Though the interest of the International Committee in civil wars and 'internal troubles' was as old as the Red Cross movement itself, the First World War broke out before there was time to draw up any coherent international agreement about them. True, the Committee had intervened in the second Carlist war of 1872 in Spain, and by the summer of 1914 had offered help in no fewer than nineteen civil wars. But the Boer war, among others, had brought to light the very real dilemma that faced the International Committee when a country --- in this case Britain --- simply refused to regard what was happening in South Africa as a civil war.
The whole subject of civil war and who, if anyone, should be responsible for its victims, had been tossed inconclusively from meeting to meeting, between Geneva and The Hague, for decades. Even President Ador had been able to do little more than soothe tempers when the Russian delegate to the Washington conference of 1912 had fallen out with the American representative, the one dismissing insurrectionists as criminals, the other welcoming them as soldiers. The conference had on the whole been little inclined to devote much time to civil wars, the mood towards them being, if anything, that they were things that happened to other people, far away. The Russian revolution of 1917 was to challenge this indifference.
There had been a. Red Cross society in Imperial Russia since 1867, shaped largely by the aristocracy and under the extremely active patronage, as we have seen, of the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna and the ladies of her court. Having embarked on the war against Japan in 1904 complacently unprepared and emerged from it humiliated and battered, the Russian society had spent the years of peace that followed practising conscientiously on a series of natural calamities. By 1914 it was in good shape. With a magnificent headquarters in St Petersburg, it boasted over 500 hospitals and convalescent homes, some 8,000 trained doctors and nurses supported by 4,500 nuns and a large number of 'felcher', partially trained helpers, whose qualifications placed them somewhere between doctors and medical students. There were hospital trains with steam baths that had already impressed foreign visitors, as well as disinfection wagons, a post office, a shop and a rolling stable for horses. The Russian Red Cross nurses wore white overalls over their grey linen uniforms; they worked with their arms bare, their sleeves rolled high above their elbows. When it was cold, they put on leather jackets and boots with high tops, which was said to make them look rather like English bus conductors.
At the start of the war, the Russian army under Grand Duke Nikolai, first cousin of the tsar, had advanced rapidly and with little opposition until it crossed the German frontier to occupy Prussia. Then, as supplies of ammunition ran out, it faltered and turned. Its retreat began slowly, but grew faster and more disorganized as the Germans pushed the Russians steadily back towards Warsaw. The Polish dirt roads were churned into mud by heavy rains, transport wagons and field guns. The wounded men, one German wrote, turned the track into 'mud and blood'. They were joined by civilians fleeing the German advance from the plains of Lithuania, the ports of the Baltic, and the mountains of Galicia. Fields of grass and corn near stations and railway tracks were flattened as soldiers and civilians surged towards the few trains that could carry them towards safety. By the end of 1915, as the winter descended with a ferocity that had not been seen for years, St Petersburg (now renamed Petrograd) and Moscow had doubled in size, with more wounded and destitute arriving every day. Moscow alone now had 1,275 hospitals.
The Russian army medical services had been overwhelmed from the beginning. Within a week of the outbreak of the war, however, the Union of Zemstvos, unofficial local societies born at the time of the Russo-Japanese war to help the government with money and provisions, had come forward to offer to supply clothes, medicines and equipment to the army. Under the efficient and energetic Prince Georgi Lvov, the Union was, by the end of the first year of the war, not only running hospitals, ambulances, trains and canteens, as well as feeding some of the military units, but also working at the front, manning field hospitals and, where it could, helping the ever-growing number of homeless civilians. The Union had adopted the red cross as its emblem --- another example of the way that Dunant's dream was permitted to take off in different directions, not always supervised too closely by Geneva --- and between them, the two organizations, which had become facets of one single military-driven organization, were providing the bulk of the care for the sick and wounded. Bernard Pares, a British volunteer who worked in a forward hospital with the Third Army in Galicia --- later professor of Russian history and literature at Liverpool University --described the Red Cross workers he served with admiringly: 'There was no drunkenness,' he wrote(2), 'everyone was at his best, and it was the simplest and noblest atmosphere in which 1 have ever lived.' The Red Cross general command had its own carriage, coupled to one of its 300 hospital trains, with a carpet, a hip bath and an upright piano.
Petrograd, by the time the retreat was in full spate, had become one vast hospital camp. Gone were the sumptuous banquets and receptions described by the last French ambassador to the Russian court, Maurice Paléologue, as a 'blaze of fire and flame', a 'fantastic shower of diamonds, pearls, rubies, sapphires, emeralds'. Many of the larger houses had been turned into hospitals, the electric trains doubled as ambulances and volunteers queued for hours in the streets to collect material from central depots to make into clothes and bandages for the army. Students and young women from good families waited at Petrograd's stations to greet the wounded as they came off the trains, though enemy prisoners-of-war were not always civilly received, the larger hospitals having what they called a 'menagerie' in which the prisoners were looked after. Inside their palaces, the dowager empress and the grand duchesses, in their Red Cross uniforms, directed women working as seamstresses. The imperial grand duke, the Duke of Oldenburg, had been put in charge of all relief work. The Winter Palace housed a royal hospital, in which the tsarina could be found preparing instruments for amputations, Russian doctors still being very much in favour of amputating. Society ladies joined in the rush for the front, receiving a blessing for their 'holy deeds' from the Metropolitan in the Hall of Catherine the Great as their units left for the war. They piled their hair severely under plain white handkerchiefs, left their maids behind and soon found themselves at work in dressing stations where the floors were permanently slippery with blood, and the smell of sweat, disinfectant and soiled bandages was overwhelming. The ladies of Russia were proving no less dedicated to war than their British counterparts.
Violetta Thurstan, a FANY whose chance meeting with Maria Feodorovna's nephew led her to volunteer for the Russian front, left a detailed account of the Russian aristocracy at war in letters to her aunt at home, scribbled in pencil. They are matter-of-fact in tone,(3) the same mixture of travel notes, sentimental high-spiritedness and gory descriptions as the many memoirs written from the French trenches. Attached to Prince Volkonsky's Flying Ambulance, she was sent to train with other would-be Red Cross sisters in the Smolny Convent, once a fashionable school for the daughters of the nobility. Here, she was able to observe the royal princesses, Anastasia, Maria and Tatiana, when they came to help bandage hospital patients. There was no difficulty with language, as most of her fellow trainees had been cared for as children by English nannies and governesses. Violetta Thurstan was amazed by the size of Petrograd, describing it as a 'city for giants' made of 'blocks, hewn by Titans'.
