Voluntary Aid Detachment
The Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) referred to a voluntary unit providing field nursing services, mainly in hospitals, in the United Kingdom and various other countries in the British Empire. The most important periods of operation for these units were during World War I and World War II.
The VAD system 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. Of the 74,000 VAD members in 1914, two-thirds were women and girls.
At the outbreak of the First World War VAD members eagerly offered their service to the war effort. The British Red Cross was reluctant to allow civilian women a role in overseas hospitals: most volunteers were of the middle and upper classes and unaccustomed to hardship and traditional hospital discipline. Military authorities would not accept VADs at the front line.
Katharine Furse took two VADs to France in October 1914, restricting them to serve as canteen workers and cooks. Caught under fire in a sudden battle the VADs were pressed into emergency hospital service and acquitted themselves well. The growing shortage of trained nurses opened the door for VADs in overseas military hospitals. Furse was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the detachments and restrictions were removed. Female volunteers over the age of twenty-three and with more than three months' hospital experience were accepted for overseas service.
VADs were an uneasy addition to military hospitals' rank and order. They lacked the advanced skill and discipline of professional trained nurses and were often critical of the nursing profession. Relations improved as the war stretched on: VAD members increased their skill and efficiency and trained nurses were more accepting of the VADs' contributions. During four years of war 38,000 VADs worked in hospitals and served as ambulance drivers and cooks. VADs served near the Western Front and in Mesopotamia and Gallipoli. VAD hospitals were also opened in most large towns in Britain. Later, VADs were also sent to the Eastern Front. They provided an invaluable source of bedside aid in the war effort. Many were decorated for distinguished service.
Famous VAD nurses
Famous VAD nurses include:
- Enid Bagnold, British author of the novel National Velvet, on which the 1944 film with Elizabeth Taylor was based. Her account of her experiences are related in her memoir A Diary Without Dates published in 1918.
- Mary Borden, Anglo-American novelist
- Vera Brittain, British author of the best-selling 1933 memoir Testament of Youth, recounting her experiences during World War I
- Agatha Christie, British author who briefly details her VAD experiences in her posthumously published Autobiography
- E.M. Delafield, British author of the "Diary of a Provincial Lady" series and some 30 other novels; her experiences working at the Exeter Voluntary Aid Hospital provided her with material for one of her most popular novels, The War Workers, published in 1918 
- Amelia Earhart, American aviation pioneer
- Hattie Jacques, English comedy actress
- Violet Jessop, British ocean liner stewardess 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 Red Cross nurse when it sank in 1916.
- Naomi Mitchison, Scottish writer
- Olivia Robertson, British author and co-founder of the Fellowship of Isis
- Freya Stark, explorer and travel writer.
- May Wedderburn Cannan, British poet
- Anna Zinkeisen, Scottish painter and illustrator
- Doris Zinkeisen, Scottish painter, commercial artist and theatrical designer
- Jessie Traill, Australian painter 
Fictional VAD nurses
Two Ernest Hemingway novels feature VADs:
Agatha Christie had several characters as VADs in her books including:
- Cynthia Murdock in her first 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.
Examples by other authors:
- Mildred Haycock (nėe Blaides), who features in the novel sequence A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell.
- The novel Not So Quiet . . . by Helen Zenna Smith (a pseudonym for Evadne Price) recounts the experiences of VAD ambulance drivers who evacuated the casualties of World War I.
- The character of Georgina Worsley becomes a VAD in the fourth series of Upstairs, Downstairs, a fictional narrative based on the diaries of Lady Cynthia Asquith who was a VAD in the First World War.
- In the eighth chronological book of the Anne of Green Gables series, Rilla of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery character Faith Meredith is a VAD. This is one of the few contemporary books to show the Canadian point-of-view during WWI.
- The character Celia Coplestone in T.S. Eliot's play The Cocktail Party (1949) becomes a VAD nurse after her failed affair with Edward Chamberlayne.
- The character of Lady Sybil Crawley becomes a VAD in the second series of Downton Abbey, the TV series that follows the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants.
- The novels A Girl Called Thursday and the sequel A Promise to Keep by Lilian Harry, also the character Val from the Burracombe Series of novels by the same author.
- The book My Story (Scholastic UK): War Nurse, the main character Kitty Langley becomes a VAD.
- Molly O'Sullivan (Ruth Bradley) is an Irish VAD nursing assistant in World War I who becomes a companion of the Eighth Doctor in the 2012 Big Finish boxset Dark Eyes.
- Heather ("Hattie") Brown becomes a VAD working in a hospital for injured troops in the novel The Two Pound Tram by William Newton (Bloomsbury, 2003).
- Alexandra ("Sasha") Fox runs away from her family to become a VAD nurse in France during WWI to save her brother in the bookThe Foreshadowing by Marcus Sedgwick.
- Mary Lamington who worked at a hospital in Isham in the Cotswolds and was later to become Richard Hannay's wife in John Buchan's Mr Standfast
- Katherine Trevelyan, Rosalie Berwick and Flora Marshall in the 2014 WW1 Drama The Crimson Field
- A VAD in France, Olive Dent, Diggory Press, ISBN 978-1-905363-09-4
- History of the VAD
- Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs) at Spartacus.com Accessed May 2008
- The Life of a Provincial Lady by Violet Powell, p. 32
- "Paintings by Doris Zinkeisen (1898-1991)". British Red Cross. Retrieved 17 April 2010.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Voluntary Aid Detachments.|
- Digitized British Red Cross VAD Index Cards
- History of the VAD
- Memoirs of a World War II VAD
- Caring on the Home Front - Volunteer memories from World War II
- Relationship between VADs and professionally trained nurses in WW1
- A Diary Without Dates'
- The Vera Brittain Collection in The First World War Poetry Digital Archive by Oxford University contains images of Brittain's War poetry manuscripts, letters, diary, plus a searchable text corpora.