The Royal Red Cross (RRC) was instituted by Queen Victoria on St George’s Day 1883:
War Office, April 27, 1883. VICTORIA, R.
WHEREAS We have been pleased to take into Our consideration the services rendered by certain persons in nursing the sick and wounded of Our Army and Navy, and have resolved specially to recognise individual instances of special devotion in such service ; Now, for the purpose of attaining this end, We have instituted, constituted, and created, and by these presents for Us, Our Heirs and Successors, do institute, constitute, and create a decoration, to be designated as hereinafter prescribed ; and We are pleased to make, ordain, and establish the following rules and ordinances for the government of the same, which shall from henceforth be inviolably observed and kept:
First.—The decoration shall be styled and designated “The Royal Red Cross,” and shall consist of a Cross, enamelled crimson, edged with gold, having on the Arms thereof the words Faith, Hope, Charity, with the date of the institutionof the decoration; the centre having thereon Our Effigy. On the reverse side Our Royal and Imperial Cipher and Crown shall be shown in relief on the centre.
Secondly.—The cross shall be attached to a dark blue riband edged red, of one inch in width, tied in a bow and worn on the left shoulder.
Thirdly.—The decoration may be worn by the Queen Regnant, the Queen Consort, or the Queen Dowager of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland ; and it shall be competent for Us, Our Heirs and Successors, to confer the decoration upon any of the Princesses of the Royal Family of Great Britain and Ireland.
Fourthly.—It shall be competent for Us, Our Heirs and Successors, to confer the decoration upon any ladies, whether subjects or foreign persons, who may be recommended to Our notice By Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council, for special exertions in providing for the nursing, or for attending to, sick and wounded soldiers and sailors.
Fifthly.- It shall “be competent for Us, Our Heirs and , Successors, to confer this decoration upon any Nursing Sisters, whether subjects or foreign persons, who may be recommended to Our notice by Our Secretary of State for War, or, as the case may be, by the First Lord of the Admiralty through Our said Secretary of State, for special devotion and competency which they may have displayed in their nursing duties with Our Army in the Field, or in Our Naval and Military Hospitals.
Sixthly.—The names of those upon whom We may be pleased to confer the decoration shall be published in the London Gazette, and a registry thereof kept in the office of Our Secretary of State for War.
Lastly.— In order to make such additional provision as shall effectually preserve pure this honourable distinction, it is ordained that if any person on whom such distinction shall be conferred shall by her conduct become unworthy of it, her name shall be erased, by an order under Our Sign Manual, from the register of those upon whom the said decoration shall have been conferred, And it is hereby declared that We, Our Heirs and Successors, shall be the sole judge of the conduct which may require the erasure from the register of the name of the offending person, and that it shall at all times be competent for Us, Our Heirs and Successors, to restore the name if such restoration should be justified by the circumstances of the case.
Given at Our Court at Osborne, this twenty-third day of April, one thousand eight hundred and eighty-three, in the forty-sixth year of Our Reign.
By Her Majesty’s Command, Hartington
By the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, only 246 women had been awarded the honour during the preceding thirty-one years. They had been decorated for their services during the Zulu War, the 1st Anglo-Boer War, the Sudan and Nile Campaigns, the 2nd Anglo-Boer War; for their work with the West African Frontier Force in 1899, and for duties in India over many years. The number also included several awards to members of both the British and European Royal families for their organisational and administrative connection with nursing rather than their direct involvement in practical care.
By the last day of 1915 the total number of awards of the Royal Red Cross since its inception in 1883 stood at 288. Twelve months later, another 644 awards had been added. In November 1915 a second class of the Royal Red Cross was instituted by amendment to the Royal Warrant1The London Gazette. 16 November 1915. p. 11324.. This new class, the Associate Royal Red Cross (ARRC) could be conferred on a greater proportion of women than previously – up to 5% of the total nursing establishment. Holders of the second class who receive a further award are promoted to the first class, although an initial award can also be made in the first class. Holders of the first class who receive a further award are awarded a bar.
The decoration was conferred exclusively on women until 1976, when men became eligible, with posthumous awards permitted from 19792Abbott, PE & Tamplin, JMA. (1981) British Gallantry Awards. p. xx. Nimrod Dix & Co, London. ISBN 0-902633-74-0.
Up to the early 1990s recipients’ names were recorded in the Register of the Royal Red Cross. The original Register is held at the National Archives at Kew, but a complete copy is available at the Museum of Military Medicine. Through the work of the late Sue Light a transcription of all entries in the Royal Red Cross Register between 1883 and 1994 is now included on FindMyPast, and can be searched by name. The earliest recipients (page 1 of the Register) have been researched by the QARANC Association Heritage Committee.
The QARANC Association Heritage Committee has now started a project to create a database of all Army nursing recipients.