Within a few weeks, she was working under Princess Volkonsky in a field dressing station in Lódz, which had been cut off by the Germans. The unit was based in a school, which had no heating; blankets were in very short supply. Her job was to sterilize instruments by boiling them in water, but the pipes had frozen solid. Every patient and soon every nurse was covered in insects, the 'red ones,' she noted, being far 'more ravenous' than the white ones. She longed for a hot water bottle. The prince, 'grey faced' and as 'tall as a pine tree', and the princess, 'small, fair and vivacious', were tireless, pausing sometimes only at midnight to share a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine, before returning to spend the rest of the night preparing the wounded for surgery the next morning. After Lódz fell, Violetta Thurstan joined Grand Duchess Anastasia's hospital, alternating long days of nursing with visits to aristocratic families on their country estates.
In November 1915,(4) the Anglo-Russian hospital, established by Lady Muriel Paget when she heard from Bernard Pares of the huge numbers of Russian casualties in the winter of 1914, funded by the British public and supported by the British Red Cross, arrived in Petrograd to set up a base hospital and organize three field hospitals for the eastern front. It was to be a gift from the British to the Russian people. Its emblem, a woodcut carved by Sir Richard Paget showing a British lion and a Russian double-headed eagle holding up a Red Cross, perfectly captured the ambivalent position of the hospital, expressing something between sympathy for the suffering of Russian soldiers and embarrassment that the British were not able to do more to meet Russia's military needs.
Lady Muriel, fresh from her triumphs in France, was in charge together with the daughter of another British earl, Lady Sybil Grey, who had joined the VADs. Lady Georgina Buchanan, wife of the British ambassador to Russia and also the daughter of an earl, was already running a separate establishment, the British Colony Hospital. The three ladies were formidable, brave, dutiful and decidedly rivalrous. They were supported by a number of British surgeons, doctors and radiologists, all resolute-looking figures in their military greatcoats and heavy moustaches. There were also sixty-four British nurses and VADs, interviewed and appointed by Lady Muriel and vetted by the Foreign Office, who were soon having trouble learning Russian, quarrelling over their inadequate quarters and the lack of Cross and Blackwell jam, and protesting when they were sent to make up bandages in the Winter Palace.
There was some trouble finding suitable premises for the hospital(5), but Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich offered the piano nobile of the palace belonging to his aunt, the tsar's sister, a magnificent baroque building with attics full of elderly retainers and very little plumbing at 41 Nevsky Prospect, opposite the pink palace of the dowager empress. The grand duke would soon be Prince Yusupov's chief assistant in Rasputin's assassination. It took several months to cover the priceless parquet floors and engraved plaster walls with plywood. The opening ceremony was attended by the Russian court, 'strung all over' as Lady Sybil remarked, 'with medals and orders like an Xmas tree', and the imperial choir, 'in claret red and gold, singing the Graces'. Lady Sybil, had wisely thought to bring her jewels to Russia. Crowds gathered on the Nevsky Prospect to watch a sailor climb to the roof to fly a Union jack. The wards had been decorated for the occasion with pots of tulips and 'groves of palm trees', thoughtfully loaned by the Russian Red Cross.
Both Lady Sybil and Lady Muriel --- who arrived at the end of April 1915, after a progress through Norway, Sweden and Finland --- led field hospitals to the front after the Russian High Command, in order to relieve the pressure on Verdun, had opened an offensive in marshy country near Vilna, which left thousands of Russian casualties. Taking thirty-seven train carriages loaded with supplies, horses, mobile kitchens and medical staff, they roamed the countryside, picking up the wounded, suffering miseries in the seas of mud and icy gales, and pausing to picnic or play bridge when the sun shone. They were tormented by flies. Matron, who was being taught to ride, fell from her stationary horse and hit her head on a post. Lady Sybil noted that the Russian officers were 'v. exigeante & fussy, poor dears'. Lady Muriel was always keen to get 'closer to the enemy'. At the end of July 1916, the Anglo-Russian hospital was caught in the middle of a four-day battle along the banks of the River Stokhod; they nursed 538 wounded men, carried out seventy-four operations and lost only twenty-one patients. Later, Lady Muriel received a medal of St George, Second Class, for her part in it. At the end of December, following the assassination of Rasputin, Grand Duke Dmitri and Prince Yusupov took refuge in the palace on Nevsky Prospect that housed the hospital; amid rumours that both men were to be arrested and executed, Lady Sybil calmly oversaw the removal of a fishbone that had lodged in Prince Yusupov's throat.
The nurses of the Anglo-Russian hospital had an excellent view of the uprising in Petrograd in March 1917. They had been watching the lengthening queues of people waiting in the freezing cold with bread tickets and were not altogether surprised at rumours of possible bread riots. On the morning of Friday, 9 March, they stood at the windows overlooking the Nevsky Prospect to see striking mill hands and munitions workers gather below, jostled by Cossacks riding up and down among them. There were shots and they saw people fall. Thirty soldiers had been detailed to guard the hospital, but even so Lady Sybil thought it prudent to make up Red Cross flags out of sheets and an old Father Christmas costume and string them from the balcony. Casualties began to be carried into the wards and there were several unnerving moments when mobs threatened to search the building before being stopped by the loyal Russian orderlies. Troops of soldiers now joined the revolutionaries; the thirty hospital guards vanished. On 15 March, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated and a provisional government was formed under Prince Georgi Lvov, the man behind the Zemstvos. He was soon replaced by Kerensky. One night, as Lady Sybil was doing her last rounds, students with revolvers burst in; she thought they were demanding wine, but finally understood that they had come to offer it, Kerensky having ordered that Petrograd's wine cellars be emptied to prevent drunkenness and their contents given to hospitals.
The Russian Red Cross, child of Russia's court and aristocracy, did not fare well in the months to follow. Orders were issued immediately that it was to be placed under a special committee of the Duma and that there was to be a 'purification of the central administration'(6), a sweeping away of the old guard. The vast apparatus and network of the Red Cross, working efficiently alongside and with the union of Zemstvos, now rapidly fell apart, as new committees, sub-committees and delegations set themselves up to appoint new --- and inexperienced --- officers uncontaminated by aristocratic connections. Red Cross activities, whether at the front or in the supply depots, came to an almost complete stop.
