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Caring on the Home Front - Volunteer memories from World War Two

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Annie Gadd

Grace under pressure


Annie Gadd of Birmingham saw it all; her father’s reaction to the Coventry bombing, shell-shocked soldiers at the nerve hospital and early blood transfusions. As a VAD in a city at risk, Annie not only had to learn how to nurse, but to do it gracefully under pressure

How did you become involved?


” My father was a jeweller to start off with. During the war he was in the auxiliary fire service, although he was really over age. The thing I remember most about him was when Coventry was bombed during the war. I was on night duty, he was at Coventry , and he came home in the morning. It was the first time I saw my father cry. He just sat and cried. He said, ‘We just stood and watched it burn, we had no more water.’ It was pretty traumatic at times.
I had always wanted to do nursing. St. John was what I wanted!”

How were you trained?


” We had our lectures and the exams. One week we would do first aid and another week we would do home nursing. There were classes in air raid casualties and air raid precautions; some of us took the exams and we were then able to instruct others.

I was called up at the outbreak of war, and I went first of all to the Queen’s Hospital, and we sat in an empty ward for over a week, just sitting, waiting for casualties. Then of course when they started to use us in the hospital, I was sent to the nerve hospital and I was there for over twelve months as a VAD.”

Any special memories?


” While I was working at the nerve hospital we had quite a few soldiers sent to us. These patients were shell-shocked, and yet they put them in the middle of Birmingham . When the siren went off we had to get them down into the cellars underneath. It was the worst possible place for the shell-shocked. And it was sometimes very difficult getting them down there and keeping them reassured and quiet, especially when the bombs were dropping.
Down the centre of the ward there was a long line of heated electric cradles for putting over patients to treat for shock. Which of course you don’t do now.

And intravenous equipment for giving drips; it was rubber tubing and after being used it was washed and we had to assemble it all again, and wrap it, put it in the drums for re-sterilising. There was no disposable then; that came later.

I was asked to help the doctor give a blood transfusion. Blood transfusion then was a two-way syringe, a jug with the blood in, and a glass rod for stirring. I stirred it and held the bowl that it was standing in with warm water, while the doctor would draw up a syringe-full and then give it to the patient, right at the beginning. Sometimes it would be done from donor to patient.”

What happened after the War?


Annie had trained to become a professional nurse during the war; after war ended she started working as a state registered nurse.

“I couldn’t do as much then [for St. John] as I had before, because of my hospital work. But I had always wanted to stay in touch with St. John, so [later] I went back as a nursing officer.”


There were very heavy bombing raids on London, and also Coventry, Southampton, Sheffield, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Grimsby, Bristol, Belfast, Dover and Plymouth. Cities, towns and areas that made arms for the war were particular targets. Ports and military and naval bases were also tagets. Find out more about bombing of UK cities.


Most VADs worked in hospitals as nurses, but they were also employed as ambulance drivers, cooks, clerical assistants, dental assistants, dispensers, laboratory assistants, masseuses, operating-room assistants, pharmacists, radiographers, stewards, stretcher-bearers, and transfusion orderlies. Find out more about the work of VADs


The Joint War Organisation did not only provide VADs to help wounded members of the Forces. Their work covered everything from helping to treat an injury through to recovery, as you’ll see on the rest of the site. Read the Story of a wounded man.