The juniors’ section of the British Red Cross officially began in 1924. It promoted good health, service to the sick and suffering, and the development of international friendship and understanding.
Clubs, or "links", were usually formed in schools but also existed in other young people’s organisations or independently. Link members could be from five years old up to school leaving age, though groups were organised in small age ranges whenever possible.
Cadet units were attached to an adult Red Cross detachment and cadets ranged from 14 years to 17 years old. They wore a cadet uniform and many of them transferred to the adult groups when they left school.
First World War activities
Although there was no official activity, young people played an active role in supporting the work of the British Red Cross during the First World War. One of the most important tasks they undertook was collecting sphagnum moss, which was made into dressings for the wounded. In 1918, the British Red Cross supplied nearly two million dressings for wounded soldiers.
Second World War activities
During the Second World War, the Junior Red Cross motto “Serve one another” was practiced in many different ways. Link members studied first aid and home nursing and also helped with fundraising, knitting and providing “comforts”. A Junior Air Raid Precautions training course was set up.
Younger members from links in the countryside collected herbs and medicinal plants, dried and labelled them and sent them to botanical drug importers. Older members helped with evacuated children, amusing and helping to look after them when necessary.
Junior Red Cross members in Australia, New Zealand and the USA sent gifts to Britain. Link members distributed thousands of American Red Cross Christmas boxes to children in their area who had suffered or lost their possessions during bombing.
Cadet units formed a much-appreciated link between school leavers and the Red Cross. Cadets at one detachment did all the laundry for a first aid post and also at a sick bay during a flu epidemic. Others did washing up at a hostel for evacuees. Cadets helped in hospitals with washing up and laying trays, mending linen and fetching books for the patients. They also helped after air raids and raised money for the Red Cross’ work. A Junior Gallantry Medal was introduced in 1944 to recognise the young members who showed great courage and devotion or initiative in a sudden emergency.
In 1942, the Red Cross established youth detachments for young people between the ages of 16 and 20. Young people in these detachments took adult training courses as well as citizenship studies and physical exercises. By 1944, 18,061 boys and girls were youth detachment members.
Cadets and link members continued their Red Cross work after the end of the war. In 1950, there were 75,504 British Red Cross junior members in the United Kingdom and a further 34,764 in Overseas Branches.
They continued to help out in local emergencies and became involved in a number of overseas aid schemes to help children in other countries. They made disaster relief kits and knitted blankets for refugees and the victims of natural disasters.They also sent gift parcels to junior members of developing Red Cross National Societies so that they too could help needy children in their own countries.
In 1980, cadet units and links were replaced by Red Cross youth groups and Red Cross junior groups. In 1990, there were more than 11,000 youth members and more than 8,000 juniors.
In 2002, youth groups were closed and a new emphasis was placed on engaging under-25s to learn humanitarian values.
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