The Royal Dutch Mint have launched (16th May) new commemorative coins to mark the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Dutch Red Cross, which was officially founded in 1867.
This anniversary is celebrated every year on the 8th May with a royal ceremony in the Ridderzaal in the Hague. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was founded in 1863 by Swiss humanitarian Henri Dunant (1828–1910), who saw the need to organise the improvement of care for wounded soldiers after personally witnessing the aftermath of the Battle of Solferino in modern-day Italy in 1859. For his efforts—which became a worldwide movement—Dunant became the first-ever recipient of the Noble Peace Prize in 1901. Since then, the Red Cross has expanded to have representation in 190 countries and has for many years been the first point of call during weather-related disasters and earthquakes. The International Red Cross has been present in the middle of battlefields during both World Wars, offering crucial medical attention impartially to wounded soldiers. They have been instrumental in keeping family members notified of the status of their loved ones in the most dangerous conditions during civil and international conflicts.
The coin is designed by Rogier Arents and is unique in terms of Dutch collector coins, since it is their first-ever coin to share one design equally on both the obverse and reverse. This feature is deliberate, to symbolise the impartiality of the Red Cross globally. The design shows a tilted globe, with a balanced pattern of crosses to symbolise the unity of the Red Cross and associations worldwide. Beneath the tilted globe is a profile of HM King Willem Alexander, who faces to the right in similar fashion to the earlier coin portrait of King Willem III, who was king of the Netherlands at the time of the founding of the Dutch Red Cross. The style of the text on the coin is that used by the ICRC. The silver Proof version includes a red colour cross.
|€5||Silver plate||10.5 g||29 mm||Brilliant Unc.||12,500|
|€5||.925 silver||15.5 g||33 mm||Proof with applied colour||6,500|
|€10||.900 gold||6.72 g||22.5 mm||Proof||1,000|
The Royal Dutch Mint are now accepting orders for the new €5 and €10 coins, which will begin dispatch from the 12th June. The Brilliant Uncirculated examples are packaged in the Royal Dutch Mint standard coin-card, while the Proof versions are presented in a colourful coin folder and slipcase. The gold Proof versions are encased in a custom wood box and accompanied by a certificate of authenticity. Please visit the e-webshop of the Royal Dutch Mint for more information on these new coins.
The Red Cross—An International Safeguard
Few could have envisaged what the International Committee of the Red Cross would evolve into when it convened its very first meeting 154 years ago, on the 17th February 1863—today considered the day of the founding of the ICRC. The idea was borne from the crucial need to care for the wounded soldiers on battlefields. Such care was simply not present or organised until many soldiers reached safe territory well away from the primary fighting. In this regard, many lives were lost and even more soldiers were permanently left with wounds and scars that would affect their lives both physically and emotionally. The idea of the Red Cross was to provide care near—and in some cases, on—the battlefield and impartially without regard to the side of the belligerents involved.
The idea of the need to care for these soldiers was the result of a young Swiss-French man’s personally witnessing the results of harsh battle. Businessman and social activist Henri Dunant (1828–1910) travelled to what had been the Battle of Solferino in modern-day Italy in 1859. The fighting occurred in June 1859 between allies Sardinia and France against Austria, and is still remembered as the last major battle in world history where all the armies were under the personal command of their monarchs—Napoleon III for France, Victor Emanuel II for Sardinia, and Francis Joseph I for Austria.
The sight of more than 23,000 wounded and dying soldiers who were receiving very little care (or, in many cases, no care whatsoever) had a great impact on Dunant. He took it upon himself to organize the nearby civilian population, especially the women and girls, to provide assistance to the injured and sick soldiers in the form of whatever medical care was available at the time. What Dunant also saw was a severe shortage of both supplies and people capable of administering basic medical care. Dunant stayed on and financed the purchase of the needed medical supplies and also organised the construction of temporary hospitals. He even convinced the locals to not only help their own men but those fighting on the opposing side as well.
