German Red Cross Volunteers
in the Colonies and Tropics

A Red Cross Volunteer among the Schutztruppe
South West Africa c1904
Photo © Frankfurt University Koloniales Bildarchiv

Figure 1
Red Cross Volunteer
German South West Africa c1905

Figure 2
Red Cross Volunteer
South Africa c1900

The German Red Cross ( "Deutsches Rotes Kreuz" or DRK) was first instituted in 1864 by Dr. Aaron Silverman of Berlin's Charité Hospital. The first time Red Cross nurses and medics accompanied armies in battle was at the 1866 Battle of Langensalza between Prussia and Hanover in the Austro-Prussian War.

By the turn of the century, German Red Cross volunteer medics and nurses were serving overseas and in colonial wars such as the Boxer Rebellion in China 1900-01, the Second Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902 (where they served on the Boer side) and the Herero Rebellion 1904-07. They also later served in Palestine during the First World War supporting the Asienkorps.

Uniforms of the German Red Cross in the Colonies and Tropics
On home duty German Red Cross uniforms were distinguished by large white collar patches bearing a red cross on each collar front and a white armband with a red cross worn on the left arm. They wore grey or white peaked caps with black hatbands and a white circular badge bearing a red cross above an imperial cockade.

Generally these same collar patches, badges and armbands were kept on khaki tropical uniforms when posted overseas. The different khaki uniforms seen in period photographs often vary in cut, with most having four pockets, six buttons down the front (bearing the Swiss cross symbol) with plain or gathered cuffs. The same peaked caps were worn or replaced by Südwester hats also sometimes bearing the red cross. Red Crescent armbands were worn when serving in the Ottoman Empire.

Red Cross nurses wore civilian style dresses with white pinafores and caps. Nuns also served as Red Cross nurses. They retained their traditional nun's habit costume. Red Cross nurses wore either a red cross armband or red cross badge on their pinafores or caps.




  The Illustrations

Figure 1 is based on a photograph of a Red Cross Volunteer, Emil Schwarz, taken in German South West Africa in about 1905, during the Herero Rebellion. He wears a Schutztruppe style khaki tunic without the Schutztruppe's blue piping or shoulder straps. Instead he wears large white collar patches bearing the red cross. His hat is the standard Schutztruppe Südwester with blue edging and hatband for South West Africa and a large imperial cockade holding up the right hand side.

His appearance is typical of several photographs of Red Cross volunteers in South West Africa. As the Herero were naturally not signatories of the Geneva Convention, German Red Cross volunteers in South West Africa frequently carried rifles and Schutztruppe Ammunition Pouches.

Figure 2 is based on a photograph of a Red Cross Volunteer, Küttner, taken in South Africa in about 1900, during the Second Anglo-Boer War. He again wears a Schutztruppe style khaki tunic without the Schutztruppe's blue piping or shoulder straps. In the original photograph upon which this illustration is based, the Swiss Cross symbol on his tunic buttons can be clearly seen. On each collar he wears an imperial crown badge. His hat is a privately made Südwester with a Red Cross badge on the front and a large imperial cockade holding up the right hand side.

Other photographs of German Red Cross Volunteers during the Second Anglo-Boer War show them wearing red cross collar patches and armbands.

Figure 3 is based on a photograph of a Red Cross Nursing Volunteer, taken in Palestine in about 1917, during the First World War. She wears a white nun's habit with a pinafore. On her left sleeve is a Red Crescent armband. 

Recommended External Links-
Prussian Red Cross Medals
Medics Page at Ottoman Uniforms

Deutsches Rotes Kreuz

Figure 3
Red Cross Nurse
Palestine c1917


Johan Wolfaardt of the President Pretorius Museum in Potchefstroom, South Africa recently contacted me with more information that he had researched on the German Red Cross volunteers in the Anglo-Boer War:

"In November 1899 the First German Ambulance embarked from Naples (possibly on the on the SS Koenig Albert). The First Ambulance was managed by Military Medical Officer Dr Matthiolius, assisted by Dr Heinrich Kuttner and Dr Hildebrandt. All nursing staff was from the Eppenburg Hospital and included Sisters Petrat, Lieberknecht, Heldt, Wittum. They served on the Western Front and was based in the Boer Hospital at Jacobsdal, then moved to Brandfort and finally to Kroonstad, were they joined forces with the Second German Red Cross ambulance.

The Second Ambulance arrived aboard the Herzog in Desember 1899. Their staff consisted of the leader, Dr Ringel, Drs Wieting and Flockeman, and Sisters Botefuhr, Heiler, Westphal and Theil, plus medical assistants Nagel, Heuschkel, Muus and Sack. They managed the hospital at Springfontein and served the casualties of the Colesbertg Front, before moving to Norvalspont and Kroonstad. The combined ambulances moved to  Heilbron and left SA in July 1900

A combined unit of volunteers stayed on and was called the Deutsche Lazarett. This unit served the Free State forces until they were captured at Fouriesburg in August 1900 and repatriated back to Germany."


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