comments iconDay 30: From Solferino to Barcelona (via Lancaster)


Today walked: 24.20 miles

Total walk: 434.10  miles

Today raised:  £ 250.00 + ¥ 1,652.00

Total raised fund: £ 9,572.09 + ¥ 70,955.45

Today was a day when I was glad to be away from the tv and on the road.

The events in Barcelona yesterday followed a familiar pattern–young men seeking personal glorification their warped interpretation of their religion by running a van into crowds of defenceless women and children–tourists enjoying sun, ice cream and taking selfies in one of the most beautiful and cultured cities in Europe.

I walk for peace and question the male instinct to seek personal glorification through warfare and violence. Male violence often has more to do with what is going on between the legs of those involved than what is going on between their ears.

I am not a pacifist and we all can be incredibly thankful  for the real courage of police, armed forces and security services who sacrifice their safety to protect others as happened again in Spain yesterday.

There was something at least noble and chivalrous when armies marched off into a field in the middle of nowhere, lined up against each other and then slugged it out man to man until they got whatever it was that was bugging them (or more accurately bugging their leaders) out of their system.

This terrorism, be it mass shootings in the US or males targeting defenceless women and children in Europe is the most unmanly, cowardly and despicable of crimes. It may not be on the same scale of the Holocaust but its roots certainly reach down and draw upon the same dark evil.

I want to be quite honest here: I was dragging my overweight frame 24 miles up the A6 from Preston (deviating to go into Garstang halfway) and I was thinking–‘Why am I doing this? What difference are we making? The Red Cross are helping victims of the attacks in Manchester and London but they are happening somewhere new every month. For how much longer?

At some point you start thinking ‘Do I want to go on helping supply bandages to put on the wounds of the victims or do I want to go after the perpetrators?’ I then started to think about the history of the Red Cross for whom we are raising funds and recalled reading about how they began:

Henri Dunant was a Swiss businessman who was seeking to do business with Napoleon III who at the time (1859) was headquartered in Solferino just south of Lake Garda in Italy. Just as he arrived for the meeting the Battle of Solferino broke out between French, Piedmont Sardinian and Austrian armies.  About 300,000 men squared off against each other (in the manner which I mentioned earlier). At the end of the day around 5000 lay dead on the battlefield and over 22,000 lay wounded.

Horrified by the reality of war which he witnessed and the human need he quickly forgot his business ambition and instead started to mobilise local people to try and care for the injured paying for the medicines and the building of temporary hospitals himself.

He was able to convince the locals to offer help not on the basis of which side they were on but “Tutti fratelli” (All are brothers). He was able to convince the ‘victors’ the French to release the doctors and those with medical training from Austrian forces to provide care on the same (all are brothers) basis. It was an extraordinary and spontaneous act of humanity in the midst of such inhumanity.  He published an account of the experience which had a profound impact on thinking about the care of those wounded on the battle field.

Dunant was a realist rather than an idealist. He realised that calling for wars to stop was never going to happen so long as men were in control. Instead he argued that there should be rules about allowing care for the dead and wounded on the battlefield and that such care should be provided irrespective of which side they were on.

Dunant drew up a set of rules and in 1864 he helped convene a conference of twelve European states at which they signed up to this code which was the First Geneva Convention and The International Committee for the Relief of the Wounded ( later to be renamed the Red Cross) was established as a non-partisan humanitarian organisation to deliver that ‘relief’.

The seven core principles of the International Committee of the Red Cross are humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, volunteerism, unity, and universality.

The cost of this incredible humanitarian effort on Dunant’s business was devastating and the family business collapsed with debts leading Dunant to be declared bankrupt and ostracised by polite Swiss society and eventually the Red Cross too–until he was awarded the first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901 after which he was exonerated.

In the intervening 150 years the International Committee of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have provided relief and support to millions upon millions of people caught up in conflict. Today it is estimated that almost 100 million people around the world volunteer to help their fellow men and women through the 190 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

I needed to remember this incredible story of the founding of the Red Cross today and that premise that we are all brothers (and sisters) and are offered support on the exclusive basis of our humanity rather than our morality and on the basis of our need not creed, wealth or social status.

Tonight the Creu Roja Catalunya (Red Cross Society of Catalonia) are out there caring for the sick, comforting those who have lost and offering hope honouring the same principles on which they were founded.

‘The light shines in the darkness in Barcelona just as it did on the Battlefield of Solferino 158 years ago and the darkness has not overcome it’ That is something worth walking for.