The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is an international humanitarian movement with approximately 97 million volunteer members and staff worldwide. It was founded by a Swiss businessman, Jean-Henri Dunant, who in June 1859 was so horrified when he witnessed the carnage following the Battle of Solferino, where 40,000 men were left dead and dying on the battlefield, that he wrote a book about what he had seen.
The book was read by a Geneva lawyer, Gustave Moynier, who gained the interest of the Geneva Society for Public Welfare. In addition to his book, Dunant was a firm advocate of the need to form national voluntary relief organisations that would help to nurse wounded soldiers at time of war. He also called for the development of international treaties to guarantee the safety of neutral medics and field hospitals for soldiers wounded in battle.
The outcome was the founding of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in 1863. In August 1864 an international conference adopted what became known as the Geneva Convention that guaranteed protection of wounded soldiers.
In 1867 the First International Conference of International Aid Societies for the Nursing of the War Wounded was convened, but unfortunately Dunant had been spending too much time on the project at the expense of his business interests and in the same year he went bankrupt. As a result of the ensuing scandle he had to leave Geneva and never returned.
In the following years national societies were established in nearly every country in Europe and in 1876 the Committee adopted the title International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
The Red Crescent emblem was first used in 1877-1878 during the conflict between the Ottoman Empire and Russia but it was not officially recognised by the ICRC until 1929.
Jean-Henri Dunant eventually received his rehabilitation and deserved recognition when in 1901 he was the joint recipient of the first Nobel Peace Prize.
By the time of the start of the Great War, the ICRC had been in existence for 50 years, The Geneva Convention had been revised eight years earlier and this had been joined by the Hague Convention that extended the scope of the Geneva Convention to naval warfare.
During the Great War Red Cross nurses came from around the world to attend to the wounded and the Red Cross transferred about 20 million letters and messages and about 1.9 million parcels. Arrangements were made to exchange about 200,000 prisoners. In 1917 the International Committee of the Red Cross received the Nobel Peace Prize for its outstanding wartime work.
In 1919, following the instigation of the American reds Cross, the League of Red Cross Societies was formed. This expanded the activities of the Red Cross to include relief assistance in the event of man-made or natural disasters, rather than warfare. One of the League's first missions was to give aid to the victims of a famine and subsequent typhus outbreak in Poland.
Within 20 years of the ending of the Great War, the ICRC was in action again following the outbreak of World War II. One again the visiting and monitoring of POW camps was an important activity and some 12,750 visits were made in 41 countries and 120 million messages were exchanged.
Since neither the Soviet Union nor Japan had been signatories of the Geneva Convention, neither were legally required to follow its rules, which led to the very harsh treatment of prisoners in the majority of cases. The ICRC was also unable to obtain agreement with NAZI Germany about the treatment of detainees in concentration camps.
In 1946, following the ending of World War II, attention was given to the possibility of adopting an international Red Cross Day that would be celebrated on the same date each year by all National Societies. Two years later, following approval by the Federation's Executive Committee, Red Cross Day was celebrated for the first time throughout the world on 8 May 1948, the anniversary of the birth of Henry Dunant, the founder of the Red Cross.
In the years that followed it changed its name several times, but in 1984 it finally became World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day.