Searching for Heroes, Heroines and Life Savers

This quest started with a medal that had been awarded to a George Herbert Braund, who is not a known relative but who features in my one-name research. The medal, which I purchased on a well known on-line auction site, was given to those who served with the British Red Cross Society and the Royal Order of St. John during the First World War. This sent me on a hunt for more information about George and I came a page on the Red Cross’ website. This allows searches for personnel who served in this way. The records note the capacity in which they served, the number of hours that they worked and the hospitals or units to which they were attached. The majority of those listed were Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurses but others, such as George, were conscientious objectors on religious grounds and were serving as ambulance drivers or stretcher bearers. Although not a Quaker himself, his mother’s family had Quaker connections and George served with the Friends’ Ambulance Unit. Their records of First World War volunteers can be searched here and these include photographs.

George was the son of a clergyman and was an undergraduate at Queens College, Cambridge when he became of age for military service. He was granted absolute exemption on the grounds of conscientious objection. George joined the Friends’ Ambulance Unit in July 1915 and served as an ambulance orderly until July 1918. He then transferred to the Friends’ War Victims’ Relief Corps. until March 1919. He never returned to his university studies, instead running a market gardening business with his brother.

Our families contain many people who acted in extraordinary ways, be it in wartime or peacetime. This led me to look for other lists of those who had distinguished themselves in some fashion. What follows are just a few of the websites that I found. They relate primarily but not exclusively, to British people and I have only included those that do not require a subscription. There are plenty more datasets of rolls of honour or medal holders that can be accessed via the major subscription websites. Perhaps others, with expertise elsewhere, might like to comment on free sites that relate to other parts of the world.

You can search for recipients of the George Cross, instituted by King George VI in the Second World War, here. This database includes 1131 Canadians, 11926 from the US and many from European countries and beyond.

Those who were awarded the Victoria Cross during the First World War can be found here but there is no name search facility; you need to look for awardees on a year by year basis.

The website of the Life Saving Awards Research Society (LSARS) lists those who have been awarded Bronze Medals for Life Saving by the Royal Humane Society (RHS) from 1837 to 2006. The original RHS records are at the London Metropolitan Archives. Unfortunately, again, there is not a name search facility, so you have to look at recipients for each year separately but this could be helpful if you are already aware that an award may have been made, perhaps from a newspaper article.

There is a roll of honour, listing suffragette prisoners from 1905-1917, on the website of the London School of Economics. The site carries the rider that this list was compiled from the testimony of other suffragettes and therefore may not be complete.
It can really enhance our family stories if we attempt to learn more about our ancestors in this way, so please do add other suggestions.

About Janet Few

Janet Few is an experienced family, social and community historian who writes and lectures regularly on these subjects throughout the English speaking world. She is well known for her appearances as her alter ego ‘Mistress Agnes’ who aids Janet’s work as an historical interpreter. Janet is the manager of Swords and Spindles, a company providing living history presentations for history groups and schools. For further information see

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