Caring from the Home Front to the Front Line

True Grit: The Scottish Women’s Hospitals.

When Dr Elsie Inglis approached the War Office in 1914 to suggest that female doctors and surgeons could serve in front-line hospitals, she was told in no uncertain terms: “My good lady, go home and sit still!”

One woman’s determination led to 300,000 lives being saved.

 

Elsie Inglis. © IWM (Q 68949A)

Elsie Inglis. © IWM (Q 68949A)

 

Undeterred, and with support from the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and the American Red Cross, Dr Inglis (left) set up The Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Services. These were voluntary, all-women units providing nurses, doctors, ambulance drivers, cooks and orderlies.

Severely tested, they showed endurance and resilience under the most terrible conditions. Their first 200-bed hospital was sited at the French Abbaye de Royaumont, and, by the War’s end, £53 million in today’s money had been raised and 14 hospitals opened. These were staffed by 1,500 women from Scotland, New Zealand, Australia and Canada, and were operational in Corsica, France, Malta, Romania, Russia, Greece and Serbia. Some 300,000 lives were saved by these dedicated women.

Remembering unsung heroines.

Although Elsie Inglis’ incredible contribution to the War effort is deservedly well-known, others are less so.  Edinburgh medical graduate Alice Hutchison — one of the first women to lead a war-time hospital — was noted for having the lowest rate of typhoid fatalities in her unit. Ishobel Ross, from the Isle of Skye, a domestic science teacher at Atholl Crescent School in Edinburgh, worked as a cook. Madge Fraser, formerly captain of the Scottish Ladies golf team, volunteered to serve as an orderly in Serbia, but died of typhus in 1915, as did nursing sister Louisa Jordan from Glasgow.

Nurses from The Scottish Women’s Hospital with the Serbian Army, 1915. © IWM (Q 112214)

Nurses from The Scottish Women’s Hospital with the Serbian Army, 1915. © IWM (Q 112214)

After the War, the unit disbanded and was wound up in 1922 with the remaining funds used to build the now-demolished Elsie Inglis Memorial Maternity Hospital in Edinburgh. However, the inspirational women of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals are powerful role models for future generations and it is important for us to remember them.

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