1876: A Serbian Red Cross Ambulance assisting wounded in the Serbo-Turkish war

This image, taken from the archives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC),was taken during the 1876-1878 Serbo-Turkish war.

Founded in early 1876 following the recommendations made in Henry Dunant's book, "A Memory of Solferino", and the creation of the International Committee for Relief to the Wounded (Military) that followed, the Serbian Red Cross treated the wounded following the outbreak of the Serbo-Turkish war in June 1876.

"A Memory of Solferino", written by the Geneva businessman Henry Dunant, was first published in October 1862. In this book he tells the story of the human tragedy that he had witnessed three years earlier in northern Italy.

On June 24 1859, while on a business trip, Henry Dunant arrives in the village of Castiglione, near the town of Solferino, where a bloody battle is raging between the Franco-Sardinian armies and Austrian troops. Thousands of wounded, abandoned by their armies, take refuge in the village. Faced with the plight of hundreds of wounded crammed together in appalling conditions in the Chiesa Maggiore, Henry Dunant, alongside a group of local women, works day and night to help them.

"A Memory of Solferino" ends by asking two questions, which are also calls for action.

"Would it not be possible, during times of peace and stability, to form relief societies with the aim of taking care of the wounded in wartime, run by courageous, dedicated and well qualified volunteers?"

As a result of this first question the Red Cross was born, and will celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2013.

The second question is an appeal to the military to formulate "some international, conventional and sacred principle that, once agreed upon and ratified, would constitute a basis for relief societies that would provide assistance to the wounded throughout Europe."

This second appeal is at the origin of the Geneva Convention.

Dunant's book had a considerable impact throughout Europe. In Geneva, the Geneva Society for Public Welfare, under the impetus of its President Gustave Moynier, decided in February 1863 to set up a Commission to study Dunant's proposals. Composed of five members (Moynier, Dunant, General Dufour, and the doctors Maunoir and Appia), the Commission, calling itself the International Committee for Relief to the Wounded (Military)" at its first meeting, was the origin of the current ICRC.

Acting on its own initiative, the International Committee organized an international conference in October 1863 in Geneva in order to explore ways to address the lack of medical services for armies on the battlefield. The conference ran from October 25th to October 29th and adopted ten resolutions which form the basis of the Relief Societies for wounded soldiers - the future Red Cross.

More information: 

ICRC's history

ICRC's resources centre

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