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Canadian Red Cross Society

( Originally Published 1924 )



IN PURSUANCE of the idea, which almost obsessed me, of furthering the development of the medical service of the Militia, I entered into a correspondence with the National Society for Aid to the Sick and Wounded in War (which bore the subtitle of British Red Cross Society) to ascertain if it would be possible to establish a branch in Canada. I already recognized that while the St. John Ambulance Association could furnish a personnel, it could not, under the regulations then existing, take part in active hostilities. It was a civil organization and its work was training men and women in first aid and home nursing and must in time of war be subsidiary to the Red Cross.

Since that time, under the pressure of circumstances during the Great War, it has acted conjointly with the Red Cross, but even now it cannot act alone.

On my way home from Spain in July, 1896, I stopped off in London for a time and while there had several interviews with the Secretary, Mr. James G. Vokes, of the National Society, and by arrangement with him, with Lord Wantage, the President.

My application came up before the Council and met with its approval. I received the following letter

"Adelphi Buildings,

"London, Aug. 22nd, 1896.

"As you express the desire for a clear definition of your work before you commence to organize, I am to suggest the following heads as a basis upon which the proposed Canadian branch of the Society should be formed and which would meet with the approval of the Society:

" 1. That the branch shall be called 'the Canadian Branch of the British National Society for Aid to the Sick and Wounded in War.'

"2. That a council shall be formed of sufficient influence to give public confidence.

"3. That it be recognized that the primary work of the branch is to render aid to the sick and wounded in time of war by offering supplemental assistance: (a) To the Army Medical Department of Canada or (b) to the Parent Society, should England be engaged in war, (3) To the belligerents of any other countries engaged in war, who recognize the neutrality of the Red Cross and express their willingness to accept aid through the British Society by its Canadian Branch.

"4. That all its domestic affairs, such as enrolling members, collecting subscriptions, appointing officers, training nurses, etc., be entirely under its own control.

"S. That the work of the Red Cross Branch be kept entirely distinct from any branch of the St. John Ambulance Association, in Canada.

"6. That the special use for which the Red Cross badge was designed, under Article 7 of the Geneva Convention, 1864, shall be borne in mind and all possible means taken to ensure its non-abuse.

"(Signed) JAMES G. VOKES,

" Secretary."

On my return to Canada a meeting was held on October 16th, 1896, when the Society was formally organized. The following gentlemen were elected:

Honorary President, Hon. F. W. Borden (afterwards Sir Frederick).

President, Hon. John Morrison Gibson (now Sir John).

Vice-Presidents, Ontario, Lieut.-Colonel W. Ponton, Belleville; Quebec, Dr. Reddick, M.P. (afterwards Sir Thomas); New Brunswick, Hon. George E. Foster, .P. (now Sir George); Nova Scotia, Sir Charles Hibbert Tupper; Manitoba, Hon. Hugh Macdonald (now Sir Hugh); British Columbia, Lieut. Colonel Hon. E. G. Prior.

Chairman of the executive, Dr. G. Sterling Ryerson, M.L.A., Deputy-Surgeon-General.

Council, I)r. J. A. Temple, Toronto; I)r. Montizambert, Quebec; Hon. W. H. Montague, Ottawa; Dr. Hodgetts, Toronto; Major Sutherland, M.P., Woodstock, Ont.; Dr. C. R. Dickson, Toronto; J. G. Hodgins, LL. D., Toronto; Major John Bayne Maclean, Montreal; Dr. Charles O'Reilly, Toronto; E. II. Smythe, K.C., Kingston, Ont.; Lieut.-Colonel James Mason, Surgeons-Major Grassett, Nattrass, and J. E. Elliott, Toronto.

Hon. Treasurer, Dr. J. G. Hodgins, LL.D. Hon. Secretary, Dr. C. A. Hodgetts.

The fact of our organization was formally reported to the Head Office in London and the following letter was received by us:

"5 York Buildings, Adelphi, W.C. "London, 2nd December, 1896.

"At a meeting of the Council of the National Society for Aid to the Sick and Wounded in War (British Red Cross Society) held at the office, 5 York Buildings, Adelphi, London, on Tuesday, 1st December, 1896, General Lord \Vantage, V.C., K.C.B., in the chair:

"It was proposed by General Lord \Vantage, V.C., K.C.B., and seconded by Surgeon-General Sir W. Mackinnon, K.C.B., and resolved :

" That the Council having heard read a letter dated October 15th, 1896, from Dr. Charles A. Hodgetts, of Toronto, announcing the formation of a Canadian Branch of the Society, accept such branch, in accordance with the letter of the Secretary, dated 22nd of August, 1896, to Dr. G. Sterling Ryerson, as affiliated to itself, for all purposes consistent with the terms of the Geneva convention entered into by the Imperial Government in 1865, subject to complete independence of such branch in all matters relating to finance and matters of local organization.

