After World War Two, former New Zealand prisoner of war Gunner Jim Henderson wrote;
“We used to say after the war the Red Cross should take over the world and run it. They’d shown what they could do in a world mad with war.”
Most people know about the Red Cross: during the War of Italian Unification between imperial Austria and the Franco-Sardinian alliance, Swiss businessman Henri Dunant visited the northern Italian battlefield of Solferino in 1859. Deeply affected by the 40,000 mostly unattended casualties on the battlefield, Dunant wrote A Memory of Solferino, founded the relief society that became the Red Cross and was the first recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1901.
As soon as World War Two was imminent, Red Cross societies everywhere (even in Japan) increased their efforts to be useful to soldiers and casualties of every persuasion. The effort was worthy of praise everywhere, but the very successful efforts to send parcels so far, all the way from distant New Zealand, to Allied prisoners in European camps adds a fascinating note.
This episode was written by Mark Webster.
Mark is a New Zealand historian and tech writer who recently completed a history of Red Cross parcels in World War Two. Millions of parcels were sent to hundreds of thousands of prisoners of war. Webster’s books focus on the New Zealand experience, but also covers the global humanitarian scheme. The ‘Parcels From Home’ books will be published in 2015 on Apple’s iBooks platform: a student version by Steve Bolton; Parcels From Home; plus a ‘Historian’s Compendium’ version with more detail and a chapter on prisoners of the Japanese.