File:Red Cross Parcel.jpg

Red Cross parcel usually refers to packages containing mostly food, tobacco and personal hygiene items sent by the International Association of the Red Cross to prisoners of war during the First and Second World Wars[1], as well as at other times. It can also refer to medical parcels and so-called "release parcels" provided during World War II. The Red Cross arranged them in accordance with the provisions of the third Geneva convention of 1929. During World War II these packages augmented the often-meager and deficient diets in the PoW camps, contributing greatly to prisoner survival and an increase in morale. Modern Red Cross food parcels provide basic food and sanitary needs for persons affected by natural disasters, wars, political upheavals or similar events.

More recent catastrophes involving delivery of Red Cross parcels include events in Georgia, Thailand and Great Britain.

World War IEdit

The Australian Red Cross reported dispatching a total of 395,695 food parcels and 36,339 clothing parcels to Allied PoWs in Germany and Turkey during the course of World War I.[2]

British PoWs during World War I were supplied with food parcels by the Central Prisoners of War Committee in London. French PoWs were required to pay for parcels sent to them through a French commission; these packages included potted chicken, various pâtés, and even bottled wine. Neither the British nor the French committees had any connection with the Red Cross. Indigent French PoWs could receive parcels with lower-quality food for free, from other organizations also not affiliated with the Red Cross.[3]

The American Red Cross commenced delivery of food parcels to American PoWs in German camps in November 1917.[4] The first parcel received by a PoW included the following items:

  • One pound tin of corned beef
  • One pound tin of roast beef
  • One pound tin of salmon
  • Two pounds of hash
  • One pound of jam
  • One bar of soap
  • Four packages of tobacco
  • One overshirt
  • One undershirt
  • Two cans of pork and beans
  • One can each of tomatoes, corn and peas
  • One pair of drawers
  • Two pairs of socks
  • Three handkerchiefs
  • Two towels
  • One tube of toothpaste
  • Two pounds of hard bread
  • One pint of evaporated milk
  • One pound of sugar
  • One-half pound of coffee
  • One toothbrush, comb, shaving brush and "housewife" (sewing kit), plus shaving soap.[5]

Thereafter, further parcels were sent once per week. These were rotated on a four-week schedule between packages labeled "A", "B", "C" and "D". Each parcel contained meat, fish, vegetable, bread and fruit items, together with eighty cigarettes or other tobacco products.[6] Items of clothing were also provided for American PoWs through the American Red Cross.[7] Toward the end of the war, German camp guards and other personnel would sometimes steal the contents of these packages, often leaving only bread for the helpless prisoner. In such events, American camp representatives attempted to make up the loss through stores kept for this purpose in the PoW camps.[8]

A special agreement between the YMCA and the American Red Cross resulted in the YMCA providing athletic equipment, books and games for American prisoners in German PoW camps.[9]

World War IIEdit

Red Cross food parcels during World War II were mostly provided from Great Britain, the United States (after 1941) and Canada. An Allied PoW might receive any of these packages at any one given time, regardless of his or her own nationality. This was because all such packages were sent from their country of origin to central collection points, where they were subsequently distributed to Axis PoW camps by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

British food parcelsEdit

During World War II, The British Joint War Organisation sent standard food parcels, invalid food parcels, medical supplies, educational books and recreational materials to prisoners of war worldwide. During the conflict, over 20 million standard food parcels were sent. Typical contents of such a parcel included:

  • 1/4 lb packet of tea
  • Tin of cocoa powder
  • Bar of milk or plain chocolate (often Cadbury's nut and fruit chocolate, or something similar)
  • Tinned pudding
  • Tin of meat roll
  • Tin of processed cheese
  • Tin of condensed milk (Klim—a Canadian instant milk beverage—or else Carnation or Nestle brand)
  • Tin of dried eggs
  • Tin of sardines or herrings
  • Tin of preserve
  • Tin of margarine
  • Tin of sugar
  • Tin of vegetables
  • Tin of biscuits
  • Bar of soap
  • Tin of 50 cigarettes or tobacco (sent separately—usually Player's brand cigarettes, or Digger flake pipe tobacco).[10][11]

