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The Birth of an Idea

The Red Cross idea was born in 1859, when Henry Dunant, a young Swiss man, came upon the scene of a bloody battle in Solferino, Italy, between the armies of imperial Austria and the Franco-Sardinian alliance. Some 40,000 men lay dead or dying on the battlefield and the wounded were lacking medical attention.

Dunant organized local people to bind the soldiers' wounds and to feed and comfort them. On his return, he called for the creation of national relief societies to assist those wounded in war, and pointed the way to the future Geneva Conventions. 

"Would there not be some means, during a period of peace and calm, of forming relief societies whose object would be to have the wounded cared for in time of war by enthusiastic, devoted volunteers, fully qualified for the task?" he wrote.

The Red Cross was born in 1863 when five Geneva men, including Dunant, set up the International Committee for Relief to the Wounded, later to become the International Committee of the Red Cross. Its emblem was a red cross on a white background: the inverse of the Swiss flag. The following year, 12 governments adopted the first Geneva Convention; a milestone in the history of humanity, offering care for the wounded, and defining medical services as "neutral" on the battlefield.

Jean-Henry Dunant was born on 8 May 1828 in Geneva to a middle-class Calvinist family. His early initiatives included participating in the creation of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in 1852 and the World Alliance of YMCAs in 1855.


The Barbados Red Cross Society began operations on 17th February 1960 as a branch of the British Red Cross. The National Society was incorporated by an Act of Parliament - (The Barbados Red Cross Society ACT 1969/35) as a Voluntary Aid Society, auxiliary to Public Authorities on 24th July 1969, and is governed by this Charter. In August 1984, the Society was approved as a member of the International Red Cross and became a full member of  the League of Red Cross and red Crescent Societies(now known as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, IFRC or the Movement). The activities of the Barbados Red Cross Society are overseen by an Eight (8) Member Governing Board, under the Leadership of the President.

The day to day functions of the National Society are overseen by the Director General. There is a small number of paid staff who each fulfill specific roles in the administration of the Society's work. As a non-profit organization however, the majority of the services provided are done through the organisation's membership base and coordinated by relevant Officers/Directors of Programmes. 

Barbados Red Cross First President

Ena K. Walters, became the first Afro-Caribbean and first Barbadian trained nurse to serve as Matron of a public hospital in Barbados. In 1957 she was appointed Matron of the Barbados General Hospital, and subsequently, Matron of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital which opened in 1964. She retired in 1983 after serving twenty-five years as Matron of both hospitals.

Ena Walters played a major role in the development of nursing in the region. She was appointed the first Chairman of the Regional Nursing Body and also served on a special committee for the establishment of the Advanced Nursing Unit at the University of the West Indies, Mona.

Dr. Walters was a founder member and Past President of the Barbados Red Cross Society and also a founder member and Past President of Soroptimist International of Barbados. The recipient of many awards, in 1987 she was awarded the Gold Crown of Merit (GCM) by the Government of Barbados.

Dr. Walters, received the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (M.B.E.) in Recognition of Her Distinguished Service to Barbados as Matron of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital 1958-1983

Miss Ena K. Walters, GCM, M.B.E.
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