Apologies for the intermittent posting over the last couple of weeks, real life is definitely getting in the way!
I’ve been meaning to write about the International Women’s Day event that I was at on Monday, so given that today is actual Women’s Day I don’t feel like I’m doing it too late. Going to have to be a quick one though!
It was an event at Surgeons’ Hall called Edinburgh: City of Ladies and was about medical women. Unfortunately the scheduled first speaker, Chris Short, was unable to speak, so a substitute speaker spoke about Elsie Inglis. Then there was an excellent talk about the history of nursing in warfare.
It was the Elsie Inglis story that really grabbed me. I do wonder what exactly they were teaching me at school when I had never heard of Elsie Inglis, how she became a doctor and surgeon at the latter end of the 19th century, and how she set up the Scottish Women’s Hospitals in the First World War.
It seems ridiculous to me that I studied the suffrage movement, WWI and social conditions in Scotland from 1880 to the present day without ever being aware of her.
From the ages of about 10 to about 14, I was completely obsessed with war stories. I read all of my dad’s books about PoW camps, spies, escapes, RAF pilots and so on. My favourite books were ‘Colditz’, ‘The Wooden Horse’ and ‘Reach for the Sky’. I moved onto all the war books in our little village library. There were basically no women in any of them – just the odd wife or girlfriend.
How I would have appreciated the story of Elsie Inglis in the war. Although a respected and experienced 50-year-old medic, she was refused for war service by the British army and government. So she set up and fundraised for the Scottish Women’s Hospitals, staffed entirely by women, which went to France, Serbia, Corsica, Salonika, Romania, Russia and Malta. She herself went to Serbia by boat from Liverpool to Archangel, then hiring a train to take them through Russia. The work on the front, in tent hospitals, retreating with the Serbian army, sounds just as bad as you would expect. She was given Serbia’s highest honour, the Order of the White Eagle.
It seems such a shame that I had to wait till my mid-30s to know about her.
Apparently there is an Elsie Inglis trail of places she lived or was associated with in Edinburgh. I’ll be going for a look. Watch this space…