Approximately 163,000 such parcels were made up each week during World War II; after being assembled, they were shipped on special ships to Lisbon, Portugal or Marseilles, France, where they were loaded onto railway cars and shipped to Geneva, Switzerland. Here, the International Committee of the Red Cross arranged for their shipment to PoW camps and other detention centers throughout Europe.[10]

Sometimes, due to the shortage of parcels, two or even four prisoners would be compelled to share the contents of one Red Cross parcel.[11]

American food parcelsEdit

Another source lists the contents of a typical Red Cross parcel received by an American airman held prisoner in Stalag Luft I near Barth, Germany on the Baltic Sea:

  • One pound can of powdered milk
  • One pound can of oleo margarine
  • Half-pound package of cube sugar
  • Half-pound package of Kraft cheese
  • Six-ounce package of K-ration biscuits
  • Four-ounce can of coffee
  • Two D-ration chocolate bars
  • Six-ounce can of jam or peanut butter
  • Twelve-ounce can of salmon or tuna
  • One-pound can of Spam or corned beef
  • One-pound package of raisins or prunes
  • Five packages of cigarettes
  • Seven Vitamin-C tablets
  • Two bars of soap
  • Twelve ounces of C-ration vegetable soup concentrate.[12]

According to this airman, recipients of these parcels were permitted to keep only the cigarettes and chocolate bars; the remainder of the parcel was turned over to the camp cook, who combined them with the contents of other parcels and German PoW rations (usually bread, barley, potatoes, cabbage and horse meat)[12] to create daily meals for the prisoners.[12]

Cigarettes in the parcels became the preferred medium of exchange within the camp, with each individual cigarette valued at 27 cents within Stalag Luft I.[12] Similar practices were followed in other PoW camps, as well. Cigarettes were also used to bribe German guards to provide the prisoners with outside items that would otherwise have been unavailable to them.[12] Tins of coffee, which was hard to come by in Germany late in the war, served this same purpose in many camps.[11] Contents of these packages were sometimes pilfered by German guards or other camp personnel, especially toward the end of the war.[13]

Canadian food parcelsEdit

The Canadian Red Cross reported assembling and shipping nearly 16,500,000 food parcels during the Second World War, at a cost of $47,529,000.[14] Contents of the Canadian parcel included:

  • Sixteen ounces of milk powder
  • Sixteen ounces of butter
  • Four ounces of cheese
  • Twelve ounces of corned beef
  • Ten ounces of pork luncheon meat
  • Eight ounces of salmon
  • Four ounces of sardines or kippers
  • Eight ounces of dried apples
  • Eight ounces of dried prunes or raisins
  • Eight ounces of sugar
  • Sixteen ounces of jam or honey
  • Sixteen ounces of pilot biscuits
  • Eight ounces of chocolate
  • One ounce of salt and pepper (mustard, onion powder and other condiments were also sometimes enclosed)
  • Four ounces of tea or coffee
  • Two ounces of soap.[14]

Unlike the American and British parcels, Canadian Red Cross parcels did not include cigarettes or tobacco.

Food parcels in the Pacific theaterEdit

The Japanese government in August 1942 announced that no neutral ship, even a Red Cross ship, would be allowed to enter Japanese waters. Red Cross parcels intended for Allied PoWs in Japan were accordingly stockpiled in Vladivostok, Russia, and a single ship was ultimately permitted to transport some of these to Japan in November 1944. How many of these actually reached the PoWs is not known, and the sinking of the Red Cross ship prevented any future shipments from being made.[15]

Food parcels in the German Concentration CampsEdit

In November 1943, the Red Cross received permission from Nazi German authorities to send Red Cross parcels to inmates of concentration camps whose names and specific locations were known. About 1,112,000 parcels containing 4,500 tons of food were ultimately sent to the camps, including those at Dachau, Buchenwald, Ravensbrück, Sachsenhausen, Theresienstadt and Auschwitz.Script errorScript error[citation needed] In addition to food, these parcels also contained clothing and pharmaceutical items.[16]

