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Red Cross and the Anzac legacy

As the Gallipoli Centenary approaches, we remember those who have fallen in war, and pay tribute to the many Australians who answered the call to support Red Cross in WWI.

Monday April 13, 2015

Lance Reginald Alderson was just 19 when he landed at Gallipoli. Just over a week later, he was dead, as told by Channel 7.

Every Anzac Day, Red Cross staff, members and volunteers honour the Anzac tradition by remembering Australian and New Zealand servicemen and women who served and died in wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations.  

On Anzac Day we also pay tribute to generations of Red Cross volunteers who have supported Red Cross since WW1, when Lady Helen Munro Ferguson, the wife of the then Governor-General, formed an Australian Branch of the British Red Cross Society.  

In the first few months after the outbreak of WWI, hundreds of thousands of volunteers signed up to help Red Cross provide humanitarian relief, with more than 300 branches created around Australia.   

Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachments were trained in first-aid and worked tirelessly caring for sick and wounded returned servicemen and their families.  

Red Cross volunteers raised millions of pounds for patriotic causes.  Women worked together in cities and country towns to produce an astonishing volume of knitted, sewn and baked goods, clothing and medical supplies to be shipped overseas to comfort sick and wounded Australian servicemen.  

Prisoners of war were sent parcels of two shirts, two undershirts, three handkerchiefs, two pairs of socks, a toothbrush, powder, shaving gear, comb, insect powder, pipe, playing cards, and needles and thread.  

A Red Cross Wounded and Missing Persons Information Bureau was established in each state, to help families who had either lost their loved ones, or had no certainty of their fate on the battlefields.  

Red Cross helped Lance Reginald Alderson's family (pictured top), in their desperate search for news from Gallipoli.  See this moving story told by Red Cross Ambassador and Channel 7 presenter Chris Bath.    

By the end of WW1 Red Cross had handled 36,000 searches for news of the missing or wounded. Many of the letters can now be viewed on the Australian War Memorial website, and they make painful reading.  

"I would like to know how long he lived after his wound" one mother wrote. "Did he suffer much, was he conscious, did he ask for his parents in any way and did he send any message.  I am so anxious to know about my dear boy".  

As soldiers returned home, Red Cross voluntary aids cared tirelessly for the sick and wounded in hospitals and convalescent homes, and rehabilitated wounded soldiers.  

One hundred years later, Red Cross has grown to become one of our country's largest voluntary humanitarian organisations, with over one million staff, members , volunteers,  donors, aid workers, blood donors and supporters.