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The beginning of the Red Cross Movement

Henry Dunant© InfoThe International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement started in 1863, inspired by a Swiss businessman, Henry Dunant. He had been appalled at the suffering of thousands of men, on both sides, who were left to die due to lack of care after the Battle of Solferino in 1859.

He proposed the creation of national relief societies, made up of volunteers, trained in peacetime to provide neutral and impartial help to relieve suffering in times of war.

In response to these ideas a committee, which later became the International Committee of the Red Cross, was established in Geneva. The founding charter of the Red Cross was drawn up in 1863.

Henry Dunant also proposed that countries should adopt an international agreement, which would recognise the status of medical services and of the wounded on the battlefield. This agreement - the original Geneva Convention - was adopted in 1864.

The formation of the British Red Cross

Painting of Battle of Solferino© InfoIn July 1870, following the outbreak of war between France and Prussia, Colonel Loyd-Lindsay (later Lord Wantage of Lockinge) wrote a letter to The Times calling for a National Society to be formed in Britain following the example of other European nations. On 4 August 1870 a public meeting was held in London and a resolution passed that "a National Society be formed in this country for aiding sick and wounded soldiers in time of war and that the said Society be formed upon the Rules laid down by the Geneva Convention of 1864".

The British National Society for Aid to the Sick and Wounded in War was formed, giving aid and relief to both warring armies during the Franco-Prussian War and in subsequent wars and campaigns during the 19th century under the protection of the red cross emblem.

In 1905 the British National Society for Aid to the Sick and Wounded in War was reconstituted as British Red Cross and granted its first Royal Charter in 1908 by HM King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, who became its president.

The Red Cross required a huge number of skilled volunteers if it was to be prepared for its wartime role. In 1907 a permanent structure of local Branches was adopted and extended the presence of the British Red Cross to communities around the country.

The Voluntary Aid Scheme was introduced in 1909 and ensured that Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs) were formed in every county in England whose members would provide aid to the territorial medical forces in times of war.

Read about our work during the First World War

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