Our history

We're part of the largest humanitarian network in the world, the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement. We've been helping in New Zealand since 1915.

New Zealand Red Cross has been part of the fabric of our country for more than a century.

At the start of World War One, Red Cross groups began collecting money and medical supplies for New Zealand troops overseas. Governor General Lord Liverpool arranged a meeting to officially coordinate these groups. On 10 November 1915, the New Zealand Branch of the British Red Cross was formed.

During both world wars, New Zealand Red Cross groups worked with the Order of St John as a joint council. Red Cross also provided relief during the 1918 influenza pandemic, the Hawke's Bay earthquake and the Tangiwai disaster. In 1930, members in Wellington decided New Zealand needed its own national society. During the next few years, they worked hard to pull together all Red Cross groups across the country.

On 3 June 1932, a government proclamation officially recognised the New Zealand Red Cross national society. This was soon followed by recognition from the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The Red Cross Red Crescent Movement

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is the world's largest humanitarian network. Supported by millions of volunteers, it helps people affected by disasters and conflicts.

It has three main components:

  • The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
  • The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) 
  • 191 member Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

Red Cross enjoys a special relationship with governments. We have special status as auxiliary partners in the humanitarian field. This means that, while we are independent, we cooperate with governments for humanitarian purposes.

How did Red Cross start?

The idea of the Red Cross was born in 1859. Henry Dunant, a young Swiss man, came upon the scene of a bloody battle in Solferino, Italy. About 40,000 men lay dead or dying, with no medical attention. Dunant organised local people to feed, comfort and care for the wounded soldiers. After the battle, he called for the creation of national relief societies, to assist those wounded in war.

The International Committee of the Red Cross

In 1863, Dunant and four others set up the International Committee for Relief to the Wounded. This later became the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Its emblem is a red cross on a white background, the inverse of the Swiss flag.

In 1864, 12 governments adopt the first Geneva Convention. This was a milestone, as it defined medical services as "neutral" on the battlefield. Today, ICRC protects the lives and dignity of victims of armed conflict.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) was founded in 1919. After World War One, Red Cross members recognised there was a need for closer cooperation between national societies. IFRC was formed to achieve this. Today, IFRC works with national societies to respond to emergencies around the world. It also undertakes development work, including disaster preparedness programmes and health activities.

National societies

New Zealand Red Cross is one of 191 Red Cross national societies across the world. Each national society is made up of volunteers and staff. They provide a wide variety of services - from first aid and disaster relief to reuniting separated families.

National society volunteers are often the first on the scene when a disaster strikes. They remain active within affected communities long after everyone else has come and gone.