Red Cross has long history

Throughout May, which is Red Cross Month, members of the public have been given the opportunity to learn more about the Cayman Islands Red Cross from an exhibition at the old library in George Town. 

The exhibit was designed to raise awareness of the work Red Cross does in the community and to showcase its four main programmes – HIV and AIDS programme, the first aid programme, the disaster management programme and the thrift shop.  

Visitors to the exhibit got to see some of the equipment and materials the Red Cross uses, including first aid equipment, disaster supplies, materials for the HIV/AIDS programme and even items from the thrift shop. 

The exhibition also featured a video providing information on the history and role of the International Red Cross Movement. 

The Red Cross movement has its roots in a battlefield. Founder of the Red Cross Jean-Henri Dunant, a Swiss businessman, was travelling through the northern Italian town of Solferino in June 1859 on his way to try to meet the French emperor Napolean III. The French and Sardinians were fighting imperial Austria and the battle of Solferino had just finished.  

Of the 320,000 men who fought, 40,000 were killed or wounded in the 15-hour battle. Mr. Dunant, although he had no medical training, stayed to help and persuaded the local people to tend the wounded on both sides. The elderly and female residents turned the town’s old church into a makeshift hospital and treated the soldiers as best they could.  

When Mr. Dunant returned home, he wrote a book about his experience, called A Memory of Soliferino, which was published in 1862. He set up a committee to help promote the main ideas from the book – to form relief societies to care for wounded soldiers and to formulate an international principle on which to base such societies. That principle evolved into the Geneva Convention. In 1863, the charter for the Committee of Five was drawn up and that committee, made up of Mr. Dunant and four other leading Geneva figures, became the International Committee of the Red Cross. 

Until then, there had been no organised medical care for army casualties. 



The Red Cross emblems, a red cross, a red crescent or a red diamond on a white background, are internationally recognised signs of the Red Cross. The cross is not a religious symbol – it was chosen as an inversion of the Swiss flag by the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1863, to reflect the neutrality of the armed forces’ medical services and to protect those operating under the emblem. The red crescent was introduced in 1876 during the war between the Ottoman Empire and Russia as the cross was considered an offensive symbol by the Ottoman soldiers. In 2007, the Red Cross adopted a third emblem, the red crystal, in an effort to ensure that other nations were not offended by either of the existing symbols.  


Red Cross in Cayman  

The Cayman Islands Overseas Branch of the British Red Cross was founded in 1961 by Ethel Cook-Bodden. 

The founder was born and raised in Devon, England, and moved to Cayman in the early 1940s with her Caymanian husband Eric Cook-Bodden. 

When her husband became ill, Mrs. Cook-Bodden visited him in hospital several times a day to bring him food that the hospital was unable to supply. She wrote of the state of the hospital: “No food for the patients as there was only a derelict cooker, no kitchen equipment, no refrigerator, no crockery to speak of, no medical books and truly dreadful sanitary arrangements”. 

When her husband died, she devoted herself to volunteer work and with the help of Anne Gerrard, the commissioner’s wife, she organised the local Red Cross committee and started fundraising for the hospital, raising money to fit it out with a new kitchen and to hire kitchen staff. The local Red Cross also helped the then small population of Cayman to prepare for the annual hurricane season, by building a small inventory of disaster supplies. Its work also expanded into helping with the care of patients in the hospital and fundraising for better health-care facilities. 

Mrs. Cook-Bodden passed away in 1993, leaving behind a legacy of a growing and dynamic local Red Cross organisation. 

The Red Cross in Cayman now has branch status, which grants it more autonomy to meet the needs of the most vulnerable in Cayman.  

The devastation following Hurricane Ivan in 2004 renewed interest in the work of the Red Cross and the organisation grew further. Currently, it has about 150 volunteers. 

It is now one of the most active of the Red Cross branches in the Caribbean and serves as a centre for disaster relief throughout the region. 


The exhibit at the old George Town Library, which celebrates the local Red Cross’ 51st anniversary, is open for a couple of more days this month, including Saturday, 19 May from 10am to 2pm and on Tuesday, 22 May, from 11am to 2pm. 

Red Cross training

Cayman Islands Red Cross volunteers are an integral part of the organisation. – Photo: Submitted

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