Origins of the Red Cross Movement

Our belief in the power of kindness can be traced back to the creation of the Red Cross Movement.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement started in 1863 and was inspired by Swiss businessman Henry Dunant.

The suffering of thousands of men on both sides of the Battle of Solferino in 1859 upset Dunant. Many were left to die due to lack of care.

He proposed creating 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.

Dunant also proposed that countries 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

When war broke out between France and Prussia in July 1870, Colonel Loyd-Lindsay (later Lord Wantage of Lockinge) wrote a letter to The Times. He called for a National Society to be formed in Britain just like in other European nations.

On 4 August 1870, a public meeting was held in London and a resolution passed:

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. It gave aid and relief to both warring armies during the Franco-Prussian War and in other wars and campaigns during the 19th century. This was done under the protection of the red cross emblem.

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

The Red Cross needed many skilled volunteers 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 across the UK. Their members would provide aid to the territorial medical forces in times of war.

The British Virgin Islands branch of the British Red Cross was started in 1956. Activities included First Aid Training and helping needy persons in the community. The branch evolved over the years and now provide a range of programmes, including disaster preparedness and risk reduction.