Let’s start with some good news: in 1901, Henry Dunant was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for founding the Red Cross and initiating the Geneva Conventions. Over the following years, the International Committee of the Red Cross would go on to win the prize three more times.
In 1914, thirteen years after Dunant became a Nobel laureate, the First World War broke out. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers were wounded and maimed in brutal battles. Red Cross nurses spent days and nights caring for the wounded in field hospitals and staging hospitals.
The wounded were transported to the hospitals on two-wheeled carts like this one. It was developed in 1859 by Louis Appia, a doctor in Geneva and one of the co-founders of the Red Cross. But the First World War also saw an increase in the use of motor vehicles. A coachbuilder based in Bonn had developed the first motorised ambulance as early as 1905.
Meanwhile, back in Germany, more and more people were supporting the work of the Red Cross. They organised in local associations and provided the soldiers with food and drink at railway stations along the supply lines. At Euskirchen station alone, the workers handed out more than two million servings of food and drink to the soldiers passing through.
Overall, there was a strong national/patriotic flavour to the war effort. But since the Geneva Conventions had set the direction for the Red Cross, the volunteers largely respected the instruction to remain strictly impartial and neutral.
In 1917, the International Committee of the Red Cross was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its humanitarian relief work during the First World War.
At our next stop, we’ll be addressing the role of the Red Cross in times of war.
Foto 1: © Rotkreuz Museum
Foto 2: © Dagmar Trüpschuch