The British war effort
horrors in field hospitals that burst at the seams with the wounded and dying.
Elsie Inglis was born in India and arrived in Scotland as a child. She studied at the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women and launched her own medical college – indeed, one of her students was Dr Mona Chalmers Watson.
She suggested women’s medical units to support the men on the Western Front, only for her suggestion to be scoffed at by the British government. “Go home and sit still,” she was told.
She didn’t listen. With the support of the French government, within three months of the outbreak of war she had established the Edinburghbased Scottish Women’s Hospitals and a 100-bed hospital north of Paris that grew to 600 beds.
She arranged for women’s units in other fighting areas, and served in Serbia and Russia before being diagnosed with a terminal illness. She died the day after arriving home in November 1917.
Other women were also pioneering voluntary groups with a view to supporting the frontline wounded. Inglis’ fellow suffragette, Kingussieborn Eveline Haverfield worked with her in Serbia after founding the Women’s Emergency Corps.
And Dr Flora Murray, from Dumfries, served in France with the Women’s Hospital Corps. With her partner and colleague Dr Louisa Garrett Anderson, they established military hospitals in Paris and Wimereaux.
Throughout the war some 80,000 women served across three forces: the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corp, the Women’s Royal Air Force, founded in April 1918, and the Women’s Royal Naval Service (known as Wrens), launched a year before the Armistice was signed.
The taboo surrounding women’s place in serving their country was being broken down.