©InfoFollowing the outbreak of war in August 1914, the British Red Cross and the Order of St John formed the Joint War Committee to pool monetary and human resources and to work together under the protected emblem of the red cross.
Members of the British Red Cross and the Order of St John were organised into Voluntary Aid Detachments (the term VAD later came to be used for an individual member as well as a detachment). All members were trained in first aid and others trained in nursing, cookery and hygiene and sanitation.
Helping the wounded and ill
Throughout the war VADs worked in hospitals, convalescent homes, rest stations, packing centres, medical supply depots and work parties. The Joint War Committee organised the volunteers alongside technical and professional staff. The Committee also supplied the machinery and mechanisms to provide these services in Britain and in the conflict areas of Europe, the Middle East, Russia and east Africa.
The Joint War Committee was the first to supply motorised ambulances to the battlefields. The first convoy arrived in France in September 1914 and proved much more effective in the war terrain than the horse-drawn ambulances used in previous conflicts.
Near the end of the war, VADs also had to deal with the devastating Spanish flu which swept through military camps and hospitals. Some of the volunteers even sacrificed their lives for their patients as they caught the flu themselves.
Records of wounded and missing soldiers
©InfoCentres for recording the names of the wounded and missing were set up in France. British Red Cross searchers were authorised to search villages where fighting had taken place and also to search in hospitals.
This work marked the start of the tracing and message service, which remains a vital part of the Red Cross' work today.
The activities of the Joint War Committee are recorded in "Reports by the Joint War Committee and the Joint War Finance Committee of the British Red Cross Society and the Order of St John of Jerusalem on Voluntary Aid rendered to the Sick and Wounded at Home and Abroad and to British Prisoners of War, 1914-1919" (HMSO, 1921).
See our First World War picture gallery
Find out about the auxiliary hospitals we provided during the wars
Read about our role in the inter-war years