Guillaume Dufour

Guillaume Dufour

Guillaume Dufour was born in Konstanz, Austria (now Germany), on 15th September, 1787. After studying in Geneva, Paris and Metz, he joined the French Army and served in Corfu (1813) and France (1814).

Dufour left the army in 1817 and moved to Switzerland where he supervised the construction of public works in Geneva. Two years later he became chief instructor at the Thun Military School. Appointed chief of staff of the Swiss Army in 1831, he saw action in Basel (1833), Sonderbund (1847), Neuchatel (1857) and Savoy (1857).

On his return he joined 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 Gustave Moynier, president of Geneva Society for Public Welfare, 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."

Gustave Moynier went to see Henri 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. Dufour was appointed president while Henri Dunant, Gustave Moynier, Thomas Maunoir, and Louis Appia agreed to serve as board members. This eventually became the International Committee of the Red Cross.

At the meeting in Geneva on 26th October, 1863, Guillaume Dufour, in his opening address, he tried to reduce the fears of those governments that had refused to send delegates to the meeting: " Every government must, within the limits of its domestic policy, take such action as it shall deem best, either to facilitate the organization of Volunteer Sanitary Commissions, or to merely tolerate them. On this subject each Government must have perfect liberty of action. There can be no outside dictation or pressure exercised to compel any Government to execute any stipulation covering this ground. At present, there is no question involved as to the formation of Voluntary Relief Associations, nor of any alterations in or interference with the consecrated military code of nations, which would certainly be calculated to create embitterment or distrust. Those who have entertained a contrary impression, are completely in error in regard to our purposes and aims. And if it has been these fears which have prevented several States from sending delegates to our Congress, I cannot help expressing a profound regret."

In 1864 Dufour, Henri Dunant, Gustave Moynier, Thomas Maunoir, and Louis Appia 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) and Persia (1874). Guillaume Dufour died in Geneva on 14th July, 1875.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Guillaume Dufour, letter to Henri Dunant after reading his book, A Memory of Solferino (19th October, 1862)

It is most important that people read accounts like yours so that they can see what the glory of the battlefield costs in terms in pain and tears. We are all too ready to see only the brilliant side of the war, and to shut our eyes to its sad consequences.

(2) Guillaume Dufour, speech at the opening of the Geneva Convention (26th October, 1863)

Every government must, within the limits of its domestic policy, take such action as it shall deem best, either to facilitate the organization of Volunteer Sanitary Commissions, or to merely tolerate them. On this subject each Government must have perfect liberty of action. There can be no outside dictation or pressure exercised to compel any Government to execute any stipulation covering this ground. At present, there is no question involved as to the formation of Voluntary Relief Associations, nor of any alterations in or interference with the consecrated military code of nations, which would certainly be calculated to create embitterment or distrust. Those who have entertained a contrary impression, are completely in error in regard to our purposes and aims. And if it has been these fears which have prevented several States from sending delegates to our Congress, I cannot help expressing a profound regret. They have entirely misunderstood our intentions.

In as much as conflicts of arms are inevitable, so long as human passions and interests continue as they are, it is at least the duty of the intelligent and liberal minds of all nations to unite in endeavoring to migrate, as far as possible, the horrors of such conflicts, and to stimulate philanthropic effort in behalf of their victims. Already a great step has been taken in the right direction. The wounded are no longer maltreated, whatever may be the animosities of the parties engaged. The victor collects the enemy's wounded, and treats them with the same care as his own.

The aids of charity are not wanting, being generously extended both by the regular physicians in charge, and by the noble imitators of Florence Nightingale, a name universally cherished and venerated. But this is not enough. We must advance a step further, and seek to obtain for the wounded the benefits of neutrality, so that we have extended the pitying hand to them in their hour of misfortune, when we have bathed their wounds and relieved their sufferings, we may guarantee their future liberty from all restrictions. On more than one occasion in the past, the neutrality of the ambulance services and of the wounded has been admitted, and commanders of opposing armies have signed cartels or special conventions, guaranteeing these points in particular cases.

(3) 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.