Monday, 31 July 2017

So did you have a relative in the Red Cross during the Great War?

Well if you think you did then the Red Cross has just completed its task of putting all those who served on an online data base.*

Nurses at Willow Bank, Manchester, circa 1915
It includes the scans and transcriptions of over 236,000 paper index cards, each providing details of Voluntary Aid Detachment personnel, known as ‘VADs’, who signed up to help sick and injured servicemen.

The transcription is complete and the Red Cross is now in the process of uploading all the records.

So for anyone wanting to check out a relative the database will be invaluable.

But for those researching the history of a Red Cross hospital there is much here that will also be very useful.

Some of the staff lists of establishments have survived and here in the north west they include a book published by the Red Cross in 1916 and one in 1919.**

All of which means for the Red Cross Hospital in Chorlton-cum-Hardy situated in the Sunday school hall of the Baptist Church it has been possible to discover the lives of some who volunteered.

During that first year of the war 159 volunteers worked at the hospital all and but four came from the township.

Ann Higginbotham aged 22 was the daughter of Alfred and Emily whose family had farmed in Chorlton-cum-Hardy since the 1840’s.  Others like Harry Kemp were new comers.

He had opened two Chemist shops at the beginning of the 20th century and had been elected to the City Council in 1904.

Many of those who served were from the same family.  In some cases a husband and wife volunteered and in another it was a mother and her daughters who gave up time.

In the Kitchen at Heaton Mersey, circa 1914
There were also sisters and brothers acting in various capacities, with some family members helping in the kitchen and others as either nurses or orderlies.

In total there were eighteen families involved.

Some would also be touched by the tragedy of the war.  Thomas Ellwood, who wrote a history of the township and served on the committee, lost his son Thomas in February 1917.

As did Mrs Emma Worlidge who was on the hospital committee, and acted as the Housekeeper. Her son Oswald also died in the February of 1917.

They were a mixed bunch ranging from Mrs Fannie Jane Barlow a mother of two whose husband was an accountant, to Miss Bates whose father was a coal porter and worked in a laundry along with Sidney Bolt who was employed in his father’s shop and Miss Ethel Bedford who was a school teacher.

All were engaged in the November of 1914 when the hospital was opened.  Mrs Barlow who by then was 42 served as a nurse while Miss Bates and Bedford worked in the kitchen and Mr Bolt was an orderly.

It is easy to forget that much of the work done by people like Miss Bates and Mr Bolt were carried out after a day at work, a fact which was not missed by Miss Bowser in her book on the work of the Red Cross.

In one hospital  she visited just outside the city “the entire work was undertaken by mill girls.  

It was a small Hospital and the skilled nursing could be done by one trained Sister who was in charge.  

Under her she had a very large staff of girls and women who mostly had to earn their daily bread by working in factories from early morning until evening.

These women live hard lives, but they ungrudgingly give up hours from their nights in order to get up at five in the morning and go to the Hospital to scrub and to clean until they are due at the factory.  

Again at the other end of the day after they have done long hours at monotonous and often arduous work, they go into the Hospital on their way home and give another couple of hours to the serving of the evening meal, making the beds, and the general tidying up of the words.  
The work during the day is divided amongst the women who have homes and children to tend and can only spare an hour or two away from them.” 

So that database will I expect be trawled over by lots of people.

Pictures; Willow Bank Red Cross Hospital, circa 1914 courtesy of David Harrop, the kitchens, the Red Cross Hospital, Heaton Mersey circ 1914, T Everett-Innes, from the collection of David Harrop

* Red Cross First World War volunteers,

** Red Cross Hospital, An Illustrated Account of the Work of the Branch During the First Year of the War, East Lancashire Branch of the Red Cross Society, 1916 and 2nd Western General Hospital, Manchester 1919

***Bowser, Thekla, The Story of the British V.A.D Work in the Great War, 1917

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