Discover if your ancestor volunteered overseas with the British Red Cross during World War 1. You can find out where your relative worked, his/her passport number and their department. At the start of the First World War, the British Red Cross joined forces with the Order of St. John Ambulance to create the Joint War Committee to assist with medical care in the field. Therefore, the register includes men and women who worked with the Voluntary Aid Detachments, Scottish Women’s Hospital, Order of St. John and many more. Women played a significant role during the Great War through their involvement with these voluntary organisations.

Each record includes a transcript of the original British Red Cross register. The amount of information listed varies, but the records usually include a combination of the following information about your ancestor:

  • Name
  • Title
  • Rank
  • Certificate number
  • Department
  • Destination - where stationed overseas
  • Passport Number

Many entries in the original record have used abbreviations for forenames, such as ‘Geo.’ for George, ‘Fredk’. for Frederick, and ‘Eliz.’ for Elizabeth. In most cases we have lengthened these to help your search. If there is any doubt as to what the full version is – ‘Jas.’ for instance – we have preserved the abbreviation. ‘Fred’ without a full stop has also been left as Fred.

Discover more about the British Red Cross Register of Overseas Volunteers 1914-1918

The British Red Cross Register of Overseas Volunteers contains details of over 17,000 individuals who served overseas with the British Red Cross during the First World War, in a variety of territories. These included many French and Belgian locations such as Rouen, Etaples, Dunkirk and Boulogne. However, the records also cover service in a number of other places, including Malta, Salonica, Basra, Egypt and Italy.

Most of the volunteers in these records were still serving at the date of the Armistice. The British Red Cross Register also contains less detailed entries for people who had previously served, but had cancelled their contracts at the date of the Armistice.

Many of the transcripts include your relative’s passport number. Prior to World War One, passport restrictions had relaxed in Europe due to the growing popularity of travel by rail. During the war years, governments began to reinforce passport requirements including the new photographic obligation. At this time mainly civilians, most often women, were required to own a passport. Women and men who were contracted directly with the War Office did not need a passport for travel, this will explain why some records lack a passport number or instead of a passport number WAR OFFICE is listed in its place.

Although the certificate number cannot be used to obtain any further details, they do give an indication of when a person first joined up, and if they have more than one certificate number it shows a clear break in service.

Departments of the British Red Cross Register of Overseas Volunteers 1914-1918

The register includes members of the following departments:

  • British Red Cross Society - The record also includes the names of the staff at the various Red Cross Headquarters buildings in London, about 850 people.
  • Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU) – An ambulance service created by Quakers. Quakers are pacifists and conscientious objectors to war. In order to help with the war effort during the First World War they created the FAU to help save lives by driving ambulances.
  • First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) – Also known as Princess Royal’s Volunteer Corps, set up field hospitals, soup kitchens, troop canteens and drove ambulances. They were a mounted unit, as stated by the use of Yeomanry in the name. The women trained on horses to evacuate casualties or provide immediate first aid in the battlefields.
  • Liverpool Merchants’ Hospital – Also known as Liverpool Merchants’ Mobile Hospital or No. 6 Hospital British Red Cross, funded by the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and staffed by Liverpool volunteers. In April 1918, C.S. Lewis recovered from wounds he received at the Battle of Arras at the Liverpool Merchant Hospital in Etaples, France. The hospital features is his novel, Spirits in Bondage.
  • Order of St. John Ambulance – In 1914, the Order of St. John Ambulance joined forces with the British Red Cross Society to create the Joint War Committee to assist in providing medical care overseas during the First World War.
  • Scottish Women’s Hospital – Created by the Scottish Federation of Woman’s Suffrage Societies, they operated fourteen fully equipped hospitals.
  • Voluntary Aid Detachments (VAD) – Volunteers trained in first aid, nursing, hygiene and sanitation, but their roles also expanded into ambulance driving and administrative duties.

Women in the Volunteer Services during World War 1

Women’s involvement in the British Red Cross and the subsequent departments was significant. Due to the growing need of medical attention in field hospitals, medical training was opened up to women. They trained as physicians and dentists. Women were put in charge of the management of some hospitals; such as, the Scottish Women’s Hospital in Serbia.

The British Red Cross Register of Overseas Volunteers, 1914-1918 includes the names of some extraordinary women; such as, Lillian Franklin who was awarded an Order of British Empire medal in 1918 and Mentioned in Dispatches in 1917. Franklin was crucial in the running of First Aid Nursing Yeomanry. Another notable woman is Dorothea Crewdson, who was awarded the Military Medal, a rarity for women, and the Royal Red Cross for her service as a Voluntary Aid Detachment. Nurse Crewdson died while on active service in 1919 and is buried in a military cemetery in Etaples, France. Her detailed diaries have been published into a book, Dorothea’s War.