Obituary: Evelyn Bark

Evelyn Elizabeth Patricia Bark, charity worker: born 26 December 1900; joined British Red Cross, 1939, served War, 1939-44, Foreign Relations Officer 1944- 48, Commissioner, North-west Europe 1948-49, Director, International Affairs Department 1950-66; OBE 1952; CMG 1967; author of No Time to Kill 1960; died Reading, Berkshire 7 June 1993.

THE IMPACT of Evelyn Bark's dynamic personality was in inverse proportion to her stature: no taller than Queen Victoria was how she described her 5ft height in her autobiography No Time To Kill (1960). Her fluency in six languages and a working knowledge of several others, her initiative and administrative ability, and her courage and compassion made her the ideal member of the Red Cross Commission in North-west Europe, during and after the Second World War, for which she was appointed OBE in 1952. In 1967 she was one of the first women to be appointed CMG, for her 16 years' service as director of the International Affairs department of the British Red Cross.

Evelyn Bark joined the British Red Cross as a VAD at the outbreak of war in 1939. She did voluntary part-time duties in a London maternity hospital, and manned air-raid precaution posts while continuing her job at the Swedish Match Company's London office and later at the Board of Trade.

In 1944 she joined the Foreign Relations department of the British Red Cross working on the 25-word postal message scheme, which since 1940 had enabled civilians in Britain, France and Germany, to communicate with relatives anywhere in the world via the International Red Cross Tracing Agency in Geneva. When hostilites ceased, Geneva had recorded the transmission of 25 million such messages. Bark also developed the Red Cross language card to enable British doctors and nurses to communicate with the wounded of many nationalities, when interpreters were not available.

At the end of 1944, immediately after the liberation of Brussels, Bark joined the staff of the British Red Cross Commission in Europe, which worked closely with the British liberation army. The first of many senior appointments in Europe, it took her to Belgium, and later to Holland and Germany. Included in her luggage was a list of inquiries for missing people, typed on the very thinnest paper, yet weighing 111 2 1b. She set to work at once to start a tracing service for missing persons, a service which became the International Tracing Service, which has been run since 1955 by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Bark was one of the first to enter Belsen concentration camp with the Red Cross team. In Belsen, the first relief teams were confronted with 60,000 human bodies, dead, dying, or just alive, of 22 nationalities. Most of the 45,000 inmates who were still living were very sick, and 800 were dying daily from typhus. In the first hectic days, nearly everyone was involved in collecting dead bodies from the compounds, disinfecting the survivors and transferring some 2,000 of them to the hospital building which was rapidly set up. Within a week the mortality rate had dropped to about 12 a day and then to zero. Before leaving Belsen the Nazis destroyed all records, and the first job in the Red Cross tracing service was to identify everyone possible. This was a colossal task but, with the help of some internees, all the living were registered and gradually it became possible to reunite families and friends.

In April 1948, when Bark was promoted to British Red Cross Commissioner in Germany, her outstanding services in the field, organising relief work among displaced persons, won the admiration not only of her colleagues in the Red Cross but also of the Army and civilian relief authorities. She organised and was responsible, for among other things, the administration of the German Bad Pyrmont Hospital and Rehabilitation Centre for disabled service and civilian war victims.

On the withdrawal of the Commission in September 1949, Bark became Foreign Relations Adviser at the Headquarters of the British Red Cross. Here she organised the society's medical commission to Jordan, where the majority of a million Palestinian refugees had sought asylum at the end of 1948. (The large-scale emergency relief operation was covered for 18 months by the Red Cross until the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, NRWA, was formed.)

In 1950 she undertook a Red Cross mission to Ethiopia to assist the national Red Cross Society to re-establish itself. In 1953 she visited the sheikhdoms in the Arabian Gulf to explore the possibility of establishing National (Red Crescent) Societies there.

Between 1954 and 1956 she accompanied the British Red Cross Vice-Chairman, the then Countess of Limerick, to the Soviet Union, Poland, China, and then Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria at a time when few Westerners were able to visit Communist countries. Not only did these visits strengthen Red Cross relationships, transcending political and ideological boundaries, but they also initiated closer co-operation in tracing and welfare inquiries.

Bark was responsible at operational level for British Red Cross assistance overseas in disasters and other emergencies. Her organisational ability and gift for friendship and sympathetic understanding of different cultures, earned her a world-wide reputation. In 1956 she was requested by the League of Red Cross Societies to co- ordinate relief for Hungarian refugees in Austria, and to join the league's Disaster Relief Advisory Committee. In 1960 she visited Morocco to see the physiotherapist teams work among the oil paralysis victims. Following the earthquake in Iran in 1962, when the first British television appeal raised pounds 400,000, she went to the devastated areas to oversee the relief expenditure. In 1964 she went to Yemen to monitor a British medical team working with the International Committee of the Red Cross care for war casualties.

In spite of ill-health in childhood following an accident, which might well have proved an insuperable obstacle to those with less determination, her courage and commitment to Red Cross ideals carried her successfully through testing situations. Bark's warm outgoing personality, the cosmopolitan life she had led and her impish sense of humour made her a most amusing raconteur. A private person, she loved in retirement entertaining friends of many nationalities. She endured the last decade of her 92- year life, , when she was afflicted by a paralysing stroke, with characteristic bravery.

Besides her British honours Evelyn Bark held the Golden Insignia of Honour for Merit by the Austrian Government. She was awarded Red Cross decorations from 10 countries - eloquent testimony to the high regard in which she was held abroad as well as in Britain.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Officer

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen at th...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - London - £40,000 + Bonus

£36000 - £40000 per annum + Bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own