"That the Council welcome the formation of this branch and pledge themselves to co-operate with the branch and assist it in every way in their power, and invite periodical intimation of any action to carry out, in Canada, the objects of the Society.

(A true copy) "(Signed) JAMES G. Vokes,

" Secretary. "

Under this authority the Canadian Red Cross Soeiety began its beneficent work. The writer was appointed by the National Society its representative in Canada, hence, until the organization of the Canadian Branch, he was the one and only Red Cross man in Canada. The Canadian Red Cross was the first colonial branch to be established in the British Empire. Its first active work was during the Spanish-American war in 1898, when subscriptions were invited, but only a small amount was received. The American Red Cross having declined assistance, the money was given to the Spanish, from whom, eventually, came a diploma of thanks.

The Society held its first public meeting no May 5th, 1898, when I presided, in the absence of the President, at Massey Hall, Toronto.

The Spanish diplomats were given the opportunity to explain their standpoint in the war, a speech in perfect English being made by Senor Du Bose. Among those on the platform were Mr. 0. A. Howland, Professor Goldwin Smith, Hon. A. S. Hardy, Hon. S. C. Wood, Mr. Nicol Kingsmill, Archbishop Walsh and Mr. J. E. Thompson, Vice-Consul for Spain.

No work of any kind was done by the Society until the fall of 1899. I persistently advocated work in time of peace to prepare for war, but the feeling of the Council was against such a move.

With the outbreak of the war in South Africa, the Society became active, Local branches were formed in Montreal, Quebec, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Fredericton, N.B., and in sixty other places. Supplies of clothing for the sick, invalid food, wine, spirits, blankets, socks, shirts and about $50,000 in money were collected and forwarded to South Africa. One of the difficulties we had, was to make the public understand that the work of the Society was for the sick and wounded only, Boer and Briton alike. Another was that the Society was not the medium of sending private parcels to men in health.

I was appointed a commissioner to proceed to South Africa. The story of my experiences will be told in another chapter.

After the close of the war, in 1902, the Society became quiescent, holding only formal meetings, until the declaration of war by Great Britain on August 4th, 1914, when the Society immediately became active. A cable was sent to the Head Office of the parent Society in London offering assistance, which was gratefully accepted.

On January 14th, 1914, Sir John Gibson, who had been president since its formation, tendered his resignation and I had the honor of being elected president in his stead. I continued to hold this office until January, 1916, when I retired to make way for H.R.H. the Duchess of Connaught. I believe I did so with a good grace, but I frankly confess that I felt the loss of the opportunity to serve throughout the war, keenly, for my heart has always been in this work.

On February 15th, 1916, the Council passed the following resolution :

""That on the retirement of Surgeon-General George Sterling Ryerson from the office of President of the Canadian Red Cross Society in order that the Society may be honored by R. the Duchess of Connaught graciously accepting that position, the Council desires to place on record an expression of appreciation of the long and active service of General Ryerson in connection with Red Cross affairs and administration in this country. As the original promoter of the foundation of the Society, as chairman of the executive committee, the special commissioner in South Africa representing the Society during the Hoer War, and President for the past two years, he has been a leader all through in Red Cross work and has evinced great enthusiasm, as well as ability in serving the Society. The Council further expresses the hope that Surgeon-General Ryerson's close connection with the Society and administration of the Red Cross work will long continue so that we may have the benefit of his great experience and familiarity with Red Cross matters generally.

" (Signed) G. A. SWENY,

" Chairman of Council."

At the meeting of the Council in February, 1918, I brought forward a resolution pledging the Society to take up active work in time of peace, after the close of the Great War, which was passed almost unanimously. This brought to a close the struggle I had had for so many years to induce the organization to take up the work which it is now doing with so much benefit to the country. My readers will now realize how this great Society, beginning with one man, has grown to an organization of thousands of members.

In the beginning the expenses of the Society were paid by the members of the Council out of their own pockets. After the South African War there was a surplus of about $8,000 in the treasury. This was invested and from the income derived from it the current expenses were paid. During the Great War the Society handled $30,224,000 in money and goods. It is a matter of general knowledge how successfully its affairs were managed and what a great public service it rendered, not the least being its enquiries for lost and missing men, prisoners of war and the siek and wounded men scattered in all parts of Great Britain. How much comfort it brought to the heavy hearts of mothers, wives and sweethearts!

The credit for this successful management is due to the able men and women who composed the Central Council, the Councils of the Provincial Divisions and the Local Branches.

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