Category: World War Two

D-Day: How the Red Cross helped in World War II

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A truck with the words American Red Cross clubmobile painted on its side drives down a ramp from a boat onto a beach in Normandy just after D-Day.

A Red Cross clubmobile lands in Normandy, July 1944

My first impression of the beach is that there were very few people there.

Then, on landing, I could see hundreds of soldiers scattered out and lying flat.

Every now and then a few would get up, run forward and fall flat again. My first shell came whistling in and I hit the sand too…

– Field director, American Red Cross

 

D-Day. Even 75 years later, it brings up strong feelings and, for some, strong memories.

D-Day was the largest seaborne invasion in history. On 6 June 1944, over 150,000 British, American, Canadian and Free French troops landed on the beaches of Normandy in France.

Combined with major Soviet military action on the eastern front, it helped end the war in Europe.

The Red Cross was there, too, and we were involved at every stage, from planning supply chains to caring for wounded soldiers.

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Doris Zinkeisen: frontline artist who painted the liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp

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A painting by war artist Doris Zinkeisen showing a huge plume of black smoke rising into a cloudy sky that depicts the burning of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

The burning of Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp by Doris Clare Zinkeisen, 1945. © Doris Zinkeisen’s estate. Photo, British Red Cross Museum and Archives.

Doris Zinkeisen was the first artist to enter the infamous Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp after it was liberated on 15 April 1945.

She would have witnessed the 13,000 unburied bodies and around 60,000 inmates, most acutely sick and starving.

As an artist, she had been commissioned to record what she saw for the British public. In those years before TV cameras and 24-hour news, people relied on photographs and paintings to illustrate what war was really like.

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The man who took on the Nazis with a needle

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Black and white photo of a smiling POW taken by the Red Cross for his family

The Red Cross took this photo in March 1943 for Alexis’ family

Prisoner of war, top-secret spy and subversive stitcher – Cas certainly lived a full life. But his daughter had no idea about half of it, until she found a mysterious box in the attic.  

Please note: this article contains swear words

An 85-year-old man wanders along a Greek seafront. He looks with interest at an open-air exhibition: huge, blown-up photos of a World War Two battle on this very island from 50 years earlier.

One photo shows a sea of weary men, bracing themselves for years of German capture. Only one face is turned, looking straight at the camera.

The elderly man stops. He lets out a gasp.

At this point in the story, his daughter leans forward to tell me: “He had an extraordinary gift for being photographed.” More

The GI bride who was swept away

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GI-bride

As Valentine’s Day approaches, Sylvia O’Connor describes how being a 1940s Red Cross volunteer led to love – and whisked her off to the other side of the world.

During the hectic days of the Second World War, I left school and got an office job at the Piccadilly Hotel in London’s West End.

The whole area was full of American GIs, and all the office girls used to gather by the window to watch them in the street. It felt like watching a movie.

When I heard the Red Cross were looking for English girls to help out at their social clubs for the Americans, I decided to help. More

10 things you didn’t know about the Red Cross

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1. During the Second World War, as well as sending food parcels, we sent artificial limbs to wing commander Douglas Bader in a parcel while he was a prisoner of war. We also sent more than 14,000 musical instruments to POWs, resulting in orchestras at 100 camps. Books were also provided for recreational and study purposes.

2. Our Pakistan Floods Appeal reached 2.5 million people on Twitter.

3. We have one web-footed volunteer – a dog called Loki. The Newfoundland is a member of the water rescue team in Northern Scotland and prized for his life-saving prowess in water, in case of  floods.

4. Agatha Christie was a voluntary aid detachment for the Red Cross during the First World War  and Second World War.

5. As well as donations to our emergency appeals, we receive some more unusual things in the post from the public, such as a prosthetic leg… and tea bags.

6. Our fourth most profitable charity shop – taking nearly £100,000 profit already this year – is situated in a sunken car park, off the beaten track, in Banchory, Scotland.

7. Percy Lane Oliver, a British Red Cross volunteer, set up the UK’s first blood collection service in 1921. The Red Cross supported the NHS with blood transfusion until 1987.

8. Rudyard Kipling helped with our war library, which supplied free books and magazines to sick and wounded soldiers and sailors in the UK and abroad during the First World War.

9. The Red Cross worked with the Department of health to produce dressings made of moss throughout the Second World War. There was substantial demand from hospitals which led to a huge saving in the use of cotton wool. The dressings were made by Red Cross work parties throughout Scotland. By June 1945, there were sufficient stocks. During the war 83,616 dressings were dispatched from Ayrshire, 35,475 from the Glasgow regional centre, and 35 sacks and 2037 dressings from Lanarkshire.

10. It may only be October, but our Christmas cards are already available online.