Station: [2] Stories on the wall – a journey through time

The year is 1859. Swiss citizen Henry Dunant is travelling through Northern Italy on business. On the outskirts of the village of Solferino, he witnesses the decisive battle in the Austro-Sardinian War. Austrian troops are fighting bitterly against the forces from the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia and their French allies. 

Both sides paid a high price. Some forty thousand people were killed and wounded on the battlefield. Henry Dunant interrupted his travels and helped the severely injured soldiers. He cut up his shirt for bandages, washed wounds and offered water to thirsty troops.  

After returning to Geneva, he described the horrors of the war and suggested ways for such disasters to be alleviated in the future. His book “A Memory of Solferino” made a significant contribution to the founding of the Red Cross. 

At the end of October 1863, more than four years after the Battle of Solferino, delegates from 16 different nations gathered in Geneva to build on his ideas. They agreed that in wartime, doctors and medical orderlies should wear a white armband with a red cross as identification – the Swiss national flag with colours reversed. The most famous brand in the world had been born! 

In 1864 – also in Geneva – diplomats from all over the world agreed the first Geneva Convention, designed to improve the situation of sick and wounded soldiers. By doing so, they took the first step towards establishing our current body of international humanitarian law. 

The Red Cross grew and grew. Dunant continued to fight for his vision, but neglected his personal affairs and fell into debt. Long years of poverty and isolation followed. It was only in 1895 – more than three decades after the first conference – that a Swiss journalist reported on the founder of the Red Cross movement, and the world remembered him. 

In 1901, Henry Dunant was awarded the first ever Nobel Peace Prize. Over the following years, the International Committee of the Red Cross won the honour three more times. 


Foto: © Rotkreuz Museum