Junior Red Cross’ WWII Projects

Date / Period
1939-45
Place
Ottawa
Object Type
Photographs
Topics
International Humanitarianism and Presence Youth

Through the Junior Red Cross program, hundreds of thousands of young people engaged in wartime humanitarian work. Junior-raised funds supported more than a dozen nurseries for injured British war orphans during the war.

The Junior Red Cross, formally organized in the early 1920s, consisted of 425,000 members in over 14,000 classroom-based branches in 1939. The war spurred a dramatic increase in membership, so that by the 1944-45 school year approximately 842,000 young Canadians were enrolled in 29,000 branches from coast to coast. This represented approximately one-quarter of all Canadians between five and 19 years old.

"Through voluntary work, young people caught up in an era of war could put to work the skills they were considered too young to offer in either war production or the military."

Teachers saw the Junior Red Cross as a socially acceptable way for youth to participate in the war effort, while youth themselves found it a useful channel for their concern over friends, neighbours, and family members in the military. Through voluntary work, young people caught up in an era of war could put to work the skills they were considered too young to offer in either war production or the military.

Young people sewed and knitted Red Cross comforts and hospital supplies that went into the general senior Red Cross pool, but some of the supplies they made and all of the funds they raised were designated for special purposes. These included recreational equipment for Prisoners of War, mobile kitchens for use in bombed areas of Britain, and blankets for bombed civilians. It also included two special child-focused initiatives: relief for starving children in occupied countries, and the support of bomb-injured British orphans under the age of five.

As of 1942, more than a dozen nurseries for these young war orphans were supported through Juniors’ cash donations. Juniors also sent clothing and quilts like the one shown here for the children. This special quilt featured embroidered images that blind children could feel with their fingertips.

British Columbia Division Red Cross President G.C. Darby wrote in 1941 that Junior Red Cross war work was a shining example that “should act as a stimulant for we adults to increase our efforts in this great work.” He and other adults saw children’s humanitarian work as a beacon of hope for future peace, in a world wracked by war.

Junior Red Cross’ WWII Projects

Junior Red Cross’ WWII Projects
Quilt detail
This quilt, created for British war orphans during the Second World War (1939-45), offers a glimpse of the Red Cross work of Canadian children and youth.