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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.




Under the existing Geneva Conventions, provision is made for certain services such as the succouring of the sick and wounded, the care of prisoners of war, and the supplying of medical and recreational comforts for patients in hospitals, convalescent homes, and other institutions. This responsibility is the recognised role of the Red Cross. When the First World War of 1914–18 opened, the New Zealand Red Cross movement, as we know it today, had not been formed. When, however, war began, various groups throughout the country sprang into being, anxious to play their part in meeting the needs of those of our forces who had been rendered hors de combat by the effects of hostilities. To give homogeneity to these various groups engaged in this Red Cross work, inquiries were made of the British Red Cross Society in London, with the result that under its Supplemental Charter of 1911 it granted authority to constitute a branch of its organisation in this Dominion. Vested with this power Red Cross operations were accelerated, committees being set up in territories to conform with the then four military districts, i.e., Auckland, Wellington, Canterbury, and Otago, Southland being added later. Appeals in support of the work were launched to which public response was prompt and generous, and substantial sums were remitted to the British Red Cross, thereby strengthening its hands in meeting its manifold obligations on all fronts on which our forces were engaged. In February 1917 a meeting of delegates of the branch was held under the chairmanship of the Earl of Liverpool, then Governor-General of the Dominion. The principal business was to decide on a name and the adoption of a constitution and rules. In deciding on the name, “The New Zealand Branch of the British Red Cross Society”, the words “and Order of St. John” were added on the motion of the late A. E. G. Rhodes, an officer in the order. Since the Red Cross and St. John were conducting their operations in England under a joint agreement, the meeting no doubt felt that, by the addition of the words, a similar step was being effected here. Some confusion resulted, but nevertheless the conjoint efforts in the First and Second World Wars were carried through with unimpaired and effective zeal.

In July 1919 a meeting was held at Cannes sponsored by the then allied powers, Great Britain, U.S.A., France, Japan, and Italy, at which the League of Red Cross Societies was constituted. This in effect federated on an international basis the Red Cross, Red Crescent and Red Lion, and Sun Societies, and it is under this organisation that Red Cross activities in the respective countries are pursued. Briefly stated, these objects cover the promotion of health, prevention of disease, and the mitigation of suffering throughout the world, irrespective of class, colour, or creed.

Today the league comprises 94 National Red Cross Societies with a membership of over 180 million.

In 1931 the society in the Dominion was reconstituted and ceased to be a branch of the British Red Cross Society. Today it enjoys, in common with kindred societies, full autonomy under the title of The New Zealand Red Cross Society Incorporated. Control of the work is in the hands of a council comprising two delegates from each of the society's 38 centres, plus a representative of the Government, and of kindred organisations. A Dominion executive of up to 12 is elected at the annual meeting of the council, whose duty it is to implement the policy of the council. There are 40 centres and 304 subcentres charged with the duty of carrying out the work in the territory under their jurisdiction. The adult membership, which is always increasing, stands (1965) at 25,379. Appreciating the potential for good among our youth, the Junior Red Cross movement with its ideals of service is fostered in our primary and post-primary schools with encouraging results. There are 756 Junior Red Cross Circles having a membership of 20,156.

Training in first aid, home nursing, communal health, and hygiene is conducted for young and old. Trainees when qualified are organised into detachments ready for service in epidemic, earthquake, flood, fire, tornado, or any other national or international emergency which might arise. But for those members who do not wish to undertake this type of training, there are many Red Cross activities which require only the interest and enthusiasm of the volunteer.

The society's objective is to bring succour to stricken humanity, thereby promoting understanding, goodwill, and peace among the people of all nations.