The Casualties Union was founded during the second world war by Eric Claxton, an engineer involved in civil defence. He set up a training centre in a bombed-out convent to enable rescue workers to practise on 'casualties' before being sent out to deal with real victims of the Blitz. After the war it was decided to continue training people to deal with peacetime incidents, and branches of the organisation began to spring up all over this country, as well as in South Africa and Australia.

The union's oldest active member is Esther Gilardi, 82, who joined back in 1956 when she was in the Red Cross. 'It's a very enjoyable hobby and I hope to continue for as long as I can,' she says.'I see us as guinea pigs - if people make a mistake on us it doesn't matter and we can tell them where they went wrong. Once, when I was meant to be suffering from a broken femur, a first-aider was pulling me about so much that if it had been real I think she would have done me serious damage.

'I like the acting best of all. It's quite different from amateur dramatics as you're not reciting lines - it's all spontaneous. I particularly enjoyed one assignment years ago when a psychiatric hospital in Surrey asked us to come in and act as mental patients for a series of training sessions. They took us round the wards first to see some of the patients and then we got to work. I didn't have to do much make-up for that one - just some blood on my wrists for a suicide attempt.'