Towards the end of June, a national conference of Red Cross employees opened in Petrograd. It was very unlike the staid and opulent gatherings of pre-war years. The first session was devoted to chasing out all 'reactionary elements'. At the second, a resolution was enthusiastically carried which denounced the Russian society for being run by favourites of the tsar who had furthered their own careers, recklessly spending money levied on the people, and for having been a refuge for rich and titled young men escaping military service. It was a tribute to the respect felt in Russia for the Geneva Convention and the whole apparatus of the Red Cross that it was not simply dismantled and left to die. When the final session came, delegates vowed to cleanse the society of all remaining aristocratic tendencies and to raise in its place a 'temple to international philanthropy ... in the name of a new national Russian Red Cross', which would 'help our people in epidemics, in droughts and other national calamities'.
There were a few protests, soon silenced. Officers to run the new body were recruited among doctors, nurses and even drivers not tainted by the old regime. The Swiss businessman F. Thormeyer, who had lived and worked in Russia for some years and was to serve as a delegate, inspecting prison camps, wrote sadly to the International Committee about the loss of excellent and competent administrators whom he had come to know and admire, and on the rapid descent of the Russian Red Cross into incompetence and anarchy. The decision to bring it directly under the control of the ministry of war was, he added, a 'death sentence'. He was right. At the front, as the provisional government sank into confusion, chaos spread, with Red Cross nurses deserting their posts and the nuns appointed to help them fleeing back to their communities as the wounded and sick men they were caring for caught the committee bug and began to vote for their own nursing routines.
From Geneva, Ador and the International Committee viewed the disintegration of the Russian society with alarm: it was the first time a national society had been destroyed by its own government. They were also faced with an immediate problem. Under the Red Cross statutes, only one society per country could be formally recognized, even if other groups were welcomed as collaborators. The old Russian society, crushed at home, had gone underground where it continued to function and protest, helped by the many foreign branches which had flowered in various European capitals. Meanwhile, the new Russian Red Cross society was demanding recognition. After much debate, it was decided to do nothing at all while the war continued but to acknowledge both bodies, without comment, even if Thormeyer regarded the various turmoils with considerable foreboding. 'They bear a heavy responsibility,'(7) he wrote about the society's new leaders. 'History will judge them, not by their theories, but by the results of their actions.' The October 1918 issue of the Bulletin contained a brief reference to the new Russian society, formed under a Dr Levsky; uncharacteristically it reproached the 'Russian revolutionaries' for their 'indescribable' behaviour.'
Yet the Russian revolution had many interesting repercussions for the Red Cross men in Geneva, among them unsolved questions as to who did and who did not fall under the mandate of the International Committee, particularly those in an entirely new category: that of political prisoners.
Lenin reached Petrograd in April 1917. In October, after months of struggle, councils of workers, peasants and soldiers took power and set up a Congress of Soviets. By then, the Council of the People's Commissars had transferred all the assets of the old Red Cross to the state and confiscated much of its extremely valuable property.
The International Committee had no representative in Petrograd, but Edouard Odier, one of its vice-presidents, happened to be serving in Russia as Swiss minister. He now persuaded Geneva to let him appoint Edouard Frick, a Swiss national who had been working as a volunteer with the Russian Red Cross since 1914, as their delegate, and prevailed on the new Russian authorities to allow him to carry out routine International Committee tasks, as a mark of their commitment to the Geneva Convention.
On the outbreak of war, Russia had interned many thousands of foreign civilians; the revolution had seen the detention of many more, no longer simply 'enemy civilians' but internal 'political' dissidents. These fell under the military and the department dealing with prisoners-of-war. As the new Soviet regime descended further into lawlessness, shortages and social upheaval, so the conditions of these men and women began to deteriorate. Frick was an energetic and clear-sighted man, and he made the most of the constantly changing cast of new Red Cross figures, appointed only to be arrested and themselves investigated. Before waiting for confirmation of his new job he called on ministers to make certain that they understood the importance, to their own Russian soldiers and prisoners-of-war, of honouring their international commitments. Feeling his way into a role never before explored by the International Committee, he set about organizing the representatives of neutral foreign Red Cross societies into a badly needed co-ordinating body, tried to negotiate exchanges of hostages with the White Russians --- those loyal to the imperial family --- and sent off missions to the war front to report on conditions and epidemics. Everywhere he went, he spoke about the importance of a truly neutral, international, humanitarian body, to help not only prisoners-of-war, but 'unfortunate people in general'. In both Moscow and Petrograd, he managed to convince the authorities to let him set up special committees for the welfare of political prisoners and, in the process of taking in food and medicine, was able to determine the conditions in which they were being kept. It was the first time an International Committee delegate had been able to include political detainees among his constituents. The Soviets treated Frick courteously, at least on the surface, but let it be known that they frowned on too much help going to members of the former aristocracy. Comrade Frick was encouraged to turn his attentions to proper prisoners-of-war. When the International Committee seemed to be dragging its heels in giving full recognition to the new Russian society, some of Frick's plans were abruptly cancelled.
The new Soviet government signed an armistice with the Central Powers on 15 December 1917; under the terms of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, signed in March 1918, the Russians surrendered the Ukraine, Finland, the Baltic provinces, the Caucasus, White Russia and Poland. In Petrograd, the Anglo-Russian Hospital was handed over to the new Russian Red Cross, and Lady Muriel departed for Odessa, where the Bolsheviks were in control, with a number of the remaining British doctors and nurses. By now, conditions in the new Russia were bleak, and becoming bleaker all the time, creating what was to be an enormous task for the International Committee in the years to come.
There will be little of sleeping tonight;
There will be wailing and weeping tonight.,
Death's red sickle is reaping tonight;
War! War! War!
So wrote an American Red Cross volunteer soon after the outbreak of war in 1914. His rousing and passionate tones, however, were not really matched by American commitment. Exhausted by giving to so many natural disasters, their minds turned inwards rather than towards a war 3,000 miles away in Europe. Americans responded sluggishly to early Red Cross appeals for help for the war: recruiting stands were set up on street corners, with banners saying 'Nurses, the call from No Man's Land is Come Across', but few chose to listen.
And some Americans, voicing the paradox that had long troubled its critics, continued to have real doubts about the moral basis of the Red Cross involvement in war itself 'No Red Cross aid ought to be sent out in a war,'(8) wrote a reporter called Miss Durham, who had covered the fighting in the Balkans, to a newspaper. 'To heal men's wounds and send them back to the front as soon as possible is to prolong war indefinitely.' What the American public really felt proud about was their highly developed peacetime programme, best exemplified perhaps by Commodore Wilbert E. Longfellow, known in the newspapers as the 'amiable whale', a huge, smiling man who travelled around America teaching swimming to Red Cross classes with an immense swimsuit stretched tight over his generous middle.