German PoWs after World War IIEdit

Three months after the German surrender in May 1945, General Dwight Eisenhower issued an order classifying all surrendered soldiers within the American Zone of Occupation as "Disarmed Enemy Forces", rather than Prisoners of War. Accordingly, the Red Cross was denied the right to visit German PoWs in American prison camps, and delivery of Red Cross parcels to them was forbidden.Script errorScript error[citation needed]

Postwar study on Red Cross parcels and Canadian PoWsEdit

The Canadian government conducted a detailed study of the effect of the Red Cross parcels on the health and morale of Canadian PoWs shortly after the end of World War II. Over 5,000 former PoWs were interviewed, and Canadian authorities determined that a significant number of soldiers did not get the intended one parcel per man per week; most had to make do with one-half of a parcel per week, or even less on some occasions. Soldiers were asked to state their preferences with regard to specific contents of the parcels: the most popular item turned out to be the biscuits, with butter a close second, followed (in order) by meat, milk (powdered and other), chocolate, cigarettes, tea, jam, cereals, cheese and coffee.[14] The Canadian parcel was preferred to British, American or New Zealand-issued parcels, claiming that the Canadian parcels had "greater bulk", "lasted longer", and/or had "more food".[14]

With regard to especially disliked foods, the Canadian respondents (over 4,200 of the interviewed PoWs) expressed the greatest distaste for the vegetables and fish enclosed in the food parcels (about fifteen percent of the total number of respondents), followed (in order) by condiments, egg powder, cereals, fat, cheese, deserts, sweets, beverages, jams, biscuits and milk. However, except for the first two items on that list, all of these were named by only a minuscule percentage of the total number of respondents.[14]

Red Cross medical kitsEdit


A second type of parcel delivered through the Red Cross during World War II was the Red Cross Prisoner of War First Aid Safety Kit, which was supplied by the American Red Cross for distribution through the International Committee. Such parcels generally held the following items:

  • A twelve-page booklet with instructions for use of the enclosed medical supplies, printed in English, French, German, Polish and Yugoslav
  • Ten packages of sterilized gauze, in two different sizes
  • One package containing 500 laxative pills
  • Two packages containing 500 aspirin tablets each
  • Twelve gauze bandages
  • Two cans of insecticide powder
  • Four tubes of boric acid antiseptic ointment
  • Two packages containing 500 sodium bicarbonate tablets each
  • Two tubes of Salicylic ointment (for treatment of athlete's foot and similar fungal diseases)
  • Two tubes of Mercuric antiseptic ointment
  • Four tubes of sulphur ointment (for treatment of skin diseases)
  • One box containing 100 band-aids
  • Two rolls of adhesive tape
  • Two one-ounce packages of absorbent cotton
  • Safety pins, forceps, soap, disinfectants and scissors.[13]

Other kits issued to some PoWs through the American Red Cross contained a few differences in contents, but were still generally similar to the above.[17]


The British Red Cross also supplied Medical Parcels to Allied PoWs during the war. Prior to 15 June 1942 these kits generally consisted of:

  • A general parcel containing cotton wool, safety pins, soap, aspirin tablets and ointment
  • A disinfectant parcel
  • Special parcels containing thermometers and dressing scissors.

After 15 June 1942 the British kits were changed. The new kits contained:

  • An invalid food unit consisting of two parcels – milk and food
  • A medical stores unit consisting of four parcels:
"Medical 1" contained soap and disinfectants
"Medical 2" contained soda bicarbonate, Dover's powders, lung balsam, ferri sulphate, zinc ointment, cascara, zinc oxide powder, formalin throat tablets, ammoniated mercury ointment, flexoplast, lint, cotton wool, gauze, ascorbic acid tablets, pile ointment, sulphapyridine tablets, magnesium trisilicate, and oxide plaster
"Medical 3 and 4" contained additional quantities of the supplies found in "Medical 2", adding to them kaoline poultice, A and D Oleum Vitamins, TCP burns, aspirin, Bemax, sulphanilamide and toilet paper.[18]

In addition, German and Italian authorities sometimes permitted British prisoner hospitals to procure equipment from England via the Red Cross, including microscopes, sterilizers, material for manufacturing artificial limbs, medical instruments, vaccines, drugs and even games and other recreational materials.[18]

