A poster croppedOn this day 100 years ago, the UK was at war. British Red Cross volunteers were nursing soldiers at home and on the front line. But they needed help. They decided to trial a huge fundraising experiment.

Volunteers and wounded soldiers sold flags to pin on clothing and put on cars. They sold small paper flags for 1d, and silk flags for 6d.

Getting 20 million flags made was a big operation in itself, let alone finding pins for them as “there was a great shortage during the war” according to a Red Cross report.

Red Cross Our Day Fundraisers pin flags on to men's suits

Dames on duty

“Gentle ladies by the thousand” sold flags in London according to The Telegraph on 21 October 1915. “The number of dames on duty during the day” would reach 10,000. Some were on duty and ready to fundraise by half past three in the morning.”

But volunteers weren’t just out in London. “In the country all kinds of schemes were devised for raising money” wrote fundraiser-in-chief Miss May Beeman. “In one place two pigs were sold by mock auction; the pigs changed ownership several times.”

A pin with a picture of a Red Cross nurse

Canaries, kittens and cats

“At Windsor stalls were put up in the High Street and prominent ladies presided over them. At one stall canaries, kittens, cats and dogs were for sale.”

Perhaps the most novel was a marrow-seed competition…So enthusiastically was this taken up that there were 1,580 entries raising £35 17s 11d [over £1,700 today]. Contestants had to guess the number of seeds in a vegetable marrow.”

Collectors raised a staggering £1,036,789 and the annual fundraiser was born.

A Red Cross poster from 1915

£10 a minute

By 1918, the Red Cross needed funds more than ever. As the mayor of London put it, the Red Cross was frantically “relieving the suffering and ministering to the needs of the men who are fighting in our battles.

“The cost is nearly £100,000 per week or nearly £10 per minute.”

A small pin flag with the words Thank you

One of the fundraising flags

Our Day might have stopped but the British Red Cross continues to rely on its fantastic volunteers and generous supporters. Together we’re still helping people in crisis in the UK and overseas. Thank you for all your support.