Embroidery made by a convalescing soldier

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This small embroidery square was made by a soldier in 1916. The words ‘The British Red Cross Society’ are stitched in black thread, within a gold circle. In the centre of the circle sits a red cross on a white shield. A banner runs below the circle with the words ‘county of 3 Hampshire’ stitched into it. This tells us which Voluntary Aid Detachment he was being helped by. The background of the square is blue fabric.

This image embroidered is a 2D image of the British Red Cross hat badge. The hat badge would have been worn by Voluntary Aid Detachments who were working in the hospital and the soldier may have used this as reference for his embroidery.

The soldier would have made this while recovering from a physical or mental illness sustained during the First World War. Embroidery became a common form of occupational therapy for soldiers. There may be many reasons for this; it was easy to do while in a hospital bed, it is a good task to help muscles in the arms and hands, it is a good way to pass time, it can be done alone and unsupervised, it is also said to be a calming activity and has a similar effect on the mind as meditating.

Many crafts were taken up by soldiers recovering from illnesses during the war. I am interested in the link between rehabilitation and craft, especially when looking at mental illnesses which often went undiagnosed throughout World War One. By the end of the war 80,000 men had been diagnosed with shell shock, however this is thought to be lower than the actual number of cases. Shell shock is now known to be an umbrella term for a variety of mental illnesses including anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder.

Audio recording by Abigail Stokes (Volunteer), Birmingham.
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