VAD service card of Princess Sophia Duleep Singh

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VAD service card of Princess Sophia Duleep Singh from her service during the First World War.

During World War One, more than 90,000 people volunteered for the British Red Cross. These volunteers were grouped into Voluntary Aid Detachments, or VADs. The VADs helped the war effort in several ways, including transport of the wounded, tracking down missing soldiers and fundraising. Above all else, their primary role was to help treat sick and wounded soldiers. As you would expect, all members were trained in first aid and the majority of female VADs were trained as nurses.

Princess Sophia Duleep Singh was one of these VAD nurses, as recorded on her VAD service card here. She volunteered as a nurse from October 1915 to January 1917, where she worked approximately 2,300 hours. Her presence uplifted the Indian troops evacuated from the Western Front. Kartar Singh of the 15th Sikhs excitedly wrote to his family: “My friends this is a photo of our king’s granddaughter – he who was king of the Sikhs, Ranjit Singh.” Princess Sophia not only took photos with her patients, but she also gifted them ivory shaving mirrors, often with a personal message written on the back.

She worked in Isleworth Auxiliary Hospital, named Percy House Schools - formerly used as residential schools for workhouse children. These auxiliary hospitals were a crucial aspect of a soldier’s recovery. The British Red Cross ran and staffed over 3,000 auxiliary hospitals across the UK during World War One caring for wounded soldiers who had been invalided home from the front line.

Princess Sophia Duleep Singh was a remarkable woman of her time and followed what she believed to be right no matter the consequences. Princess Sophia was favoured by Queen Victoria, who was her godmother. The Queen allowed her to live in Hampton Court, Faraday House. She was a prominent member of the movement for women’s rights and funded many suffragette groups. Not only did she sell the Suffragette magazine right outside Hampton Court, but she was also one of the leading activists with Emmeline Pankhurst who marched on the House of Commons on Black Friday. Unexpectedly, she even threw herself in front of the prime minister’s car with a “give women the vote!” sign! Princess Sophia Duleep Singh was an incredible woman and still remains a phenomenal inspiration to women of today, who should fight for what they believe to be right.

Audio recording by Charlotte Jordan (Volunteer), Manchester.
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