On 6 April 1917, the day that Congress voted for war, the mood changed. It is for you to decide whether the most prosperous nation in the world will allow its national relief organization to keep up with its work,' Woodrow Wilson addressed the nation, 'or withdraw from a field where there exists the greatest need ever recorded in history,' Now, the public rallied. President Wilson himself put sheep to graze on the White House lawn, later auctioning their wool. A war council was appointed within the American Red Cross; the country was divided into sectors; 'flying squadrons' of Red cross leaders took off for the rich western states; quotas were set; chapters were fanned into life; meetings were held and fundraising lunches organized. 'She is an enthusiast of the tensely quiet sort,' one newspaper described Mabel Boardman, who was still at the helm of the American Red Cross, 'capable, clever and executive ... with ... a certain shrewdness, backed by dogged persistency.'
However, what the Americans wanted was not a dogged and quiet woman, but an energetic and outspoken man with considerable powers of oratory. Mabel Boardman was pushed aside to make way for Henry P. Davison, a man who had risen from messenger boy to partner in Pierpont Morgan & Co., popular with his colleagues and good at catchy and quotable phrases. Davison was now appointed by the American Red Cross as chairman of the war council. He was fifty, good-tempered, selfless --- his biographer would later complain that it was very difficult to write about a man who 'spoke little, and wrote nothing, about himself' --- tolerant and decisive, and his crusading, homespun zeal with its particular blend of paternalism, whimsy and shrewdness touched some chord with the American public. 'The Red Cross never thanks people,'(9) he announced. 'It congratulates them', perfectly capturing what was to be the American Red Cross mood of the war. 'Our job . . . is to bind up the wounds of a bleeding world . . . Think Red Cross! Talk Red Cross! Be Red Cross! Those people over there have been fighting for us; they have been bleeding for us,' he told a crowd of supporters. 'And we are going around those 3,000 miles of distress and death and we are going to say to those people., "We are late, but we are coming ... We are today the richest people in the world, and the richest people in character and resources, the richest in money, and, I believe, as rich in sentiment as any people God ever made."' The powerful appeal of his message, the deliberate placing of America as the most generous of all international relief donors, would stamp not just the war years but the future of the entire Red Cross movement. How far Ador and his colleagues, few of whom spoke English or had ever travelled to America, recognized what would become a major threat to their position, is not known.
The first American Red Cross casualty of the war was its neutrality, though some had long argued that it had never given very much to the Germans. All national Red Cross societies of countries at war automatically become, as we have seen, auxiliaries to their armies, but in America, hitherto provider of aid to the Allies and Central Powers alike, the ties to the military would become exceptionally close. Despite an official statement by the war council that it would provide 'every aid and comfort', wherever it could, Davison was personally very clear. 'As to whether we help the Germans or not,' he told a Red Cross rally in New York, 'the answer is "No". But if a wounded German or a wounded Turk falls within our lines he is treated just as tenderly and carefully as an American boy.' The word 'neutrality' disappeared from the American Red Cross masthead. Its mission henceforth, as the US solicitor general phrased it, was to 'assist in winning the war'. Though precisely just what this would consist of took several months to establish --- 'Forty different field directors consulted forty different generals,' reported one official later, 'and got forty different answers' --- the American Red Cross now set out to take exclusive control of all relief for the sick and wounded in the army and to help the American soldiers in every way they could devise.
For this, and for the 'spiritual regeneration' that Davison had in mind, they needed money in vast amounts. While the marble hall of the new American Red Cross headquarters in Washington seethed with volunteers, many of them more willing than skilled, Davison turned his attention to fund-raising. He was brilliant at it. From among his Wall Street friends he drew in Grayson Murphy, vice-president of the Guaranty Trust Co., Harvey Gibson, president of the Liberty National Bank, and George F. Baker Jr., vice-president of the First National Bank. One banker gave him a million dollars; Henry Ford donated 5,000 Model Ts, clergymen were encouraged to pray for the success of the fund-raising campaign; the Kansas City Star was praised for running a headline 'Kansas City MUST have no slackers'; in Ohio, a woman gave a hen and a dozen eggs (auctioned for $2,002), and in New York, President Wilson was persuaded to lead a parade of 70,000 people down Fifth Avenue. Furthermore, the age of the Red Cross poster was born, which in years to come would see designers and artists all over the world produce exceptional art promoting the Red Cross message. Few, perhaps, are as memorable as Forsinger's saintly nurse, more Madonna than woman, cradling a wounded man over the caption: 'She's warming thousands, feeding thousands, healing thousands from her store: the greatest mother in the world: the Red Cross.' Later there was an acrimonious debate about Forsinger's model when Marguerite Fontrese, a mezzo-soprano from Cleveland, claimed that she had turned down a great operatic career to offer her services and Forsinger continued to insist that his model had been an artist called Miss Agnes Tait. There were also some protests from literal-minded military men, who objected that the poster was inaccurate as there were as yet no American Red Cross nurses at the front.
The fund-raising extravaganzas went on. Harry Gardner, the 'human fly', agreed to scale a New York skyscraper in a white suit with a large red cross painted on his back. Such was the response to the outdoor pageants, rallies, bazaars and 'Kick the Kaiser' parties that, according to Red Cross reports, vacuum cleaners were used to suck up the dollar bills. The first Red Cross war fund drive, in 1917, brought in over $100m and was reported to have involved more workers than any other single business venture in history.
In 1916, the American Red Cross had been dismayed to learn that while its membership stood at 31,000 members, Japan could count on 1.8 million and Germany on a million. A recruiting drive, brash, earnest and indiscriminate, was launched. Mabel Boardman, wearing a semi-uniform and what looked rather like a squashed top hat, now set about appealing to the volunteer spirit of American women. A knitting frenzy broke out and in what was later calculated to be two million hours at the needles, a pair of socks was soon being produced every twenty-five minutes. A tearful scandal (10) in which it was said that these knitted garments were being thrown away --one woman claimed to have seen a marine 'actually cleaning the guns with a hand-knitted muffler because there was no other use for it' --- was averted by soothing phrases from Davison(11) that women were weaving a 'white magic ... to shield their men from harm'. Red Cross chapters hastily issued instructions exhorting their members: 'DO NOT STOP KNITTING'. It was, wrote Davison later, 'the age of the wool: everybody was knitting'.
