Photograph of Dr John Melly in Ethiopia during the Italian-Ethiopian War
1935-1936 Audio tour
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Melly was a surgeon from Liverpool, and also a devoted Christian. He dreamed of combining his two passions – faith and medicine – and becoming a medical missionary. He was known as an upbeat, charming man who showed up for night rounds in full evening dress. At one point, he even lured a burn victim into dancing the Charleston with him after she refused to exercise. Melly visited Ethiopia in 1934, where he strolled around the capital in a blue hat, carrying an ivory fly whisk. After recognizing the signs of looming war, he returned to Britain, where he founded the British Ambulance Service in Ethiopia. This became integrated with the British Red Cross. He initially funded the BASE himself, having gathered the support of influential figures. Before Melly’ unit left for Ethiopia, the Archbishop of Canterbury blessed the Red Cross flag and wished the men ‘Godspeed.'
The Second Italo-Ethiopian War of 1935 to 1936 was the first humanitarian operation that the British Red Cross had been deeply involved in since 1918. It was extremely difficult to organize a constantly moving ambulance unit under these conditions. The unit had to travel when low cloud banks hindered bombs, and often at night through thousands of pack mules and donkeys.
Melly was prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to help others. He was upbeat and perseverant in times of adversity. I believe that Dr John Melly encapsulates the spirit of the British Red Cross.
Audio recording by Antonia Dalivalle (Volunteer), London.
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