Belgium / Story

Red Cross assistance




Once the fighting was over, it was a harsh return to reality. Houses were destroyed, lands were mined. How do you return home? How do you get the essentials when you've lost everything? In addition to public support, a number of private institutions were present.

Among these organisations was the Red Cross. Since the liberation, it had been heavily involved in disaster relief, whether in Liège and Antwerp after the V-1 and V-2 attacks, or in prisoner aid. The organisation could also be found in the Ardennes. Already present in the field before the offensive, it gradually returned to work after January 1945. Once the Allied armies and their medical personnel had left, it would take over. There were many challenges. There was a lack of equipment, the most basic standards of hygiene were absent. The weather conditions remained winter-like. There was fear that contagious diseases (dysentery, pneumonia, croup, etc.) would spread. In February 1945, 200 volunteers, including doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers were sent to the Ardennes. Many of the volunteers were women. Equipment (trucks, ambulances, clothes, etc.) was also sent by the American, British, Canadian, and Swiss branches of the Red Cross, as there were seven hospitals in the combat zone. Some of those who could not be treated locally were taken by train to Brussels. However, it was not only the wounded who needed to be cared for. There were also corpses to be identified and burials to be carried out. With the arrival of spring and the accompanying health risks, it was important to clean up the battlefields and other places were bodies and animal carcasses could be found. In addition, families needed to be informed. This often proved to be difficult, as identification is not always certain. An information centre was set up to serve as a relay for the Allied armies. Lists of wounded and evacuees were kept, but the role of the Red Cross went far beyond that. Volunteers also took charge of supply operations and food distribution.

Over the months, aid took other forms: collection for the victims of Bastogne at the Musée d’Art Ancien (Museum of Ancient Art) in September 1945 during the exhibition of the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, or even sending the children of victims to Switzerland for stays of up to six months for the most vulnerable.