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Did your relatives volunteer during the First World War?

3 January 2014

To mark the upcoming centenary, the British Red Cross is digitising the records of all those who volunteered during the Great War – that’s almost a quarter of a million people.

Thanks to a generous grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the information will be made available to the public for the first time.

Work will soon begin to digitise thousands of index cards stored at the Red Cross’ London headquarters. The first batch of index cards will be online in time for the start of the centenary in August, and new material will be uploaded on a monthly basis.

Selfless volunteers

So just who were these volunteers? Leading up to the First World War, many voluntary aid detachments were formed. These comprised volunteers from the British Red Cross, Order of St. John and Friends Ambulance Association.

These brave and selfless volunteers (known affectionately as VADs) went on to help thousands of casualties, often putting their own lives at risk.

Fittingly, the Red Cross now plans to recruit another 100 volunteers to help with the £80,000 digitisation project. 

Famous names

The index card list also has some very interesting names tucked away. Famous former volunteers include author Agatha Christie, novelist and poet Naomi Mitchison, and writer and feminist Vera Brittain.

Phil Talbot, director of communications, said: “All these volunteers – whether they worked in auxiliary hospitals, convalescent homes or drove ambulances – played a vital role during the Great War.”

He added: "The index cards are a unique source of historical information. As we approach the centenary, we believe this is a fitting way to pay tribute to those who gave their time in non-military service.”

Find out more

If you wish to find out more about this project, e-mail

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