Children too were cleverly ensnared by vast junior drives that saw eight million of them join by 1918; they wore brassards and little red cross hats in school and scoured the countryside for tufts of wool scraped by sheep on to wire fences. The junior Red Cross, Davison was to write, gave children a sense of 'responsibility, business management, thrift, co-operation, generosity, patriotism and altruism'. The number of members now grew dramatically, day after day. 'It was,' recalled one of the organizers, describing the first heady months of the war drive, 'a mess', like 'living in a cyclone'. And yet a contributor to the American Red Cross Bulletin. was soon able to write, in one of the more fulsome of the many extravagant articles that now began appearing all across America:
I am sustained by forty million souls. My mission is of mercy, kindness and charity. . . My reward is the gratitude of the widow and orphan, of the strong and the sick, of the unhappy and the bereaved ... I lighten the horrors of the combat ... I bury the dead. I help the halt. I cheer the sorrowful ... I am the saviour of death. I am my brother's keeper. I am the Red Cross!(12)
The American Red Cross, so went a saying that now did the rounds of Washington and New York, had been a toy balloon; overnight, it had become a Zeppelin.
The Red Cross girl, as described by the popular American journalist Richard Harding Davis, in a novel of that name written in 1912, had 'hair like a golden rod and eyes as blue as flax, and a complexion of such health and cleanliness and dewiness as blooms only on trained nurses'. When America at last entered the war, Belgium was crushed, Russia disorganized and about to withdraw from the fight, France was ailing badly and Britain depleted of men, supplies, ammunition and energy. Europe had become an immense camp of the wounded, the dispossessed, the grieving and the sick. 'If you want to do something for me,' General Pershing, with the vanguard of what would become the American Expeditionary Force, told the American Red Cross, 'for God's sake buck up the French ... They have been fighting for three years and are getting ready for their fourth winter.'
By the beginning of June 1917, Major Grayson M. P. Murphy, Davison's banker friend and a West Point man, was on his way to Europe; in his wake would flow legions of dewy nurses and blue-eyed Red Cross girls, vowing to turn the American soldier into the best fed, best cared for and most cherished fighting man in the world, and to bring supplies and solace to the suffering people of Europe. Their energy was boundless. The usefulness of the Red Cross message as propaganda was not lost on Davison. 'We must go over to our friends and "back them up",' read a statement issued by the headquarters in Washington, 'give them good cheer and sympathy as well as medicine and nurses and doctors and money and bread and meat. We must prepare at once to play a tremendous psychological part.' He regarded good planning as crucial. On board the Lorraine, bringing the first contingent of senior Red Cross men to Europe, Murphy told his volunteers that he would consider as extremely inefficient anyone who had not learnt French within three months. They started right away and were soon seen pacing up and down the decks with lists of vocabulary, coached by a young teacher from Smith College who happened to be on board.
From Bordeaux, the forward party caught a train to Paris, where a house in the rue François Ier had been the American relief clearing house since the beginning of the war. Murphy was in a hurry. Within weeks, missions had been despatched to draw up reports on needs throughout the country and the building was submerged under people and supplies, arriving by the ton every day. A second house, in the Place de la Concorde, was taken over; then several others; then the six-storey Hôtel Regina in the Place de Rivoli. The plan was to divide the work of the American Red Cross into a department of civil affairs, dealing with relief to civilians, and one of military affairs, to concentrate on the needs of the American soldiers soon to arrive in great numbers.
Paris, in the summer of 1917, was deserted and, apart from what they brought with them, empty of supplies, though an American ambulance was running in Neuilly, staffed by American expatriates who turned up in 'their own pretty blouses and their high-heeled slippers and their ear-rings, the rest being enveloped in the all-concealing apron'. There was no paper and no sign of a typewriter. It was here that Davison's business-minded appointees came in to their own: France was rapidly carved into nine different zones, and requisition slips sped off back to America with calls for everything that might possibly contribute to winning the war and caring for the soldiers --- serum for gas gangrene, Christmas stockings, tapioca, croquet sets, candlesticks, galoshes, beans, folding beds and soup ladles, not to mention all the small items that Clara Barton had identified as necessary for the wounded, like writing paper, needles and tea strainers. The true Red Crosser,(13) as the literature put it, not only had to be a 'good grocer, dry goodsman, apothecary, financier, doctor and linguist', but must have the 'strength of Samson, the patience of Job, and the cheerfulness of the morning lark'. He also had to be resourceful. By now, France alone(14) had 600,000 disabled men, committing suicide at such a rate that one Red Cross man was detailed to set up a cemetery for them. To counter the horrors of disfigurement --- trench warfare had left thousands of men with jaws and noses shot away --- the American Red Cross set up a workshop to produce light, metal face masks, moulded to the wounded man's face with plasticine, with eyelashes in fine copper threads soldered on, and lips left slightly parted so that a cigarette could be smoked through them.
Two of the first American Red Cross arrivals in France were railway men. W. H. Atterbury was the vice-chairman of the Pennsylvania Railroad; named brigadier-general in charge of rail transport for the American service of supplies, he recruited a Major Osborne, an athlete and well-known expert on trains, and between them they set up what became known as the US Military Railroad in France. Seven other early arrivals were women, sent to write reports on canteen needs. They were soon followed by stenographers, schoolteachers, actresses, girls fresh from finishing school, all bearing trunks packed with sou'westers, black woollen tights and black hats in velour and straw. And if back home there were doubtful murmurs about the advisability of sending women to war, it was soon acknowledged that these women were keeping American troops 'clean in body and pure in spirit'. 'I think,' remarked a veteran later, 'that the presence of so many women is rather to be regarded as a real triumph for our Americanism.' As Davison saw it(15), they kept the soldier from the 'station-saloon and other temptations of the night, and went-further than most people knew towards keeping him clean and straight and ready for his big job'. .
The women seem to have had a lot of fun. Like their British counterparts, many had seized the chance of war to escape claustrophobic inactivity at home and they took to their new duties with considerable relish. The first American Red Cross canteen opened at Châlons-sur-Marne on 17 September 1917. It had a restaurant, several dormitories and bathrooms and a barber's shop. From one end of France to the other, American Red Cross ladies, most well born and none black, and many already friends before volunteering, were soon turning out the ubiquitous 'doughnuts for doughboys', looking after laundry, cooking hot meals and tending to stray casualties. A Mrs Belfont Tiffany personally dressed and bandaged the 'frozen feet of twenty-three Senegalese... great huge blacks, they were, whose feet were swollen three times the usual size'. These women wore uniforms, sometimes topped by improbable hats. Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt, asked to design a uniform, came up with a concoction in grey whipcord, its collar powder-blue, with a small brimmed hat and an immense cape modelled on that of Italian officers, so disliked by some of the women who had to wear it that they deeply offended her by covering it with lace collars, strings of beads and bright flowers. Few of the women who served in France were very young and a joke was soon being repeated among the soldiers about a man bidding his mother farewell as she left America for the war in Europe, saying to those around him: 'I'm too old to fight, but I'm sending my mother.'
