Lest We Forget
Voluntary Aid Detachment (V.A.D.)
In 1914 there was no Ministry of Health and no one had overall control of the hospitals, with the terrible slaughter of servicemen in France and Belgium, the need for convalescent hospitals became urgent. The British Red Cross Society, founded in 1870, had linked up with the order of St John of Jerusalem in 1909 and formed the organisation known as the Voluntary Aid Detachment (V.A.D.).
Following the linkup in 1909 many middle or upper class women offered to give up their time to perform community work, mainly in hospitals. This did not mean that all volunteers where upper class women and not all V.A.D. work occurred in hospitals. At the outbreak of war there were already a number of V.A.D. Auxiliary Nurses working in hospitals.
When Britain declared war on Germany in 1914, the first effect of that declaration was panic food buying, many local shops reported selling out completely. Once people stopped panicking the whole community rallied around to do everything they could to support the war effort. The war brought many changes and the lives of the British people would never be quite the same again. Before the outbreak of war some V.A.D. Nurses had taken short courses at the end of which they were awarded a certificate. Qualified nurses had three years training and soon became suspicious of the short V.A.D. courses. Inevitably quarrels broke out and from time to time there was open conflict. These disagreements were even printed in "Nursing Journals" reporting the V.A.D nurses as "ignorant amateurs".
With the outbreak of war more and more nurses were needed and it was soon evident that some nurses had certificates and were well qualified while others had no qualifications at all, inevitably the value of the certificates was also questioned. The task of sorting out the problems fell to the joint war committee. The topic of registration had become a tenuous area of personal feuds and interests; this could only be broken by a new initiative from another source, the war, which was to bring many changes.
The old traditions of nursing had been shaken forcing nurses to adapt to new conditions, and, despite the conflicts of professionals versus amateurs, began to work together for mutual benefit. There was a new spirit in which people began to accept change for the sake of unity in the war effort. It was this unity that the Joint War Committee clearly set out to exploit introducing a proposal for a new type of nursing organisation.
V.A.D. Nurses, using the social influence available to them, organised transportation to the conflict in France to nurse the sick and wounded soldiers. This distinctly carved out a clear role for the V.A.D. workers; they became very active in the war effort, assisting as nurses or orderlies in hospitals at home and in all the major theatres of war.
The new spirit, engendered by the war, brought volunteer after volunteer to do what they could for the war effort. V.A.D. Volunteers also became fundraisers, cooks, kitchen maids, clerks, ward-maids, and ambulance drivers.