February 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of The Red Cross which played a vital role during WWII.
It was founded in 1863 by a Swiss businessman, Henri Dunant, who witnessed the suffering of soldiers on the battlefield of Solferino in northern Italy.
The main roles the Red Cross carried out during WWII were to locate missng people and refugees, provide medical assistance to those caught up in the war in neutral hospitals and also to provide food parcels and letters to prisoners of war.
In the space of six years the organisation provided over 20 million Red Cross food parcels to British and Dominion prisoners of war. A typical parcel contained the following;
1/4lb packet of tea
tin of cocoa powder
bar of milk or plain chocolate
tin of meat roll
tin of processed cheese
tin of condensed milk
tin of dried eggs
tin of sardines or herrings
tin of preserve
tin of margarine
tin of sugar
tin of vegetables
tin of biscuits
bar of soap
tin of 50 cigarettes or tobacco (sent separately).
The parcels were sent out approximately 1 parcel per man per week and the Red Cross in the UK had 12 ships under charter that moved the parcels on a constant basis to mainland Europe, where the Red Cross there would provide distribution to the POW camps. Any conversation with an ex POW would usually soon turn to the subject of the Red Cross parcel and how vital they were for maintaining moral and health.
On the home front the Red Cross set up convalesance homes that nursed injured soldiers back to health in pleasant surroundings. Their nurses also assisted during the Blitz, manning medical posts and volunteers staffed bomb shelters,distributed relief to bombed out civilians and worked as stretcher bearers rescuing people from below rubble. Forty Red Cross volunteers were killed during the Blitz and many more were injured whilst on duty.
After the war ended the Red Cross began the huge mission to re-unite families torn apart by war and amazingly they were still doing this as late as 2009. Eugenia Kawczak was taken from her family in Ukraine by the Germans to work on a slave labour farm in 1943 and that was the last time her sister Melania Babenko saw her. Once the war ended, Eugenia was taken to an American camp, and with the divisions between the Soviet east and the west, she emigrated to the USA. In the Autumn of 2008 Melania contacted the Ukranian Red Cross to see if they could help with her search. She was not even sure if her sister had survived the war. After some research they contacted the American Red Cross who then carried out more research and traced Eugenia's oldest son living in New Hampshire. When they phoned him, he was pleased to confirm that his mother was still alive and in good health.
Within days the sisters made contact by telephone and shortly after had an emotional reunion in Ukraine after Eugenia travelled home to be with her sister again.
Sadly, the work of the Red Cross in war zones is still required 68 years after the end of WWII and are currently assisting in Syria which at the time of writing is in a state of civil war.