The Romanovs and the Red Cross

The Russian Red Cross was established by the order of Tsar Alexander II in 1867 with the purpose of helping prevent and alleviate suffering during wars and conflict by providing assistance to the wounded. The Tsar’s wife, Maria Alexandrovna, was in charge of the charity.
When Russia entered World War I in 1914, there was a shortage of nurses to tend the thousands of soldiers brought to the hospitals from the battlefields. As a result, the Red Cross initiated a number of nursing training programs throughout the country, reducing the year-long medical teaching to only two months of preparation. Several women from the Russian court enlisted and others helped by donating money and setting up hospitals. The Imperial family was also devoted to this endeavor with Alexandra Feodorovna and her two eldest daughters, Olga and Tatiana, completing the nursing training course.

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Alexandra Feodorovna with Olga and Tatiana as Red Cross nurses.

The Tsarina was fully committed to her new role as a nurse. The Catherine Palace at Tsarskoe Selo was turned into a military hospital, in addition to the other eighty-five that had been opened under her patronage. Alexandra, who suffered from chronic pain, spent the following months dedicating her full time to caring for those in need. She would change old dressings, clean and bandage the wounds of soldiers, as well as assisting the most difficult procedures, such as amputations. Sitting next to the soldiers’s beds and talking to them was another part of her daily routine, and many would often be surprised and emotional to see her up and about, caring for them, following up on how they were feeling with such consideration.
Her work inspired many Russian ladies, who would often help on the confection of bandages, linen and other supplies. Donations of food, clothing, blankets and several other items were also collected and redistributed throughout the country.

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Alexandra Feodorovna with Dr. Vera Gedroitz in 1915.

Olga and Tatiana had similar tasks as of their mother, like changing bandages, sterilizing surgical instruments and keeping company to the wounded. After some time, they were allowed to assist surgeries, starting with smaller procedures and quickly progressing into more serious ones, like the removal of bullets and amputations. The girls enjoyed being around the nurses and soldiers, to whom they were always talking, sharing stories and taking photographs.

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Grand Duchesses Tatiana and Olga with nurses and wounded soldiers.

The Big Pair was also trusted with their own positions in committees, Olga as vice-president of the Special Committee of Petrograd and Tatiana as patron and participant of the Committee of Her Imperial Highness the Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna for the Temporary Relief of Victims of War or the “Tatiana Committee” as it became known. The first had the purpose of raising funds for the Supreme Council and the second focused on helping refugees.

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Grand Duchesses Tatiana and Olga with patients in 1915.

Tatiana’s Committee was first financed by the Tsar’s funds and the state, but it did not take long until they began receiving donations from different fundraising initiatives. The charity helped refugees (and on various occasions non-refugees) in many different ways, like reuniting families, providing food, clothes and shelter. The funds were also used to set up orphanages and hospitals.

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The “Tatiana Committee” gathered with Alexandra, Olga and Tatiana in 1915.

Maria and Anastasia were considered to be too young to work as nurses, so instead the Little Pair became patronesses of their own hospital near the Alexander Palace, which received the name Hospital of Grand Duchesses Maria and Anastasia. Occasionally, Alexandra would let them watch the nurses tending to the wounded, but their work focused mainly on hospital visits. They were very serious about their duties, always visiting the soldiers, playing board games, talking and reading to them. The girls supported fundraising charities and helped lift the spirits of the bed-ridden men with their kindness and dedication.

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Grand Duchesses Anastasia and Maria visiting wounded soldiers at their hospital.

The Tsar’s mother, Maria Feodorovna, served as the president of Russia’s Red Cross. Besides visiting the wounded, she financed several charities, including orphanages, hospitals, schools and sanitary trains.

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Empress Dowager Maria Feodorovna (center) with Red Cross nurses and her daughter Olga Alexandrovna (sitting in front of her).

Olga Alexandrovna, Nicholas II’s younger sister, also worked as a nurse during the war. The Grand Duchess had previous medical experience acquired at the hospital she had funded out of her own pocket years ago. Unlike the others, Olga worked very close to the frontlines of her regiment, in Rovno, where she once found herself caught under Austrian fire. Due to this feat, she was awarded the Order of Saint George by General Mannerheim.

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Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna as a Red Cross nurse.

The family’s work was interrupted when the revolution broke out in 1917. Despite feeling the emotional and physical strain of such arduous work, the Imperial women devoted themselves to the Red Cross by helping the wounded and those who were somehow affected by the war.

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Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia with hospital patients in 1914.

Sources:
Massie, Robert K. (1967) Nicholas and Alexandra
Rappaport, Helen (2014) The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra
Buxhoeveden, Sophie (1928) The Life and Tragedy of Alexandra Feodorovna, Empress of Russia A Briography
Fleming, Candace (2014) The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia
Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia (2017) Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna of Russia
Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia (2017) Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia
Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia (2017)  Maria Feodorovna (Dagmar of Denmark)

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