Looking back on Remembrance Day and the Canadian Red Cross' role in World War II

Topics: Emergencies and Disasters in Canada
November 10, 2013

Looking back on Remembrance Day and the Canadian Red Cross' role in World War II

The Canadian Red Cross is recognized as part of the largest humanitarian relief organizations in the world. But the non-profit's history goes back much further than recent events. Founded in 1896, the Canadian Red Cross has been in operation for more than a century, delivering crucial aid to those in need during major emergencies and disasters. Each year on Remembrance Day, Canadians pay tribute with two minutes of silence to the country's fallen soldiers.

For many years, the Canadian Red Cross has worked to provide humanitarian relief to civilians affected by conflict, and services like messages and care to prisoners of war.

The Canadian Red Cross in World War II

Following World War I, the Canadian Red Cross had grown so significantly that it made great strides internationally and domestically during peacetime years. But when the Second World War began in September 1939, the Canadian Red Cross Society returned to the front, larger and more capable than ever.

The Canadian Red Cross continued to provide public health services at home in Canada, but the majority of volunteers were working with the sick and wounded overseas. For the first time in history, the Red Cross was also aiding civilian victims of war, especially those impacted by the Battle of Britain, when bombs destroyed large portions of residential London. This would become a cornerstone of the Canadian Red Cross, and remains one of the organization's prime objectives during modern armed conflicts.

Meanwhile, Canadians donated millions of dollars and put in hour after hour of voluntary labour for fundraising efforts. The end results weren't just supplemental medical supplies and food parcels for prisoners of war oversees, but small items of comfort for soldiers and the displaced, as well.

One of the most inspiring Canadian Red Cross initiatives of the time - and today - was the Restoring Family Links program. The Canadian Red Cross set up a records office and an information bureau in Toronto for both prisoners of war and civilians. In the first years of the war, the Canadian Red Cross sent many inquiries to the ICRC from Canadians seeking news about relatives and friends in Europe. In early 1942, the prisoner of war cases were transferred to the Red Cross Enquiry Bureau in Ottawa, and the delivery of messages between Canadian prisoners of war and their families was a central goal of the Restoring Family Links program. The Restoring Family Links program also helped carry messages to and from Japanese Canadians detained during the Second World War and reunited families in the conflict's aftermath.

If you want to learn more about the fascinating history of Restoring Family Links, order a copy of the Canadian Red Cross' own chronicle of the program. You can also donate to the organization in honour of Remembrance Day.

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