Ar­gyll’s heroic Great War nurse is hon­oured

The Oban Times - - News -

HIGHLY dec­o­rated with mil­i­tary hon­ours, nurses Elsie Knocker and Mairi Chisholm were af­fec­tion­ately known as ‘the Madon­nas of Pervyse’ by the press dur­ing the Great War.

The two women now grace the Royal Mail’s com­mem­o­ra­tive stamps, which were re­leased last week.

What is less known is that af­ter the war, Mairi Chisholm moved to Bar­cal­dine where she lived with her child­hood friend May David­son for decades.

Among the many medals Mrs Knocker and Miss Chisholm were awarded were the Or­der of Léopold II (1915), the Or­der of Queen Elis­a­beth of Bel­gium (1915), the Mil­i­tary Medal (1917), the 1914 Star (1917) and the Or­der of St John of Jerusalem (1918) for brav­ery in Bel­gium and for sav­ing the lives of of thou­sands of sol­diers on the front line.

At the time, many women ripped up the rule book and nursed against of­fi­cial Bri­tish reg­u­la­tions at the front.

Near Flan­ders, at first the women col­lected men mid­way onto the field of bat­tle be­fore mov­ing them to the hos­pi­tal to wait for treat­ment, or to the mor­tu­ary.

Miss Chisholm wrote in her di­ary: ‘No-one can un­der­stand ... un­less one has seen the rows of dead men laid out. One sees men with their jaws blown off, arms and legs mu­ti­lated.’

The women came to the con­clu­sion that they could save more lives by treat­ing the wounded di­rectly on the front line.

They set up a treat­ment area 100 yards from the front line. Act­ing as free agents and rais­ing their own funds, they stayed on the front line for three and a half years, leav­ing, due to ill health, only months be­fore the ar­mistice.

Their brav­ery was leg­endary as they car­ried men on their backs from the front and sur­vived gas at­tacks.

Fol­low­ing the war, the two nurses went their sep­a­rate ways and, af­ter an ar­gu­ment, barely spoke again.

The war had taken its toll on Miss Chisholm’s health. She had been poi­soned, con­tracted sep­ticemia and had a weak heart. Yet, af­ter a brief stint in the women’s RAF, she took up mo­tor racing.

Partly on doc­tors’ ad­vice, Miss Chisholm re­turned home to Scot­land where, it was hoped, she would lead a qui­eter life. She based her­self in Bar­cal­dine where she be­came a suc­cess­ful poultry breeder with May David­son.

The women had a gar­dener, Miss Par­tridge, and a cook, Miss John­son, who lived for more than 60 years in a house called Dock Cot­tage but later changed its name to Cnoc an Hur­rin and is now Cr­eran Cot­tage. Peo­ple still re­mem­ber Miss Chisholm shoot­ing rab­bits from her be­d­room win­dow.

In her later years, she spent much time cor­re­spond­ing with The Clan Chisholm So­ci­ety. Mairi Chisholm died on Au­gust 22, 1981, aged 85, from lung can­cer.

Thank you to reader Moira Hay­wood for high­light­ing the story to The Oban Times. A book on the sub­ject, Elsie and Mairi Go to War, by Diane Atkin­son was pub­lished by Cor­ner­stone in 2009.

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