The Red Cross have now made their World War I collection of records partly available with an index of World War I volunteers.
At the outbreak of war in 1914, the Red Cross formed a Joint War Committee with the Order of St John, raised funds, organised volunteers and paid staff to provide equipment and services in the UK and the theatres of war. Everyone was trained in first aid, some trained in nursing, cookery, hygiene and sanitation.
Most of the women became nurses, initially in hospitals in Britain, but as the casualties mounted, more were sent overseas to casualty stations on or near the battlefield or to hospitals. Many people offered their houses as convalescent homes for the wounded or as auxiliary hospitals; some town halls and primary schools were used too.
There were over 3,000 auxiliary hospitals across the UK. They were staffed by a commandant, a quartermaster, a matron, a cook and nurses. Local GPs often volunteered for work in the hospitals in addition to their ordinary work. The nurses were all volunteers, often they were too young or old or had family commitments to serve full-time. Male volunteers usually drove or accompanied the ill or wounded to and from hospitals, many acted as stretcher-bearers, a lot were sent to France as ambulance drivers, some being wounded in enemy action.
Volunteers also collected clothing and books for soldiers in hospitals, raised funds, made bandages and splints, acted as cooks, store-keepers, worked in the offices and just as importantly, provided food and cigarettes to soldiers arriving by ambulance train. One of my great-aunts married a soldier she met on such duty.
A lot of people were displaced by the war, in 1915, volunteers started visiting hospitals looking for people who had been recorded as missing; work that the Red Cross is still involved in. By the end of the war in 1918, 90,000 volunteers had worked in the UK or abroad. There were lots of famous volunteers including Agatha Christie and Vera Brittain, perhaps some of your family were volunteers.
To find out, use the index of World War I Red Cross volunteers..
You can search by forename, surname, location or hospital or role. The initial search takes you to a search results page that shows name, county, date of engagement, age when engaged. Clicking on the name takes you to a detailed page about that person.
The information provided comes from record cards and may include name, address, age, character, service dates, hospital, rank, pay, duties, commission, honours awarded. Pictures of the cards are also included. Annoyingly, first names weren’t always recorded, some just gave initials.