Release parcelsEdit

The American Red Cross provided a special "release parcel" to some Allied PoWs upon their initial release from enemy captivity. These parcels included:

  • Razor
  • Razor blades
  • Shaving cream
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Pencil
  • Comb
  • Socks
  • Cigarettes
  • Handkerchiefs
  • Playing cards
  • Stationery
  • Book
  • Hard candy
  • Chewing gum
  • Face cloth
  • Cigarette case with the American Red Cross emblem imprinted on it.[19]

These kits were distributed as follows: 71,400 to France; 10,000 to the Soviet Union; 9,500 to Italy; 5,000 to Egypt; and 4,000 to the Philippines.[20]

Modern Red Cross parcelsEdit

Following the collapse of the former Soviet Union, many pensioners in the newly independent Republic of Georgia were left destitute by the resulting collapse of the Georgian economy and the inability of their meager pensions to keep up with inflation. The Red Cross, with the financial support of the German government, assisted approximately 500,000 of these mostly elderly people with food parcels over a seven-year period during the 1990s. As of 2001, more than 12,000 were still dependent upon Red Cross food assistance.[21]

Food parcels were also distributed by the Red Cross of Thailand during the recent Red Shirt Movement disturbances in Bangkok,[22] and to British victims of flooding in Gloucestershire in 2007. The British package contained:

  • Five tins of canned fruit
  • One loaf of longlife bread
  • Two packets of rye crackers
  • Three cartons of long-life milk
  • One jar of savoury spread
  • Three packets of plain biscuits
  • Three tins of fish
  • Three tins of meat
  • Five tins of potatoes
  • Two jars of sandwich spread
  • Two packs of cereal bars
  • One flashlight, batteries, toilet paper, and one tube of sanitiser hand gel.[23]

See alsoEdit


  1. Script error
  2. Red Cross Records From the First World War. Retrieved on 2010-09-26.
  3. Carl P. Dennett, Prisoners of the Great War, pp. 14-15.
  4. Carl P. Dennett, Prisoners of the Great War, pg. 16.
  5. Carl P. Dennett, Prisoners of the Great War, pg. 28.
  6. Carl P. Dennett, Prisoners of the Great War, pp. 29-30. The contents of each package are contained in the reference.
  7. Carl P. Dennett, Prisoners of the Great War, pp. 30-32.
  8. Carl P. Dennett, Prisoners of the Great War, pp. 32-33.
  9. Carl P. Dennett, Prisoners of the Great War, pp. 52-53.
  10. 10.0 10.1 British Red Cross: Food Parcels. Retrieved on 2010-09-26.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Memories of PTE Tom Barker, 1st Btn. Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Retrieved on 2010-09-26.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 Eat, Drink, Smoke and Be Creative: Red Cross Parcels. Retrieved on 2010-09-26.
  13. 13.0 13.1 The Prisoner of War First Aid Safety Kit. Retrieved 2010-09-26.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 Final Report on the Canadian Red Cross Food Parcels for Prisoners of War. Retrieved on 2010-09-26.
  15. The Red Cross in World War II. Retrieved on 2010-09-26.
  16. A Letter from Auschwitz: 1943. Retrieved on 2010-09-28.
  17. The Prisoner of War First Aid Safety Kit. See kit mentioned as being provided by Parke, Davis and Co. Retrieved 2010-09-26.
  18. 18.0 18.1 British Red Cross Medical Supplies. Retrieved on 2010-09-26.
  19. Prisoner of War Bulletin Vol. 31. Retrieved on 2010-09-26.
  20. Prisoner of War Bulletin Vol. 36. Retrieved on 2010-09-26.
  21. Lone Pensioners in Georgia receive food parcels from the Red Cross. Retrieved 2010-09-26.
  22. Thai Red Cross Provides Relief During Bangkok Protests. Retrieved 2010-09-26.
  23. Red Cross Distributes Food Parcels to British Victims for the First Time Since the Second World War. Retrieved 2010-09-26.

External linksEdit

Ad blocker interference detected!

Wikia is a free-to-use site that makes money from advertising. We have a modified experience for viewers using ad blockers

Wikia is not accessible if you’ve made further modifications. Remove the custom ad blocker rule(s) and the page will load as expected.