For many of these American women, the war provided a first glimpse of Europe. They arrived a little uncertain about what to expect, having been told that, while British women were stalwart, French ladies tended to think only of clothes and intrigue. In the summer of 1916, Gertrude Atherton, an American widow and author of several novels, had been sent to France to draw up a realistic portrait of French ladies. She did most of her research in the Parisian shops and theatres, and amongst the pages of the fashionable and slightly outré novels of the day, producing a fascinating account; what they made of it back home is not known.
Mrs Atherton reached Paris decidedly sceptical. 'European women,' she noted briskly, 'tend to coarseness ... their cheeks sag and broaden, and their stomachs contract a fatal and permanent entente with their busts.' She consented to become the American president of the Le Bien-Être du Blessé, run by the marquise d'Audigné, which provided delicacies to dietary kitchens. Fashionable France, she reported, had taken to 'oeuvres', good works, very seriously. Countesses and duchesses, better known for their political breakfasts and receptions in the red and gold salons of the rue Faubourg St Honoré, were running glass bead workshops, where convalescent soldiers were turning out necklaces so stylish that 'some of the best dressed ... women were to be seen wearing them'. French ladies, she added, with a tone of surprise, were tough, wry, hard working and wholly admirable. What was more, they understood their station in life perfectly, for while the first division of the French Red Cross was run by a countess (Lady Muriel Paget's friend, the Comtesse d'Haussonville), its third division was 'composed of able and useful women whom fate has planted in a somewhat inferior social sphere'.
Gertrude Atherton was certainly snobbish, but she was not without insight. Soon dismissing the women of England as 'far more neurotic ... as they have fewer natural outlets', she ended her book with a fiery warning. The new powers and freedoms offered to women by the war, she forecast, were likely to spell disaster for the post-war social world. Having found, for the first time, that life was full of interest without men --- many men, she had decided, were really fit only to be servants --- were they ever again going to be content with servitude? 'To be a nurse is no bed of roses,' she concluded darkly, 'but neither is anything else.'
By the autumn of 1917, there were Belgian refugees scattered across Europe, many of them categorized as 'old persons, not claimed', but it was the children in particular who were in terrible shape. The American Red Cross war council despatched a child specialist to Europe and a campaign, ranging from food to the 'adoption of war orphans' was launched, with American 'god-papas' among the soldiers, an idea that ran into momentary trouble when mothers and wives back home expressed horror at the prospect of their men returning after the war with a small French-speaking child.
Davison's plan had been to appoint commissioners for the different war zones, men 'boundlessly energetic, clear headed, decisive, good on organization, tactful and good in emergencies', who would respect the great 'sensitivity of the Latin races' and eschew all suggestion of condescension. The first commissioner went to France. He was followed by commissioners to Russia --- where a man called Raymond Robins got on particularly well with Lenin and Trotsky --- to Romania, Serbia, Italy, England and Belgium. Their reports, sober and humane, full of practical good sense, sent back to Davison week after week, make impressive reading. American Red Crossers, leading convoys of trucks with desperately needed medical supplies, made their way over the mountains to Caporetto where the Italians were suffering huge losses at the hands of the Austrians; they handed out thousands of tons of hot cocoa, and enough dressings to provide a five-and-three-quarter-inch girdle of gauze around the entire world; they sent 60,000 lbs of blackberry jam to England; they set up networks of supplies that flowed smoothly, over enormous distances, against formidable odds; they trained dogs to search for wounded men lost on battlefields; they understood the need to return Europe to self-sufficiency, and restocked regions stripped bare by the Germans of all livestock; they coaxed soldiers back from despair with rousing musical evenings; they stunned Europeans with their lavishness, their insistence on soap and the inventiveness of their equipment; and they left diaries and letters which have a particular flavour of their own, an almost childlike mixture of naivety and shrewdness. They entered Vladivostok as the city became the last stronghold of Czechs and White Russians and they helped evacuate sick and desperate civilians; they covered 8,000 miles by sledge and fed 60,000 adults in and around Harbin in Manchuria and they did all they could, as Davison put it, to 'hold the Russians to the cause of right'. When they felt down, they sang:
If you can sit up three whole nights of travel
And smile with unwashed face at 9 a.m....
If you can bear to hear whole crowds of people
Converse in tongues you do not understand ...
By the end of the war, there were 6,000 American 'Red Crossers' in France alone. For the most part, they were welcomed, loved and applauded, even if there were inevitable lapses in tact and etiquette, and even if occasional misunderstandings led to narrowly averted scandals, like the sending of German-speaking nurses, fresh from work among the Germans and insisting on speaking German to each other, to help the destitute citizens of Petrograd. In the Herald back home in the United States, a Samuel Smiley complained that the ARC had become a 'sort of giant octopus' which threatened to 'monopolize the business of dispensing human charity'. Another of their critics was the novelist Edith Wharton, who had helped run the American ambulance in Paris before the arrival of the ARC --- at first complaining to a friend that she didn't know 'anything ghastlier than doing hospitals en touriste like museums' --- but then grew increasingly disenchanted with the ARC personnel whom she dismissed as 'incompetence and arrogance combined'. What anyone made of one American Red Cross mission to eastern Europe, celebrating the crossing of the Arctic Circle with a dinner of three turkeys, bagged on the shores of the frozen White Sea and fattened up by nurses who fed them sunflower seed, cooked by French chefs, carved by the leading American surgeon, washed down by six magnums of champagne, followed by ice cream made of snow, condensed milk and eggs, all lit up by the aurora borealis, no one ever found out.
And then the Americans became embroiled in one of the more extraordinary episodes of the Red Cross at war, that of the lost children of the Urals.(16)
In the spring of 1918, alarmed by the increasing food shortages and uneasy political climate, a number of parents in Petrograd decided to send their children to safety, to colonies set up for them in the Urals. Their teachers agreed to go with them. In all there were about 4,000; the oldest was nineteen, the youngest barely walking. George Bakiroff, who was seven, was the son of an office clerk; thirteen-year-old Petro Boronin's father was listed as 'workman', and sixteen-year-old Maria Galikova was the daughter of a bank employee. For a while, the children were well looked after. But towards the middle of June, the Japanese chapter of the American Red Cross received a long cable from a YMCA field director in Siberia, Dr Russell Storey, saying that he kept hearing stories about bands of wild Russian children, living in the woods in the Urals, eating berries and leaves. Some were totally naked. His report was passed on to the American Red Cross in Washington, who cabled their own field directors in Siberia to keep a look out for wild children.
