Following the outbreak of war in August 1914, the British Red Cross formed the Joint War Committee with the Order of St John, working together under the emblem of the Red Cross. The Joint War Committee organised both professional nurses and volunteers, known as VADs (Voluntary Aid Detachment). All VADs were trained in first aid and some also trained in nursing, cookery, hygiene and sanitation. The majority of female VADs volunteered as nurses and were trained by the Red Cross. They were sent to hospitals throughout the UK and Europe during the First World War. By the end of the war, the Red Cross had provided 90,000 VADs, at home and abroad. VADs included local women working who volunteered part-time whilst also taking paid work elsewhere, as well as women who did not need to take paid work.
As well as working in central military hospitals, VADs also staffed over 1700 auxiliary hospitals established during the war for the care of convalescent soldiers, often in private homes like Morden Hall. Auxiliary hospitals were administered by a commandant, a quartermaster, a matron and members of the local VAD.
The intense, difficult work undertaken by VADs during the war, as well as the roles taken by other women who took on jobs in which only men worked before the war, was instrumental in securing the vote for married women over 30 years old in 1918, paving the way for universal suffrage.