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VAD Hospitals in World War 1

February 17, 2014

Contingency plans for war were being made at least five years before the First World War actually started. In 1909 the War Office in England was wrestling with the possibility of England being invaded from Europe. The Territorial Force was our last line of home defence but how would the sick and wounded be cared for in the event of such an invasion? The War Office’s solution was the ‘Scheme for the Organisation of Voluntary Aid in England and Wales.’ This was to be set up as part of the Territorial Force but to operate under the British Red Cross Society with the help of the St John’s Ambulance Service. The word ‘aid’ today has connotations of food and supporting the poor, but at the beginning of the twentieth century it meant first aid.

County by county across the country people responded to the call to attend first aid classes. True, this was an order from the government but its adoption was greatly helped by the upper echelons of society being in charge of the organisations involved, namely the Territorial Force, the Red Cross and the County. In Staffordshire, for example, Lord Dartmouth was the Lord Lieutenant of the County and his wife was the President of the Staffordshire Red Cross Society. So when Lord Dartmouth introduced the Voluntary Aid scheme, his wife was almost bound to support it and where the upper classes led, their staff and tenants followed.

The VAD scheme, as one newspaper reported in 1909 was a formidable one, but the success in recruiting volunteers was astonishing. By 1911, 24,000 people had joined the VAD. The groups took their work seriously and trained hard. They also encouraged others to join them by giving demonstrations, for example at Trentham Park in 1912. They held competitions and even enacted possible local battles. One such battle was imagined to have taken place between Apley and Linley in June 1911. The casualties were to be taken to various locations including Worfield 42 which was at Norton under the supervision of Helen Corbett of Stableford Hall, near Worfield. It would be just four years later that real casualties would be arriving to be cared for by Miss Corbett’s team, not at Norton, but at the newly built Worfield Recreation Room.

Eleven casualties arrived from the Front in February 1915 and by October the convalescent hospital in the Recreation Room had its full quota of patients, whatever that was. Local people were requested to donate gifts of food and tobacco (all the funds were raised by the British Red Cross.) The grounds of the local Halls, Davenport and Wyken were made available for the men’s pleasure and car rides were provided.

It is hard to imagine how hospitals would have coped with the influx of wounded from the Continent of Europe without these VAD hopsitals. Thank goodness for a contingency plan being put in place which could be implemented relatively quickly. For the men involved it must have seemed like heaven being transported to a place like Worfield, compared with the ghastly experiences they had recently suffered. The decision to set up a series of what were, in effect, convalescent hospitals across the country was one of the good decisions of the War and one which was replicated in the Second World War.

On June 14th and 15th there will be an exhibition of Worfield’s history in the Garden Room at Lower Hall, Worfield. There will also be a display of vintage/steam driven vehicles and the gardens of Lower Hall will be open. Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 12.02.22Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 06.43.14

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