FEATURES Alan Cumming has researched a fascinating topic,
Scottish Women’s Hospitals in WWI I have uncovered five women all with strong It was during a visit to Belgrade, Serbia, that I was first made aware of the connections to St Andrews. Katherine MacPhail, Scottish Women’s Hospitals in the First World War. What saddened me a fiercely independent lady, joined the SWH in was that the women involved are known about and revered in Serbia, yet 1914, working as a doctor and surgeon in Corsica, their work and achievements are barely recognised in their own country. France, Salonica, Italy, and In Serbia there are statues, monuments, streets, Egypt. In Serbia she is remembered named after these women, while in their own country Between 1914-1918 it was as a doctor and a humanitarian. She they have been virtually completely overlooked. Britain estimated that some 1,000 was devoted to the Serbian people and spent thirty likes to make a show of celebrating and respecting women served in the SWH years with them. She set up the first-ever children’s heroes of war, in some cases even in fictional films hospital in Belgrade. The hospital moved to a village of war heroism, but has not acknowledged the work, outside Novi Sad and under Katherine’s dynamic leadership went from bravery, and altruism of these women in a time when women had no strength to strength. She was awarded an OBE in 1928. During WW2 involvement in direct conflict and were certainly not encouraged to have the Germans forced her to flee. She returned after the war, but was any. made to leave again by the communist government of 1947. Katherine Over the last few years I have researched this fascinating story. With is still remembered in Belgrade, where a statue and a street are named the Centenary of WW1 in 2014, I decided to make known what these in her honour. Late in 1947 women achieved, to Katherine retired to the “old commemorate their lives grey city by the sea”, moving and work. My objective is into her sister Annie’s home to collate information from at Kinburn Place. Annie various sources, put it on had also spent time in a website so that people Serbia, working as nurse can access it from one and teacher. She returned main resource, rather than home to tend her sick father have to search around. in St Andrews, where she Hopefully, it will be a lived till her death. Katherine facility for schools to aid passed away in Freeland students doing projects, House in Gateside. Her and for historians, and and her sister’s ashes were any person or group, scattered at the Western interested in this intriguing Cemetery in St Andrews, story. I hope the website where a memorial tablet is will evolve as people embedded in the wall. add their stories and Agnes Forbes historical knowledge. To Blackadder, is well known gather information I will in St Andrews, especially as research what I can via the first female to graduate the Internet, books, other in its University. Between written accounts, and 1893-1896 she studied also by talking to people, chemistry, Latin, botany, possibly also relatives and zoology. In 1901 she of the women. This married Dr Thomas Savill, but was widowed in 1910. Agnes joined the will need time, as well as the need to travel, both in this country and in SWH in May 1915, and worked at the Royaumont Hospital outside Paris Serbia, where there is a body of information on the women and the work till 1918. There she was in charge of both X-ray and electro-therapy they did. As well as the website I would like to contact people to make a departments. She spent long hours working at the hospital, and teaching, documentary. becoming ill as a result and sent home. After the war Agnes threw herself I feel we all owe a debt to these women. They should be celebrated into everything, from music to writing. She continued working right into old and respected for their doggedness in pursuit of their principles against age, passing away in London in 1964 the odds. This story is indeed a worthy lesson to all. These women are Margaret Davidson also worked at Royaumont. Graduating from powerful role models for future generations, therefore it is important for St Andrews in 1902 , she became a teacher of modern languages. Like them to be remembered. all these women she joined the SWH as a volunteer auxiliary nurse from 4 August 1914, saw Europe at war. In a small room in Edinburgh, 1915-1917. She would have known Elsie Inglis sat in the offices of the Scottish Federation of Women’s Agnes well during this time. After the war Suffrage Societies hatching a plan to supply a woman’s hospital to the Margaret went back to teaching, retiring battlefields. So began the SWH. Modestly enough with a goal of £1,000 to Dornoch where it is believed she to launch one hospital, by the end of WW1 nearly £500,000 had been introduced girl guiding to the Highlands. raised, with 14 fully-equipped field hospitals in Serbia, Belgium, France, Adeline Campbell, a St Andrews Russia, Romania, Corsica, Corfu, and Greece. It was a sad fact that Dr chemistry graduate, was born in Kirkcaldy Elsie Inglis was turned down by the British War Office, “My good lady, go and lived at the Manse in Townsend home and sit still”. Undeterred, Place, before joining SWH in 1914. Dr Inglis sent letters to the During WW1 she served as a doctor ambassadors of those countries in Kraguievatz, Serbia. Adeline was who accepted her idea, making decorated with the Serbian Order of St the breakthrough she hoped for Sava for her heroism. After the war she become a reality. worked in Edinburgh. Adeline was a dear Between 1914-1918 it was friend to Katherine MacPhail and visited estimated that some 1,000 Agnes Forbes Blackadder her at St Andrews in her retirement. women served in the SWH. They worked in terrible conditions, often to exhaustion, going There may be other women, other stories with St Andrews without food, sleep, or regard for connections. Any readers with more to add please contact me at: their own safety. Despite this, firstname.lastname@example.org or through the website: the SWH went on to save the scottishwomenshospitals.co.uk lives and bring back to health some 300,000 men, women, and (Photos courtesy Alan Cumming) children.
Article from St Andrews in Focus Issue 57 May / Jun 2013