Nurses are another group of unsung heroes, and during war you can never have too many. Following the Boer War, the war office realized they needed backup when it came to medical services. But to train new recruits meant time and money, two things desperately lacking when all-out war explodes. And so in 1909 the Voluntary Aid Detachment, or VAD, was formed. Thank goodness for this forward thinking because when WWI broke out in 1914 these ladies were in high demand.
Though middle and upper class women volunteered in droves, their cushioned lives were in for a rude awakening at the less than stellar battle field conditions. Where were the lower class women you ask? Only the rich could afford to pay for the training, and of course the well-to-do parents didn’t want their debutante daughters mingling with the plebs. Guess not all is fair in love and war.
At first, VADs were forbidden near the front lines and relegated to cooks and canteen workers, but respect for their abilities skyrocketed once a few got caught by surprise in battle and proved themselves worthy under fire. Once the wounded men started pouring in from the front lines, VADs were invited to work alongside the shortage of nurses. But being so young and untrained, these Very Adorable Darlings often lacked the skill and discipline of professional nurses. Don’t worry, by the end of the war everyone was getting along, and many of these brave ladies were decorated for distinguished services.
Most VADs worked in military hospitals or convalescent homes performing general nursing duties such as blanket baths, making beds, feeding, and first aid. Some even drove ambulances like the FANYs, and wrote letters for the soldiers. May Bradford, the wife of John Rose Bradford, Physician to the British Expeditionary Force, later recalled how she educated men on the treatment of women: “To one man I said, ‘Shall I begin the letter with my dear wife?’ He quietly answered: ‘That sounds fine, but she’ll be wondering I never said that before.’
A few famous VADs:
Enid Bagnold – British author of National Velvet
Vera Brittain – British author of the best-selling 1933 memoir Testament of Youth
Agatha Christie – British author
Amelia Earhart – American aviator
Violet Jessop – survivor of the Titanic and the Britannic, and collision of the Olympic