The sentiment of tutti fratelli, or “all are brothers,” was the argument used by Dunant and by the locals sympathetic to his way of thinking. Dunant was also instrumental in arranging the release of the Austrian doctors captured by the French in an effort to put them to work in his temporary hospitals. Thus, the concept of emergency care near or on the battlefield was the core function of the newly created Red Cross.
When Dunant returned to his hometown of Geneva in July, he wrote a book about his experiences and what he’d observed first-hand. The book was titled Un Souvenir de Solferino (“A Memory of Solferino”). Dunant published the work himself in 1862, self-financing a print run of 1,600 copies. He focused on the aftermath of the deadly battle—the needless number of soldiers who died from wounds that should not be fatal. Explaining that many deaths could be avoided if the injured could reach medical facilities and trained people capable of tending to their wounds without regard to which side they fought on. He called for an organisation to be established to do this very thing. His book was distributed to many leading political and military figures in Europe, and Dunant also travelled personally to promote this concept.
The Red Cross Is Founded
With Dunant’s calls for better and swifter treatment of soldiers on the battlefield to prevent needless deaths, his ideas were gaining popularity, especially in his home country of Switzerland, and more importantly, in Geneva. Dunant’s book had been the primary topic of conversation with the president of Geneva’s society for public welfare, who invited Dunant to create a committee in order to discuss not only his recommendations, but how to implement them in a meaningful way. The new committee included eminent doctors and a Swiss army general—and it is this initial meeting of these men on the 17th February 1863 that is considered the day of the founding of what was to become the International Committee of the Red Cross. Initially, Dunant was challenged on his idea to maintain neutrality on the battlefield and was counselled to eliminate this concept, but Dunant insisted this be one of the primary pillars of the organisation’s function.
Unfortunately, although the neutrality of the future activities of the Red Cross became one of the most important elements of their function, Dunant was moved from his place of leadership to a subordinate position. By October 1863, when 14 other states participated in an international accord to discuss the improvement of care for wounded soldiers, Dunant’s role was diminished substantially to that of an officer of protocol. On the 22nd August 1864, the unthinkable occurred—the signing of the first Geneva Conventions was undertaken by diplomatic representatives of 12 countries at the invitation of the Swiss parliament—but by this time, Dunant had been relegated to an observer. The charter of the Geneva Conventions and ICRC and its primary functions included five fundamentals:
- the foundation of national relief societies for wounded soldiers,
- neutrality and protection for wounded soldiers,
- the utilisation of volunteer forces for relief assistance on the battlefield,
- the organization of additional conferences to enact these concepts in legally binding international treaties, and
- the introduction of a common distinctive protection symbol for medical personnel in the field, namely a white armlet bearing a red cross.
The 12 original signatory countries were Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland, Spain, and Baden-Hesse-Prussia and Württemberg (all in present-day Germany). The Red Cross in the Netherlands was formally adopted on the 8th May 1867 by royal proclamation and signed by King Willem III. The Swiss government had intended to involve as many countries as possible to the signing and inauguration of this new protocol and invited the governments of all European countries, as well as those of the United States, Brazil, and Mexico, to attend an official diplomatic conference. Sixteen countries in total responded by attending and sending a total of 26 delegates to Geneva.
The Red Cross Comes into Its Own
After the formal establishment of the Geneva Conventions in August 1864, the first national societies were founded in Belgium, Denmark, France, Oldenburg (present-day Germany), Prussia, Spain, and Württemberg. However, it was before the actual signing of the conventions that the services of the Red Cross would be called upon for the very first time. During the Second Schleswig War in 1864 and the battle of Dybbol, which took place from the 7th to the 18th April when the Danish Army withdrew from their traditional fortified defence line, the Dannevirke. The waters and marshes that supported its flanks had frozen solid during a harsh winter and the Danish army headed for Dybbol to find a more defensible position. This miscalculation and perceived abandonment of previously fortified positions resulted in a Prussian-Austrian invasion and subsequent victory over Denmark and the surrender of the province of Schleswig. It was at this battle that the international symbol of the Red Cross was used to intervene and tend to the wounded on the battlefield.
