Photograph showing a Junior Red Cross member giving a disaster relief kit to two young survivors of Hurricane Hattie

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Black and white photograph taken in 1961 in British Honduras of two young boys who survived Hurricane Hattie, receiving aid from the British Red Cross.

To paint a little of the picture of what the boys in this photograph had just lived through, Hurricane Hattie arrived on October 31st 1961 and left a devastated country in its wake. Hundreds of people had died, devastation was reported from north to south and entire communities were turned into rubble. Belize City had been reduced to a ‘pile of matchsticks’. Mass cremations had been hurriedly arranged due to the high death toll in order to prevent the spread of disease.

Miss Whittington, the Director of Overseas Operations from the British Red Cross, witnessed the devastation first hand and said it was the worst she had ever seen. The tales of that hurricane live on in the oral history of British Honduras (or Belize as it is known today); everyone who lived through the storm has a story. Although we can only guess as to what the survival story of the two boys in the photograph was and what would have remained of their lives, seeing these boys standing torn clothed and barefoot in a tree, it is clear that they were among the thousands that had been left destitute by Hattie. The photograph shows them in front of one of the few remaining wooden houses typical of the time; 80% of these and other types of buildings in the area had been decimated by the storm.

In the photograph you can see the boys being handed a cotton drawstring bag containing a disaster relief kit, labelled as a gift prepared by the Junior Red Cross. These kits had been flown in from Britain by RAF service planes along with other aid sent by the British Red Cross after the disaster. The bags would have contained personal hygiene items, possibly small toys and items of stationery. The kit is being handed to them by a junior [member] of the Red Cross in British Honduras; you can see that he is wearing an armband with the Red Cross emblem on. From 1945 onwards, the Red Cross had put tremendous effort into its overseas societies to make sure they were equipped to respond to humanitarian crisis within their own countries and to distribute international aid when needed. This photograph shows this strategy in action, as the junior in British Honduras despite having lived through the hurricane himself was able to respond immediately to the crisis and reach out to other survivors.

Photographs such as these offer a window into the past and help us to get an idea of what the aftermath of such a catastrophe looked like. Moreover, it shows the people back in Britain the effectiveness of the British Red Cross in mobilising humanitarian relief in the wake of natural disasters such as Hattie; and how their donations and help reached people on the street in their greatest time of need. This is inspiring, particularly as it shows the difference even the younger members of society can make to the lives of others with their selfless acts of kindness.

Audio recording by Monika Rego (Volunteer), London.
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