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British Red Cross VADs in World War One Project

Our most recent project is probably our most ambitious. The Centre for the Historical Record (CHR) has teamed up with the British Red Cross (BRC) to produce a database of 250,000 volunteers who worked for the BRC during the first world war. It is a massive undertaking, involving the transcription of nearly one quarter of a million 5×3 index cards (front and back), which hold information on individuals who signed up to help with the war effort, providing a wide range of services from nursing and ambulance driving in the theatre of war, to knitting socks and blankets back at home. The work is being funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

THE HLF funding is worth £40,000 to the University and is provided to enable the digitisation of information relating to the VADs, which include names, locations, types of work undertaken and the number of hours dedicated. The CHR's role is to create a database of this fascinating collection. The BRC came to us because of our reputation for carrying out similar projects for other organisations (such as Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, and King's College Archive), and our commitment to making historical records accessible to as wide an audience as possible, with no pay-wall barriers. As with our other digitising projects, this project also relies on the contributions of volunteer transcribers, working mainly online, to produce the database. Our existing team of local volunteers, who have worked with us on projects over the last ten years or so, are, of course, working on the project, but in order to meet targets we have had to increase our volunteer community by more than 10 fold. We now have over 400 volunteers (some of located overseas) signed up to the project.

We started the transcription process in July 2014, using a great website specially designed for the job by our long-term web consultant Oliver Cope, working with the CHR team and BRC archivist. Our target is to complete 300 cards a week to meet the project deadline of December 2015. We are optimistic of achieving this but are always looking for additional help. Anyone interested in joining the effort should get in touch with the team at Kingston or Jemma Lee, archivist at the British Red Cross.

The database is being released in weekly updates via the British Red Cross website, and is providing amazing insight into the contribution of non-combatants to the British war effort. As a large proportion of volunteers were women it will particularly reveal the significant contribution women made to the war effort both at home and in the field of battle. The collection contains details of some famous VADs, such as Vera Brittain, novelist and poet, Naomi Mitchison and most famous of all, Agatha Christie. But of more importance arguably, is the detail it will reveal of the contributions of less famous VADs; ordinary citizens who just wanted to make their contribution to the war effort.

Centre for the Historical Record

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
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