Letter: Heritage research with the Red Cross

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Last Sunday, November 11, the people of Kintyre commemorated the centenary of the end of the First World War.

The British Red Cross has a near 150-year history of supporting people in the UK during times of crisis.

Between 1914 and 1918, more than 90,000 people volunteered for the organisation, working as Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs) in auxiliary hospitals at home and overseas.

Most of these volunteers were women and included such notable figures as the author Agatha Christie, campaigner Vera Brittain, Wimbledon champion Lottie Dod and suffragist Sophia Duleep Singh.

However, the vast majority of First World War volunteers were ordinary women, and men, who cared for the wounded and sick, drove ambulances and acted as clerks, cooks and storekeepers.

They gave dedicated, compassionate and skilled humanitarian service at a time of national crisis.

The role of women during the war, in particular, led to significant social change with women, driven by their war experiences, seeking greater opportunities in the workplace and securing the same voting rights as men in 1928.

Given the sheer number of people who volunteered as VADs during the First World War, it seems likely that many of your readers will have ancestors who gave service during the conflict.

And, today, thanks to the popularity of genealogical websites and TV programmes like Who Do You Think You Are? many are keen to trace their family trees and better understand the lives and war-time roles of their ancestors.

Traditionally, much of that focus has been on the men who served, and in hundreds of thousands of cases, lost their lives on the front line.

Courier readers can use The British Red Cross’ new online VAD database to find out if their ancestors, especially women relatives, performed a civilian role during the war.

Searchable by name, location and occupation, the database includes service records and, in some cases, photographs.

Anyone can access the website at https://vad.redcross.org.uk/and potentially discover new and illuminating facets to their family history.

Dr Alasdair Brooks,

British Red Cross Heritage,