The Red Cross and Empress Augusta

Empress Auugusta was a noble woman who led a joyless painful life; her connection with the Red Cross Society is perhaps not generally known, nor the substantial encouragement she gave to the scheme when first introduced in 1864.  She excelled as a organiser, and the number and wide scope of her charities testify to her capabilities.

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The Red Cross and Empress Augusta

Excerpt from Augusta Empress of Germany by Clara Tschudi published in 1900

Augusta Empress of GermanyThirty years ago, the care of wounded soldiers was far removed from the present organised system; it was then usual, in accordance with established custom, to fire on an ambulance, to capture army surgeons and their nursing staff, and to ransack the hospitals of the enemy. It was barbarous, but admitted, and it was not until after the Italian war of [1859], that the question of the neutrality of the wounded was first ventilated in an address delivered by the Neapolitan, Dr. Palasciano, which gave rise to the Geneva Convention. The thought became enlarged and worked out in many directions, notably by the Swiss author Henri Dunant, who in his book, “Recollections of Solferino,” depicted in burning words the horrors which he himself had witnessed on the battle-fields of Italy. He maintained that in order to introduce a better condition of things in future wars, it was not only necessary that the military sanitary system should benefit by neutrality, but that “relief societies should be formed in time of war by means of qualified volunteers.”

His words aroused attention, and an International Conference was held at Geneva, October 26th, [1863], to discuss the proposition of Dr. Palasciano and Henri Dunant, after which a committee was formed to deliberate on the means of developing them in a practical manner. Later on the International Society termed “The Red Cross Society,” again assembled, when the meeting at Geneva was attended by official, delegates from Austria, Spain, France, England, Holland, Prussia, six minor German States, Switzerland and Sweden, while addresses expressing approbation were received from Belgium, Denmark, Italy and Portugal.

Under the presidency of the respected Swiss General Dufour, these representatives of the rulers of fourteen states were unanimous, and the Geneva Convention was signed, August 22nd, [1864], in consequence of which the sick and wounded and all belonging to a military nursing staff are recognised as neutral in time of war.

“The Red Cross” became the badge of the Society and the international code was henceforth acknowledged by every European State. Such a merciful decision could not fail to awaken the keenest interest in Augusta of Prussia, who was the first to make her kingdom really energetic in carrying out the ideas suggested by the Geneva Convention. During her many sleepless nights on a bed of sickness, the concerns of “The Red Cross” became her chief subject of thought, and her practical experience of life helped to render her in the course of years an authority on every detail connected with the institution.

Before the war of [1864], Prussia had few societies occupied with the care of the sick and these were in no way in touch with each other, but on the outbreak of war their respective committees consulted together and then agreed upon co-operative work of which the Queen took the direction, and at the end of the fifth campaign, she became convinced that it was incumbent upon her to introduce the newly developed hospital system.

Excerpt from Augusta Empress of Germany by Clara Tschudi published in 1900


Further Reading and External links

International Committee of the Red Cross – War and Law

Henry Durant