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British Red Cross Society

( Originally Published 1924 )



THE BIBLE tells us that the story of humanity I began with one man and one woman. The story of the Red Cross begins with one man only. In June, 1859, a gentleman who describes himself as " a simple tourist, entirely a stranger in this great battle, I had the privilege, by reason of a concurrence of special circumstances, to be able to assist at the moving scenes" of the battle of Solferino. This man was Henri Dunant, a Swiss gentleman, who was so profoundly moved by the scenes of bloodshed, horror and misery which he witnessed that he wrote a book about it and devoted much of his life and all of his private fortune in the endeavor to mitigate the horrors of war. It was, indeed, a mighty battle. Three hundred thousand French, Sardinians and Austrians faced each other in the deadliest of struggles. The French and Sardinians won the battle, but at what cost in blood and suffering! 20,000 Austrians were killed or wounded and 6,000 were made prisoners of war. The allies lost 18,000 men.

During the Great War we became accustomed to great losses, but they were hardly ever greater in any one battle. After the battle came the horrors, for in those days there were no antiseptics to destroy the microbes which brought painful deaths, no chloroform or ether to allay the pains of operation, no trained nurses, no field ambulances, no stationary hospitals, no hospital trains, and few, very few, doctors. Everything was improvised. The wounded were thrust into churches, schools, anywhere to he under shelter. No provision was made for their nourishment, they just starved or not as might happen. Their wounds were dressed or not, and if they were, it was done in the crudest manner with tow or picked lint. Sheets were torn up to make bandages, clean or not as the case might Le. In a few days the wounded crowded together in unsanitary buildings developed hospital gangrene. Maggots made their appearance in the wounds. Happy were they who had died under the amputating knife. Such were the scenes of horror Dunant witnessed and which stirred him, a private gentleman, without influence or prestige, to spend years going from capital to capital, from court to court, begging, pleading that some organization might he created to deal with the misery of the sick and wounded in war. Fie found sympathetic ears open to him in Switzerland and an international committee was formed. At length a conference of nations was called at Geneva in 1864. Resolutions were passed and adopted by the accredited representatives of the nations gathered there. A formal document was signed by the plenipotentiaries in 1865 and the Red Cross rules became international law, and the Red Cross flag adopted, being the Swiss flag, with the colors reversed.

This done, the struggle over, Henri Dunant disappeared, for he had exhausted his fortune in this great work of charity and humanity. Years later he was found in a Swiss almshouse and was voted the Nobel Prize for Humanity. He did not long enjoy the comfort. afforded by his income, for he died soon after. Surely his is a name to be honored throughout all the world. Yet it is almost unknown, even to the Red Cross workers.

Among the nations represented at the Geneva Conference, and one of the signatories to the convention, was England. We all know that the English, great people as they are, are slow to act; hence it was not until 1868 that a few members of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem in England met together and formed themselves into a provisional committee, with a view to the establishment of a National Society for the Relief of the Sick and Wounded in War.

This committee was composed of Major-General Sir John St. George; Sir Edmund Lechmere, Bart.; Lord Elliot (afterwards Earl of St. Germains); the Rev. W. B. L. Hawkins; Mr. J. A. Pearson; and Mr. (afterwards Sir John) Furley.

Captain Burgess acted as secretary. In order to obtain the fullest information Mr. Furley and Captain Burgess went: to Berlin to the International Conference of Red Cross Societies. Sir Thomas Longmore (a great army surgeon) was the official representative of the British Government. Says Sir John Purley, "One of the most important chapters of my life was opened in 1870. War had been declared between France and Germany on July 15th. A week later I called on Colonel Lloyd-Lindsay (afterwards Lord Mintage) and asked him if he would help in forming a British Red Cross Society. After a short conversation on the subject, he wrote a letter to The Times, and to show that he was in earnest, he started a fund with a donation of 1,000. This letter was the keynote for which people were waiting. There were a few who had a faint idea of the objects of the Convention of Geneva, there were many who had not heard of it at all, but all were equally ready to respond to an appeal on behalf of the sick and wounded, and it was soon proved that there were not wanting men and women to give practical direction to those fountains of charity which were already overflowing. The trumpet was sounded by Colonel Lloyd-Lindsay, and an army of helpers who feared no sacrifice was immediately on the alert."

The first general meeting of the new Society was held at Willis' Rooms on August 4th, 1870, the Duke of Manchester presiding.*

During the Great War the British Red Cross work was managed by a joint Committee of the British Red Cross and the Order of St. John, ably presided over by Hon. Sir Arthur Stanley, G.B.E. Lack of space prevents my going into detail regarding the magnificent work of the committee, but the subjoined figures give an idea of the enormous amounts of money raised in the United Kingdom for the war charities.

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