A Change of Fortunes for Henri Dunant
Henri Dunant had for the most part financed the initial beginnings of the Red Cross with his own funds from various businesses, neglecting his own interests in favor of his humanitarian activities. By 1867, he was facing increased financial pressures and failing ventures to such an extent that Dunant was facing criminal charges of fraudulent bankruptcy. He was also facing unfavourable public opinion due to these charges; as a consequence, Dunant was expelled from his remaining position as a member and secretary of the ICRC. He left Geneva rather than face additional charges and moved to Paris, where he lived in modest circumstances. Even with decreased personal and financial means, Dunant never stopped in his pursuit of humanitarian causes, adding the founding of the Common Relief Society (or Allgemeine Fürsorgegesellschaft) and the Common Alliance for Order and Civilization (or Allgemeine Allianz für Ordnung und Zivilisation) during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 to his name.
In response to the criticism that he had made war more attractive and imaginable by eliminating some of its suffering, Dunant also steadfastly argued for disarmament negotiations and for the establishment of an international court to mediate international conflicts. It would not be for another 30 years that the contributions of Dunant would be recognised by an international organisation—the Alfred Nobel committee in Oslo, where he was nominated for the first-ever Nobel Peace Prize. The committee wished to recognise the contributions of the founder of the Red Cross, which by now was established in just about every recognised country around the world. The Nobel committee was considering Dunant and Frédéric Passy (1822–1912), a French economist and noted pacifist. Because of the notoriety of Dunant’s previous financial ruin, he was considered a controversial candidate, but he had steadfast supporters on the Nobel committee. Once again the argument that the establishment of the Red Cross had made the option of war more possible by eliminating the suffering associated with fighting was used by Dunant’s detractors and those who supported the nomination of Passy. In the end, it was decided that the prize should go to both jointly. When notification was sent to Dunant announcing he had been selected as the recipient of the first Noble prize, the text read:
There is no man who more deserves this honour, for it was you, forty years ago, who set on foot the international organization for the relief of the wounded on the battlefield. Without you, the Red Cross, the supreme humanitarian achievement of the nineteenth century, would probably have never been undertaken.
Nothing more than these words could have contributed to the rehabilitation of Dunant’s reputation publicly as not only a genuine humanitarian but also a selfless man who had wished to make the world a more caring place. The shrewd decision by the Nobel committee in 1901 to divide the prize between Passy, a pacifist, and Dunant, a humanitarian, set a precedent for the conditions of the Nobel Peace Prize selections in later years. Because of Dunant’s financial difficulties, he was still being pursued by former creditors in Switzerland. The Nobel committee arranged for his prize money of 104,000 gold Swiss francs to be deposited in a Norwegian Bank, but true to Dunant’s character, he never spent the money during the remainder of his life.
Dunant spent his declining years in a nursing home in the town of Heiden, Switzerland, having returned to his homeland in 1887. He died there on the 30th October 1910, at the age of 82. During his later life, he had been burdened with the guilt of not having been able to satisfy the debts he had accumulated earlier. After his death, the remaining funds in his name went to his creditors, partially relieving his debt. According to his wishes, he was buried without ceremony in Zurich. Additionally in his will, he donated funds to secure a “free bed” in the Heiden nursing home “to always be available for a poor citizen of the region” as well as bequeathing some money to friends and charitable organizations in Norway and Switzerland.
The ICRC Legacy
Today, the International Committee of the Red Cross and, since 1919, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, are represented in 190 countries and have been consistently recognised by numerous world bodies for their invaluable contribution to ease the suffering of countless soldiers and civilians caught up in war, conflict, and natural disasters. The Geneva Conventions are also a legacy of the Red Cross and have accounted for the ability of the Red Cross to enable soldiers captured during hostilities to keep in contact with concerned family members. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have been familiar sights during times of natural disaster in countries that are developed, emerging, and everything in between, providing assistance and relief. The Red Cross and Red Crescent are also instrumental in the drive for blood donations during times of conflict, disaster, and peace alike, and are primary sources of this needed element of first aid. The Red Cross and Red Crescent rely on a significant number of volunteers, numbering more than 17 million worldwide—more than any other international organisation. For more information on the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, please visit their website at http://www.ifrc.org/en/. ❑