At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the founder of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals, Dr. Elsie Inglis, approached the British War Office with the suggestion that her organisation be permitted to travel to the front to work with the R. A. M. C. and other nursing organisations caring for wounded and sick soldiers. It was reported that the War Office official she met told her: ‘My good lady, go home and sit still.’ Fortunately for thousands of allied soldiers this was not the kind of advice that sat well with Dr. Inglis. Undaunted, her plans to contribute to the war effort pressed ahead and the first 200 bed Scottish Women’s Hospital opened at Royaumont, France. In the course of the war thirteen more hospitals followed, in Corsica, France, Malta, Romania, Russia, Salonika and Serbia, staffed by volunteer doctors, nurses, orderlies and ambulance drivers. This unique Leonaur edition principally concerns the activities of the Scottish Women’s Hospital unit in the Romanian Campaign, part of the Balkan theatre in the east, where fighting broke out in 1916 and was particularly savage as Romanian forces attempted to regain Transylvania from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Written by one who experienced the campaign at first hand the book describes the work, deprivation and perils of those remarkable women who, driven by irrepressible conviction, undertook their humanitarian work far from home and often in conditions of extreme danger. To add perspective an extract describing the work of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals throughout the region during the Great War is also included. Recommended reading for all those interested in nursing in wartime.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
One dwells on the characteristics of these delightful people because one feels that they show what the Serbians are, and how entirely they deserve the help that we have given them, and surely they stand in need of it. They have fought bravely, times without number, against appalling odds, until those who are left are worn out, body and spirit. Kaimatchalan, where hundreds of their dead and their enemies’ dead lie buried, is an everlasting monument to their bravery and their endurance. One of the few really decisive battles in the war’s history, it was won under conditions impossible to describe. They have suffered the disseminating ravage of disease, and separation from their families, with no word of them for years (such are the Bulgars’ cruel restrictions in Serbia). These sufferings truly have been forced upon them, but the spirit in which they have been endured is theirs, and theirs alone; this and their trust and dependence upon the British are an eloquent appeal to every one of us to stand by and protect them.
On 15th January 1917 the Transport Column under Mrs. Harley (as was mentioned before) was transferred to Dr. Bennett’s Unit, and was attached to a dressing-station about 60 kilometres from the hospital where we had first worked. We found three fairly able-bodied ambulances, one totally out of action, two vans, and a kitchen car (also temporarily out of action and unsuited to the roads in that part of the country). The latter was subsequently converted into a van capable of carrying sitting cases, or material, and it proved most useful. One of the Ford vans we sent to Ostrovo. We had three more ambulances sent up from there, and as soon as possible put the disabled one on the roads, so that we had seven in all. The colonel also placed (for several months) four Serbian ambulances and their drivers directly under my control.
Then began a very busy time. The sick and wounded (they were mostly sick) came down in large numbers from the front in carts and on mules They would often arrive covered with snow and soaked to the skin, and there were many cases of frostbite Our (return) journey to the Evacuation Hospital near the line was about 34 kilometres, and sometimes the cars did four journeys in the day. There was never a day off, only half a day very occasionally. Rain and snow alternated, and the girls would come home with, icicles hanging to their eyes and all round their necks. Owing to a scarcity of paraffin and other causes there was no stove in the mess or sleeping tents, but they would cheerfully thaw themselves at the open trench fire in the camp kitchen, and after supper would fill their hot-water bottles and jump into bed, often with the snow drifting in under their tent flaps. Yet I never once heard them grumble. They were ready for the roads every morning soon after dawn, and the more driving they had the better pleased they were.
The task of making a garage more portable than the ‘silver palace’ we had left behind at the hospital then began, and the hunt for wood had to be resumed. The trees for many miles round our camp had been cut down by the troops, and it was with great difficulty that even firewood could be found. However, at that time I had to visit Salonika on one of the periodical hunts for ‘motor spares,’ and I happened to mention the needed wood in the presence of a naval officer, who had once spent a few days with Mrs. Harley, and who knew the work of the Transport Column. He immediately spoke to his captain, with wonderful results.
The model erection which for a time graced our camp we owed to the kindness of this officer, but, alas! it was scarcely finished when our marching orders came, and the column was moved, with the dressing-station, across the river, and there, profiting by our recent experience, we raised a still better and yet more portable shelter for our cars. We were then in the proud position of being able to lend some of our precious wood to finish the hospital kitchen and to make a locked store, as well as ward screens, and even shafts for the Serbian horse-carts (which were often in the wars), to say nothing of seats for the mess tent.
About this time our work slackened. We were given a long, tedious run of 60 kilometres (return journey) over a road so rough that our mortality for ‘springs’ increased by leaps and bounds, and springs in those days were unprocurable. But necessity knows no law. The ambulances had to be kept on the roads, and it meant journeys of 300 kilometres to Salonika, and then unending difficulties. But we felt we must uphold the garage tradition. No order for carrying wounded could ever be refused. I am glad to say that it never was, except on one occasion, when the weather rendered the roads impassable.
Just before we left this camp there were several hostile air raids, and bombs were dropped unpleasantly close to the hospital. The cars were always sent out to search for casualties, which, alas! we always found and were able to render timely aid.
In April we had a move to a far less picturesque site in a barren, sandy valley entirely shut in by hills. It was intolerably hot, and as the place had been an old horse camp the flies were unendurable. Rations were sometimes difficult to get, and the bread was often mouldy. Our ambulance, now numbering fourteen, had a good stand and the workshop and store were conveniently placed, and our facilities and arrangements for repairing the cars were much improved.
But for many months our eyes had been set on the hills from whence the wounded came; however, the military authorities did not consider the roads fit for ambulances, especially as the cases were then mostly light and could travel without discomfort by cart. Early in May we were ordered to run up to a dressing-station about eight kilometres from us, which had moved forward, and to which patients from three different sections of the front were received. It was, however, not considered worthwhile to move our camp for so short a distance, especially as when the loads were finished we should be running right on to the next ambulance at the very summit.