On this day in history : 29th October 1863 – Eighteen official delegates from national governments, including Britain, meet in Geneva and agree to the formation of the International Red Cross….img_4427

The resolution was to establish national relief services for wounded soldiers, the neutrality and protection of wounded soldiers and a protection symbol for medicinal personnel in the field…. The symbol was to be a white armband bearing a red cross emblem (an inversion of the Swiss flag)….

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement were inspired by Swiss businessman Jean-Henry Dunant, a devout Reformed Christian…. Dunant had been present at the Battle of Solferino in Italy, between the armies of Imperial Austria and the Franco-Sardinian alliance in 1859…. Some 40,000 men were left dead or dying on the battlefield; there was a critical lack of medical attention for the wounded men…. Dunant did everything in his capability to organise local people to help bind the wounds and feed the wounded men…. The situation left an acute sense of despair upon him….

Jean-Henri Dunant – Time Life Pictures – Public domain

On his return to Switzerland Dunant set about his aim to create a national relief service – he proposed it to be run by volunteers, trained during peace time to provide neutral help to all those wounded during times of war….

To help his cause he wrote a book, ‘A Memory of Solferino’ – which he published using his own money in 1862…. Copies were sent to leading political and military leaders and influential people throughout Europe…. When Gustavo Moynier, President of the Geneva Society for Public Welfare, received his copy he decided to set up a committee to test the feasibility of Dunant’s proposals…. The committee became known as ‘The Committee of Five’ and consisted of Jean-Henry Dunant, Gustave Moynier, Louis Appia (a renowned field surgeon), Theodore Maunoir (Appia’s colleague) and Guillaume-Henri Dufour (a Swiss Army general)…. Eight days later the five men renamed the committee ‘International Committee for Relief to the Wounded’…. An international conference was set up, which took place in Geneva between the 26th and 29th October 1863….at which the foundations of The International Red Cross were laid….

Dunant also proposed countries unite in an international agreement to recognise the status of medicinal services of the wounded on the battlefield…. This was to be the original Geneva Convention and was adopted in 1864….

Original document of the first Geneva Convention, 1864 – Kevin Quinn, Ohio, US – CC BY 2.0

When war broke out in July 1870, between France and Prussia, Colonel Lloyd-Lindsay (later to become Lord Wantage) called for a National Society to be formed in Britain…. At a meeting held in London on the 4th of August 1870 the resolution was passed…. The ‘British National Society for Aid to the Sick and Wounded in War’ was formed – and under the emblem of the Red Cross gave aid to the wounded on both sides in the Franco-Prussian War…. It also gave aid in all other wars for the remainder of the 19th Century….

Sorting and packing linen bandages at the London office of the Society, September 1870 – Illustrated London News, September 10, 1870 – Public domain

In 1905 the society was renamed the ‘British Red Cross’…. It was granted a Royal Charter in 1908 by King Edward VII – its President was Queen Alexandra….

British Red Cross Parcel – Public domain


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