Lady Helen Munro Ferguson, founder of the Australian Red Cross
(State Library of Victoria SLV PMO13673)
The Red Cross in Australia began on 13th August 1914 – just 9 days after the start of the First World War. It was begun as a branch of the British Red Cross and formally launched by Lady Helen Munro Ferguson, the wife of the Governor General Sir Ronald Ferguson.
From the start Lady Ferguson proved herself to be no mere decorative pendant to adorn the Governor General’s ceremonial duties. On the contrary she was a dynamo that set the organization humming and right from the word go, the whole concept was universally embraced in Australia, particularly amongst the women who literally “flocked to the cause”.
On the day of the announcement of the beginning of the organization, the following item appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald:
LADY HELEN MUNRO FERGUSON’S APPEAL.
Her Excellency Lady Helen Munro Ferguson will be pleased to receive subscriptions for the Australian branch of the Red Cross Society. Cheques should be crossed, and made payable at the Commonwealth Bank. Subscriptions will be acknowledged by Mr. Edward Miller, treasurer of the society. This money will be transmitted to England for field hospitals, ambulance trains, and such hospital requirements as are needed, thus making the services available more quickly than if arrangements were made from the Australian end. The list of articles which should be made by Red Cross workers is being printed, together with the necessary measurements appropriate for each article. Copies of the list will be issued without delay to all workers, as it is or the greatest importance that no effort or material should be wasted. It is desired that only those things that are really in demand should be made, and that these should be adaptable to hospital requirements.
Lady Ferguson then wrote to the wives of each State Governor to secure their support and this resulted in the rapid formation of Red Cross branches in each state.
In short order she organised a wide range of activities including the sending of a team of nurses to France in 1916, the establishment of the Red Cross Wounded and Missing Files, regular fund raising projects for the war effort and “home front’ activities such as the kitting of socks for the soldiers and the preparation of first aid kits.
Possibly no other non-military organization in Australian’s history has produced such a major impact in so short a time and the Red Cross was to play a vital role in the war effort over the next four years.
For her sterling work during the war, Lady Helen Munro Ferguson was appointed Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire in 1918.