With these documents, we can start to stitch together the nursing career of Rose Mary Savage throughout World War One. The collection begins with her invitation to interview for the Women’s VAD Department in May 1916 and concludes with an acknowledgment of her continued service. Her first day as a VAD nurse in France coincided with the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

Voluntary Aid Detachment

The British Army was unprepared to handle the level of devastation of World War One. In order to care for the increasing number of wounded soldiers, the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) had to rely heavily on a host of civilian and voluntary bodies. With the support of the British Red Cross Society and St John’s Ambulance Association , the first Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs) were established in 1909 to carry out basic transport and nursing duties. In order to join these units, individuals needed to gain a first aid certificate by sitting a series of examinations.

Rose Mary Savage followed this route, receiving her first aid certificate in November 1914. Initially she volunteered in the Ulster Volunteer Force Hospital in Belfast, before applying to become a VAD nurse overseas in the spring of 1916. To serve at the Front, volunteer nurses had to have at least two months experience, as well as a good recommendation from their matron. After a successful interview, Savage was posted to No. 12 General Hospital in Rouen, France.

Ranking of VADs

A VAD nurse’s uniform consisted of a blue dress with a white, stiff collar, and over-sleeves made of linen.

To distinguish between the ability and experience of VAD nurses, the Joint Women’s VAD Committee introduced a ranking scheme.[1] Senior nurses were granted service bars, a material badge affixed to the left forearm of the jacket. These were typically awarded after 13 months of continuous service. Savage received her service bar in August 1917. Later, the Committee introduced red and blue efficiency bars to signify both a nurse’s rank and type of duties undertaken. Savage was awarded ‘two scarlet efficiency stripes’, and applied for three blue bars in July 1918 (f. 5).

Experiences of a VAD nurse

Rose Mary also documented her experiences at No. 12 General Hospital through drawing. As well depicting scenes from real life, she produced some illustrations to Olive Dent’s memoir A V.A.D. in France. Examples of her work are held in the Dublin City Archives.

The British Red Cross

The British Red Cross has authorised the display of this item using the red cross emblem. The red cross emblem is a special sign of neutrality and protection during armed conflicts. To preserve the protective value of the emblem, there are legal restrictions on use of the emblem and of similar designs. During the First World War military medical and nursing personnel displayed the red cross emblem. This included auxiliary nursing personnel, such as those working for the Joint War Committee of the British Red Cross Society and the Order of St. John. For further information, please see


[1] Linda J Quiney, This Small Army of Women: Canadian Volunteer Nurses and the First World War, (2017), p.148