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British Red Cross awarded grant to digitise First World War documents on volunteering

The charity will recruit 100 volunteers to create an online archive of Voluntary Aid Detachment index cards of civilians who contributed to the war effort

Voluntary Aid Detachment index cards
Voluntary Aid Detachment index cards

The British Red Cross has been awarded an £80,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to conserve and digitise historic documents detailing the work of volunteers during the First World War.

As part of the project to commemorate the centenary of the war, the BRC will recruit 100 volunteers to create a free and publicly available online archive of 244,000 Voluntary Aid Detachment index cards.

These paper cards include details of nurses, ambulance drivers and seamstresses who contributed to the war effort. They were organised on a county basis and allocated to carry out a variety of roles between 1914 and 1918.

Famous names among the indexes include the crime writer Agatha Christie, the writer and feminist Vera Brittain and the novelist and poet Naomi Mitchison.

Their personal details, tasks and hours of work were recorded on the index cards, providing a resource for studying the contribution and changing roles of women during the period, the BRC said.

The indexes are stored in boxes at the BRC’s headquarters in central London, and are only available to the public at limited times. It can take weeks for staff to sift through the delicate records to answer inquiries.

The digital archive will also contain records of those who served in the Order of St John and the Friends Ambulance Association, set up by members of the Quakers, during the war.

Once completed, the database and website will be part of a new history curriculum at Kingston University in Surrey, which will provide training for the volunteers working on the projects.

Phil Talbot, director of communications for the BRC, said the database and website would be the first freely available resource for research into the civilian contribution to the First World War.

"Whether they worked in auxiliary hospitals, convalescent homes or drove ambulances, all of our VADs played a vital humanitarian role during the war and their index cards provide a unique source of historical information," he said.

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