Voluntary Aid Detachment

Voluntary Aid Detachment

The Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) was a voluntary organisation providing auxiliary nursing services, mainly in hospitals, in the United Kingdom and various other countries in the British Empire. The organisation's most important period of operation was during World War I and World War II.

The organisation was founded in 1909 with the help of the Red Cross and Order of St. John. By the summer of 1914 there were over 2,500 Voluntary Aid Detachments in Britain. Each individual volunteer was called a detachment, or simply a VAD. Of the 74,000 VADs in 1914, two-thirds were women and girls. *

At the outbreak of the First World War, nurses were in short supply, and the VAD supplemented the work of registered nurses. Although generally looked down upon by more highly trained nursing staff , they nonetheless provided an invaluable source of aid as war nurses to the war effort. they were very young and all of the nurses saw peoples wounds that were very horrible. some of the men had even mental disorders.

Katharine Furse took two VADs to France soon after the outbreak of the First World War. She established a hospital at Boulogne and returned to London where she became Commander-in-Chief of the organisation. During the next four years 38,000 VADs worked as assistant nurses, ambulance drivers and cooks. VAD hospitals were also opened in most large towns in Britain.

Before 1915 the military authorities would not accept VADs at the front-line. This restriction was later removed and women volunteers over the age of twenty-three and with more than three months experience, were allowed to go to the Western Front, Mesopotamia and Gallipoli. Later VADs were also sent to the Eastern Front.

Some women acted as letter writers for soldiers who were either too ill or too illiterate to write their own letters.

Famous VAD nurses

Famous VAD nurses included novelists Agatha Christie, Mary Borden and Naomi Mitchison, writers Vera Brittain, and Kathleen Haddon, and war poet May Wedderburn Cannan.

Violet Jessop trained as a VAD nurse after the outbreak of World War I. She had been a stewardess aboard the RMS Titanic when it sank in 1912 and was also aboard the hospital ship HMHS Britannic (The Titanic's sister ship) as a British Red Cross nurse aboard when it sank in 1916.

Two Ernest Hemingway novels feature VADs: Brett Ashley from The Sun Also Rises is a former VAD, and Catherine Barkley from A Farewell to Arms serves as a VAD in a Milan hospital where the protagonist meets and falls in love with her. Christie had several characters as VADs in her books including Cynthia Murdock in her first ever novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920), recurring character Prudence "Tuppence" Beresford and Nell Vereker in her 1930 novel Giant's Bread, written under the pseudonym of Mary Westmacott. This latter novel features several chapters which detail Nell's training, work and the attitude of regular nursing staff towards her. Christie also briefly details her own VAD experiences in her posthumously published 1977 Autobiography.

The character of Georgina Worsley becomes a VAD in the fourth season of Upstairs, Downstairs after witnessing the arrival of a troop train of wounded soldiers at a London railway station in the episode Women shall not Weep. The narrative of the episode was based on the diaries of Lady Cynthia Asquith who was a VAD in the First World War. Further episodes covered Georgina's training and work in this role.


  • A VAD in France, Olive Dent, Diggory Press, ISBN 978-1905363094


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