patient, giving a patient a blanket bath, and keeping a ward clean, their role was mainly a supportive one as nursing assistants.  However, the rules of their constitution were elastic and they undertook a great variety of work –  as cleaners, cooks, ambulance drivers and administrators – according to the needs arising.




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