The rumours were soon confirmed. There were indeed some ragged, miserable children in the forests, deserted by their teachers and cut off from home by the civil war. Having arrived in the colonies with only summer clothes, many had nothing left to wear. They were begging at the farms and being chased away by furious villagers. The American Red Cross sent out search parties, having decided that the best thing to do was to gather up the children and take them to the relative safety of their base in Vladivostok. So began a political saga that would draw in not only the national Red Cross societies of America, Russia, Japan and France, but their respective governments. The wild children of the Urals made marvellous political mileage.
In Vladivostok, the 800 or so children who had finally been rounded up were put to live in an old stone barracks on a rocky promontory; the older boys were taught trades, the older girls basic nursing skills. A crude postal system was set up so that they could communicate with their parents in Petrograd, who expressed relief that their children were being fed and cared for.
Harmonious relations did not last. A Russian radio station soon began broadcasting messages that the children were being kept 'under the most disgraceful conditions, both physically and morally', a form of treatment only to be expected 'from the representatives of ... imperialist governments'. Questions were asked in America. By now, however, Vladivostok was in chaos, and the Americans, evacuating their own forces, felt they had no alternative but to take the Russian children with them with a view to returning them as soon as possible to Petrograd. A journalist called Allen, serving with the American Red Cross, was put in charge. It was not an enviable task. On the Yomei Maru, the chartered Japanese ship that was to carry them to America, there were 428 boys and 352 girls; thirty-four were ill. Allocated to bunks, they roamed, reduced their sleeping areas to pigsties, and refused to do their lessons. The ship's lavatories blocked, backed up and began to spew sewage over the lower decks. The Yomei Maru was forced to put in to a port on Hokkaido for repairs where the recalcitrant teenagers were marched off to watch Japanese children doing gym and judo in orderly silence. Back on board, one boy became 'demented' and had to be isolated on the poop deck; the emergency lifeboat rations were pilfered, and there was a riot over the food (a typical lunch was potatoes in their jackets and sago in milk). Some days, temperatures rose to 130° F below deck; on others, children had to be moved from the decks because of torrential rain. Scabies broke out. The Japanese stokers made passes at the girls --- fifty of the children were adolescents. 'There were several complaints from the night policemen,' reads one rather laconic entry in the American Red Cross log of the journey, 'that they had difficulty in keeping the children in their sleeping hatches during the night.' A Mrs Mazoon, one of the Russian 'educators', spread a rumour that the older girls were destined for the white slave trade. Fights broke out between the Russian boys and the Japanese sailors.
The next port of call was San Francisco, where the children were bussed to a public ceremony in City Hall; the Russian newspapers published tirades about the exploitative behaviour of imperialist nations. In New York, the children were sent to see Staten Island; the Russians reported that they had been put in prison and were in danger of being shot and Soloviev, the president of the new Soviet Red Cross, muttered about national societies which failed in their 'elementary duties' when 'political or class interests come into consideration'. A boy was then indeed shot and wounded, in error, during a rally. Agents from the American justice department boarded the Yomei Maru and confiscated and then burnt books by Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. One of the Russian teachers who had stood by her charges and who was much loved by the children, died.
By now the American Red Cross was divided over what to do with their profoundly unwanted charges, Allen arguing that they must be returned to Russia as soon as possible, others saying that their parents had to be consulted first. Thirty thousand lists of the children's names were printed and circulated throughout Europe and North America, in case any of the families had since emigrated. As Lieutenant Colonel Robert Olds, the newly appointed American Red Cross commissioner for Europe, noted, 'It does not require much imagination to see that whatever we do, we shall become the object of violent attack and bitter recrimination.' He was right.
From New York they sailed on to France; during the crossing, the boys mutinied, saying that they refused to go to a country 'thanks to which the population of Russia ... is dying by the tens and hundreds of thousands'. At last, having spent weeks combing the Baltic in search of a country willing to take the children, tossed by storms that made them vomit all over the ship, the Yomei Maru berthed in the Finnish port of Koivisto (later Primorsk, Leningrad), where the children were taken to a Russian sanatorium by a lake. From here, in groups of a hundred, they were delivered over the border to Russia, the Estonian government acting as intermediary and members of the International Committee conducting the negotiations.
Only in January 1921 did the last child reach Petrograd, and only then was the American Red Cross commission to Siberia, for whom the children of the Urals had proved one of the worst nightmares of the war, finally liquidated. As for the children, they had been away from home for over two years, and sailed 14,600 miles. The venture had cost the American Red Cross $650,000.
It was absolutely inevitable, given the length of the war and the number of countries drawn into it, that there would be atrocities and breaches that the International Committee could never have imagined. From the very first, Dr Ferrière had watched, with growing despair, the way that the fighting had spread to engulf civilians. At a conference convened in Geneva for the national Red Cross societies of neutral countries in September 1917, he spoke passionately about the internees, a category of war victim unprotected under the Geneva Convention. Many, he pointed out, now faced their fourth winter in captivity. True, he told his listeners, there had been some successes, like the agreement signed between France, Britain and Germany in January 1916, mediated by the Red Cross, to repatriate women and children, and men who were ill or over fifty-five. But what of the 6,000 or so men and women held by the Germans for 'various acts of rebellion'?
The International Committee was cautious about its public appeals, anxious lest it devalue a currency that in any case had no power beyond that of morality and public embarrassment. Its messages, of censure or exhortation, were deliberated at great length and issued only with gravitas, like papal encyclicals. By no means all the many protests it received --- about the sinking of hospital ships or the targeting of ambulances -- were translated into public statements. In February 1918 came its most grave and horrified public utterance.
Scientific progress, Ador and his fellow committee members declared, far from diminishing the evils of war, as the advances in aeronautics and chemistry had once seemed to promise, had in fact done the opposite; it had not only increased suffering, but spread it across the entire population in such a way that 'war will soon be a work of general destruction and without mercy'. What they were referring to was poison gas. They called it a 'more refined kind of cruelty'.
The Hague rules of 1907 had very clearly forbidden the use of poison or poisonous weapons, along with everything else that could cause 'unnecessary suffering'. The first major gas attack of the war came in April 1915, on the front at Ypres, between Langemarck and Bixcshoote, when the German army decided to launch waves of chlorine gas, pumped out of pressure cylinders and delivered by the wind across enemy lines. Its effect had been immediate and devastating. Five thousand men had been poisoned, gasping for breath, their eyes watering, writhing in spasms, their tongues blackened; many of them died. Two days later, two Canadian brigades were gassed.
