Gustave Moynier

Gustave Moynier

Gustave Moynier was born in 1826. Descended from Geneva shoemakers, merchants and bankers, Moynier became a lawyer. An evangelical Christian, Moynier became involved in charity work and was a member of over forty different groups that ranged from prison reform to the care of orphans.

In 1858 Moynier was appointed president of the Geneva Society for Public Welfare, an organization dedicated to social reform. Members were concerned with improving both the morals and material lives of working people. This included building a house of industry, a society for the improvement of working-class housing and the establishment of a children's playground.

In 1862 Henri Dunant sent Moynier a copy of A Memory of Solferino. In the book Dunant stated that his intention was to promote the "adoption by all civilized nations of an international and sacred principle which would be assured and placed on record by a convention to be concluded between governments. This would serve as a safeguard for all official and unofficial persons engaged in nursing war victims."

Moynier went to see Dunant and invited him to a special meeting on 9th February, 1863, of the Geneva Society for Public Welfare. Dunant told the fourteen people who attended that he wanted to form an organization that sent volunteer nurses to the battlefield. He also wanted to improve the methods of transporting the wounded and the care they received in military hospitals.

After the meeting it was decided to form an International Committee for Relief to the Wounded. Guillaume Dufour was to be president while Henri Dunant, Thomas Maunoir, and Louis Appia. agreed to serve as board members. This eventually became the International Committee of the Red Cross.

In 1864 the five men organized an international conference of 13 nations in Geneva to discuss the possibility of making warfare more "humane". At the end of the conference on 22nd August, 1864, the representatives signed the Geneva Convention. The agreement provided for the neutrality of ambulance and military hospitals, the non-belligerent status of persons who aid the wounded, and sick soldiers of any nationality, the return of prisoners to their country if they are incapable of serving, and the adoption of a white flag with a red cross for use on hospitals, ambulances, and evacuation centres whose neutrality would be recognized by this symbol.

The campaign then began to persuade the different countries to ratify the Convention. It was approved by Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Spain and Switzerland in 1864. They were followed by Britain (1865), Prussia (1865), Greece (1865), Turkey (1865), Austria (1866), Portugal (1866), Russia (1867), Persia (1874), Serbia (1876), Chile (1879), Argentina (1879), Peru (1880), USA (1882), Bulgaria (1884), Japan (1886), Luxemburg (1888), Venezuela (1894), South Africa (1896), Uruguay (1900), Guatemala (1903), Mexico (1905), China (1906), Germany (1906), Brazil (1906), Cuba (1907), Panama (1907) and Paraguay (1907). Gustave Moynier died in Geneva in 1910.

Primary Sources

(1) The Geneva Convention, drawn up by Gustave Moynier and agreed by conference delegates on 26th October, 1863.

(1) In each country signing the concordat, there shall be a national Committee charged with remedying, by every means in its power, the inadequacy of the official sanitary service provided for armies in the field. This Committee shall organize itself in whatever manner seems to it to be most useful and expedient.

(2) An unlimited number of sections may be formed to assist the national Committee. They are necessarily dependent on this Committee, to which belongs the overall direction.

(3) Each national Committee shall be in communication with the government of the country, and shall assure itself that it offers of service will be accepted in case of war.

(4) In peacetime, the Committees and the Sections shall concern themselves with improvements to be introduced into the military sanitary service, with the installation of ambulances and hospitals, with means of transport for the wounded, etc., and will work towards their realization.

(5) The Committees and Sections of the various countries shall meet in international Congresses to communicate with one another about their experience, and to agree on measures to be taken to further the enterprise.

(6) In January of each year, the national Committees shall present a report of their work during the previous year, and may append to it whatever information they wish to bring to the attention of the Committees in other countries. These communications and reports should be addressed to the Geneva Committee, which will undertake to operate this exchange.

(7) In the event of war, the Committees of the belligerent nations shall furnish necessary assistance to their respective armies, and in particular shall undertake to form and organize corps of volunteer nurses. They may solicit the support of Committees belonging to neutral nations.

(8) Volunteer nurses will undertake to serve for a limited time, and not to interfere in any way in the conduct of the war. They will be employed according to their wishes in field service or in hospitals. Of necessity, women will be assigned to the latter.

(9) In all countries, volunteer nurses shall wear an identical and distinctive uniform or badge. Their persons shall be sacred, and military leaders shall owe them protection. When a campaign begins, the soldiers of both armies shall be informed of the existence of this corps, and of its exclusively charitable character.

(10) The corps of volunteer nurses or helpers will march behind the armies, to which they will cause neither difficulty nor expense. They shall have their own means of transport, their own provisions and supplies, of medications and first aid of all kinds. They shall be at the disposal of the chiefs of the army, who will use them only when they feel the need. For the duration of their active service, they shall be placed under the orders of the military authority, and subjected to the same discipline as ordinary military nurses.

(2) Louis Appia and Gustave Moynier, Help for Sick and Wounded (1870)

The battle is raging, volleys of musketry succeed one another, and after each a fresh rank of these courageous fellows is seen to fall, strewing the ground and filling the trenches. The stretcher-bearers have bravely taken away wounded men from under the very guns of the enemy, and have removed them to a less exposed place; the surgeons are at their posts to apply the first dressings; but the battle continues, the bearers have to pass a distance of a quarter or even half a league, between the thickest of the fight and the first hospital station, carrying a burden of from 150lbs to 200lbs weight. How many of these journeys can each bearer make? Eight to ten, at the most; his arms began to grow weak, and perhaps the day is already declining; the night approaches, 100, it may be 200, wounded men are likely to remain during the long night, without assistance, on frozen or damp ground which will become their grave! Hospital orderlies, surgeons, everybody has performed prodigies of valour, devotion, and energy; but alas human strength has limits; it is dangerous to remain there, and, in proportion as one labours, the work seems mercilessly to increase.

But look young men, strong, vigorous, and unassuming, are running forward, led on by a generous enthusiasm, and by a few noble chiefs animated by chivalrous valour. These are neither soldiers nor employees of the medical corps. They are here to relieve for a time to relieve for a time the wearied arms of the bearers. "It is for us now to help you," they cry; "you have done what seemed impossible, let us also do something to exercise a little of the strength and courage such as you employ every day! For mercy's sake, let there be no distinction here between the official and the unofficial; nevertheless, if you demand our titles and our rights, we are the official delegates of Humanity, who regard you with eyes full of emotion and sympathy, and who wish to supply your momentary insufficiency, and afterwards we retire into the shade.

(3) Louis Appia and Gustave Moynier, Help for Sick and Wounded (1870)

In former days, the general results of war were made public, the knowledge of personal circumstances was exceptional, and limited to a narrow sphere; now the personal are almost as widely known as the general results. No wonder, then, on the one hand, that in the former days the evils of war, being regarded as incapable of mitigation, or being unknown until all power of affording aid was passed, were left to be dealt with entirely by the governing authorities; or, on the other hand, that in our time public sympathy has sought to lessen these evils by committees of relief, by volunteer assistance.

The increasingly rapidity, the very instantaneousness of communications, has favored this awakening, for by this means we live much more in the intimacy of the army than we formerly did. Those who remain at their hearths follow, step by step, so to speak, those who are fighting against the enemy; day by day they receive intelligence of them, and when blood had been flowing, they learn the news almost before it has been stanched, or has had time to become cold.