#FamilyHistory… Was your relative a nurse in the Great War? #nursing

Diaries, notebooks and sketchpads are dynamite for family history researchers as an insight into the lives of an ordinary people in your period of interest. If you are interested in filling in the life of a relative who served in a VAD [Voluntary Aid Detachment] during World War One, autograph and memory book of Cheltenham VAD nurse Dorothy Unwin may be of interest. Held at The Wilson art gallery and museum, it provides a very personal view of the war.

The book includes photographs of herself, the wards she worked on, soldiers and staff. Most poignant are the comments given to Nurse Unwin by patients. Some soldiers write only their name, number and the date but some offer more information. Private Clapton of the 1stGloucestershire Regiment was ‘wounded in shoulder’. Percy Bedford of the 14thCanadian Battalion was ‘blown out of trench at Ypres 25 April 1915’. Many messages are of thanks. Patients are pictured playing sports and performing in plays and revenues. It offers a powerful insight into the men who fought in the Great War and also the daily life of FAX nurses.

Vera Brittain [below left], who would go on to write Testament of Youth, was reading English Literature at Somerville College, Oxford when in the summer of 1915 she delayed her degree by a year to volunteer as a VAD nurse.

Initially she worked in Buxton, later in London, Malta and France and spent much of the war as a nurse. Her fiancé Roland Leighton, close friends Victor Richardson and Geoffrey Thurlow, and her brother Edward Brittain were all killed in the war. Their letters to each other are documented in the book Letters from a Lost Generation. In one letter Leighton speaks for his generation of public school volunteers when he writes that he feels the need to play an “active part” in the war.

Search your local archives for similar VAD accounts relating to your local area. Via Discovery at the National Archives, you can also search the journals, memoirs, correspondence and photographs of VAD nurses working in the UK and abroad.

As well as Dorothy Unwin’s autograph and memory book, and local Cheltenham history, The Wilson art gallery and museum in Cheltenham has a First World War archive including propaganda posters, postcards from the frontline, correspondence and possessions of individual people, and albums from local Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) hospitals.

The Imperial War Museum has a collection of First World War VAD uniforms, photographs of wards, rest stations in France, VAD hospitals, recruitment posters

If you’re searching for relatives and want to search online safely try the Lost Cousins website, which matches you with other people researching the same ancestors. It’s worth signing up for the Lost Cousins newsletter too.

This post is inspired by an article in the March 2018 issue of ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ magazine.

If you want to read more about family history research, try these articles:-
Was your relative a detective? 
Using UK newspapers
The paternity question

Don’t know where to start investigating your own family history? Try this:-
Who Do You Think You Are? The Genealogy Handbook’ by Dan Waddell [UK: BBC Books]

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Was your relative a VAD nurse in the Great War? @wdytyamagazine #familyhistory https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3ut via @SandraDanby

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