Two Red Cross volunteers

As crowds fell silent on November 11 2012 to honour people killed and injured in conflict, British Red Cross volunteers were at the heart of Remembrance events across the UK.

Their presence reflected the vital humanitarian role the British Red Cross has played in two world wars and many other conflicts, caring for thousands of wounded soldiers and civilians and helping people in crisis at home and abroad.

At the Cenotaph in central London, six Red Cross volunteers joined the civil services contingent that provided a guard of honour for veterans marking the occasion. After marching to the memorial, the volunteers looked on as thousands of former servicemen and women joined politicians and the royal family to pay their respects.

One of the six was Judith Ward, a Red Cross event first aid volunteer from Cheshire. She said: “It’s an opportunity you wish everyone could have. It was an amazing experience.” Two Red Cross volunteers also took part in the Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall, and many more joined other Remembrance events across the UK.

The British Red Cross during the world wars

At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the British Red Cross formed the Joint War Committee with the Order of St John – now known as St John Ambulance – to share resources and fundraising efforts while working under the protective emblem of the Red Cross.

This committee helped set up and run 3,000 auxiliary hospitals and convalescent homes, which were soon filled with wounded soldiers returning from abroad. It also supplied hundreds of motorised ambulances, a recent invention, to the battlefields in Europe.

The Red Cross also helped reunite families with missing or wounded soldiers and track down prisoners of war. By the time the conflict ended the organisation had recruited 90,000 volunteers and spent more than £20million on hospitals, medicine, clothing and care for the sick and wounded.

The Joint War Committee was reborn as the Joint War Organisation 21 years later, when World War Two began. It cared for sick and injured soldiers and civilians in the UK and abroad, and once again gave families news of loved ones wounded or missing in action.

Volunteers ran first aid posts in tube stations during the Battle of Britain, and travelled to help wounded soldiers in India and civilians in Greece and Italy. More than 20 million food parcels were sent to prisoners of war from the UK.

The Red Cross Movement still plays an important humanitarian role in conflicts around the world – providing vital support for refugees, making sure prisoners of war of are treated fairly and helping people rebuild their lives when the fighting stops. And every November, its members in the UK join the rest of the country to remember lives ended or torn apart by violence.