After this, the tactic spread. It was not without its hazards, for the wind could change, returning the waves back over the heads of the men who were sending it. In July 1915, the Germans produced poison shells, filled with gas and fired more reliably far over enemy lines. All through 1916 and 1917, Allied forces and Central Powers alike poured money into research programmes, producing ever more effective poison projectiles. At Verdun in October 1916, the French used shells filled with phosgene, said to be so lethal that they silenced almost half the enemy batteries. On the Russian front, the 53rd Siberian regiment lost practically every man in a chloride and sulphur attack, in such numbers that they had to be hastily buried in 'fraternal' graves, one body piled beside another. In July 1917, the Germans used mustard gas, 'Yperite', for the first time. A doctor called to treat gas injuries left a description of seeing Australian soldiers caught by gas: 'It was a weird sight to see them led away through the camp in moonlight, in long single files, holding on to each other and guided by an orderly as leader.'(17)
By early 1918, rumours were circulating that both sides were contemplating using aircraft and long range artillery to deliver gas more effectively far behind enemy lines. The losses, by this stage in the war, were enormous. In Geneva, the International Committee, seeking forecasts of probable use of gas, consulted a German chemist in Zurich. Professor Staudinger confirmed their worst fears. Poison gas was very easy to make, quickly and in great quantity.
On 6 February, Ador issued his most weighty message of the war. Addressed to sovereigns, the heads of governments and generals, and to 'all nations now pitted against each other', it seemed to step into new territory, to be closer to the language of judge and jury than ever before. Now that vast civilian populations were at risk, he said, he could no longer stay silent. Gas was barbaric; it violated all laws of war; it 'scattered death, and a most atrocious death at that'; and he who used it would be held responsible for turning the war in directions totally counter to all 'ideas of humanity'. What, he asked, would stop the world from descending into a conflict 'which will surpass in ferocity every barbaric act known to history'? He appealed to a 'spirit of humanity' he believed to be not quite dead in the hearts of men.
Three months later, in May, the Allies sent back their formal reply.
Its tone was pious. The armies of Britain, Belgium, the United States, France, Greece, Italy, Japan, Portugal and Serbia shared the International Committee's feeling that gas was 'barbaric' and for their part they had assumed it to be a thing of the past among civilized nations --- but what, given the behaviour of the Germans, were they to do? They would be delighted to discuss a total ban --- providing the Germans produced guarantees that they would obey it.
A short article then appeared in the Norddeutsche Allegemeine Zeitung. The British, not the Germans, it said, were to blame for the gas. Had they not started it, well over a month before the German attack? Was their gas not the more barbaric, being made of white phosphorus? Then there was silence, though a courageous German deputy, Dr Oscar Cohn, rose in the Reichstag to deplore Germany's part in the affair.
At last, in September, came the German reply. It was not so much pious as lofty. Faced with outrages that recalled the most 'sombre and barbaric' days of history, of an 'atrocity and cruelty that defied the imagination', the German army had in fact behaved with great moderation. It, too, would be very happy to discuss a ban --- though it doubted the word of the Allies.
The German reply arrived too late. Before the International Committee had time to draft an agreement over the use of gas, the war was over. But what would be remembered, in the years when the Committee would be severely criticized for its silence, was that, when faced by a practice it, together with the rest of the world, considered abhorrent and unacceptable, it had the courage and vision to speak out, to assume the role of public moral judge.
'Elle est finie, la grande guerre!' So began the first Bulletin of 1919, now rechristened the International Review. Though it would never be possible to know for certain how many casualties had been caused by a war that had lasted over four years and drawn in twenty-eight countries, a French army major(18) soon produced a report saying that twenty million men had been wounded and thirteen million had died --- a funereal army whose coffins, if laid end to end, would cover 10,000 kilometres, or the distance between Paris and Vladivostok. The money spent on the war, he added, was impossible to calculate, but it was certainly enough to give a home, furnished, and a garden to every member of the 'civilized' world, though just what counted as civilized, in the winter of 1918, was hard to say.
It was a time of statistics, some sad, some boastful, none very reliable. Of the 15 million men mobilized in Russia, over 1.5 million were dead, and the number taken prisoner was equal to three times the entire population of Switzerland. France had lost over 1.3 million men, dead or disappeared, but had seen deaths from wounds and illness in the army drop rapidly as more was understood about cleanliness, bacteria and vaccination. The American Red Cross, which had entered the war a poor relation to those of Japan and Germany, emerged from it in triumphant mood, with 28 million members, a quarter of the entire population of the United States. American Red Cross knitters, only momentarily slowed down by adverse publicity, had turned out well over 10 million garments. The British Red Cross had despatched 2.5 million separate parcels to prisoners-of-war from its stores in Thurloe Place. Everywhere, the Red Cross had opened doors for women and shown that they were stronger, braver, more independent and more resourceful than they had ever been allowed to think. Few would return willingly to their former lives.
The International Committee in Geneva could be forgiven a little complacency. It had carried the spirit of the Geneva Convention and the crucial Washington conference of 1912 in directions Dunant himself would never have dreamed possible. Forty-one delegates, all Swiss, all men, had visited 524 prisoner-of-war and labour camps across Europe, North Africa, Eastern Europe, Russia and Japan. Not only had it nursed, fed, transported, repatriated, traced and educated prisoners, ensuring that they were treated, as far as possible, according to a certain minimum code, but it had provided them with the wherewithal to 'tolerate their fate with dignity'. The International Committee had also played its part in some of the major medical and scientific discoveries of the war, the antiseptics, the inoculations, the disinfecting machines and the nursing of soldiers shocked by high explosives and terrorized by gas. And if there had been sadly little it could do for the bétail humain to which so many of Europe's battered civilians had been reduced, it had solemnly watched over the conduct of the war itself. A little known body of obscure Swiss businessmen and philanthropists in 1914, it came out of the war strong, prestigious and internationally respected, author and guarantor of standards of behaviour whose usefulness had been proved beyond all question. By the Armistice, it was hard to envisage a world without the Red Cross, and the International Committee had every intention, as it proclaimed in its newly named Review, of fighting 'without cease for the principles which are its raison d'être, for the triumph of right over force, of charity over egotism'.
It was as well that it felt so good, for the internal war about to split the Red Cross movement to its very foundations would prove extremely bitter; and very nearly fatal.