Essex Regiment & Essex Militia History

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History of VAD

Most militia and regular army units appointed a surgeon who in  turn appointed assistants to provide medical care for the troops especially important at times of combat.

The first organised volunteer support was by the St John Ambulance Association ( later known as the St John Ambulance Brigade) in about 1877 who formed a civilian reserve skilled in first aid to support the army medical department at times of war.

Part of the training of the new St John Ambulance Brigade was to provide the public with medical support at public occasions.

During the Boer War the St John Ambulance Brigade supplied about 2,000 men to act as orderlies but decided not to utilise the female members in wartime duties. 70 of the orderlies lost their lives during the Boer War.

In 1905 the Red Cross Society was founded, by the amalgamation of the Central British Red Cross Council and the British National Society for aid to sick and wounded, with the specific aim of providing aid for home defence during war time.

In 1907 the War Office developed a scheme for organisation of Voluntary Aid in the event of war in the Home Territory.

This scheme required the establishment of Voluntary Aid Detachments based on models established by Japanese and German Red Cross Societies with the intention of extending medical cover to any Territorial Forces.

Men would be trained in first aid, ambulance and building maintenance while women would be trained in nursing, cooking and first aid.

In peacetime the new VAD would remain under the control of Red Cross or St John Ambulance but in wartime would be controlled by the Army.

Existing Territorial County Associations or the Red Cross were able to form detachments whose members were required to pass examinations set by St John Ambulance.

The St John Ambulance concentrated on providing medical aid to the public which enabled the two organisations to work side by side.

Men and women were both accepted as members although they were allocated positions in male only or female only detachments.

By 1909 the Red Cross and St John Ambulance were working closely with the Territorial Army who were already operating some Voluntary Aid Societies in several counties.

21 October 1914 saw the Joint War Committee of the British Red Cross Society and the Order of St John formed with eight members of each society.

In June 1916 the Army Council placed control of the Voluntary Aid Scheme for the duration of the war in the control of the Central Joint VAD Committee which consisted of three members of St John and three members of the British Red Cross.

The new Central Committee then established a sub committee called the Joint Women's VAD Committee, led by Dame Katharine Furse, to deal exclusively with the work of the Women.

In September 1919 following a review the British Red Cross and St John agreed to forma joint council to coordinate their activities in peacetime.

A conference in October 1919 saw agreement that the Voluntary Aid Detachments should continue and that they should be considered part of the Territorial Force administered by a Joint Committee consisting of representatives of the Red Cross, St John, Territorial Army and War Office.

In December 1919 the Joint Council agreed to use the large fleet of 273 ambulances left over from war use to set up a national ambulance service in the UK with the aim of an ambulance for every 15 miles.