WW100 Scotland is set to commemorate the remarkable achievements of Dr Elsie Inglis and the Scottish Women’s Hospitals during the WW1 effort, 100 years on from her death.
Launching the commemorations today were Patricia Purdom, whose Great Grandmother was a cousin of Dr Elsie Inglis, Clea Thompson, great, great, great niece of Elsie, and amateur historian Alan Cumming at Surgeons’ Hall Museums at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, where memorabilia including Elsie’s medals are on display. Reserve Nurses Sergeant Catherine Pounder and Petty Officer Naval Nurse Sean Carruthers and student Acting Pilot Officer Lily Chubb – representing the Armed Forces, Royal Navy, and RAF respectively – also joined in honour of their forebear.
A private ceremony will be held at Elsie’s grave in the Dean Cemetery on November 26 – 100 years to the day of her death. A larger ceremony will take place in St Giles Cathedral on November 29, 100 years to the day of her funeral there. Sergeant Pounder will be a wreath bearer at the St Giles Ceremony.
In August 1914 when Britain entered World War One, women like Dr Elsie Inglis saw the war as an opportunity for women to play their part, recognising that they were every bit as gifted on the operating table as any man. After being told by the War Office ‘my good lady go home and sit still’ as women doctors and surgeons were not permitted to serve in front-line hospitals, Elsie offered her services to Britain’s allies. On their acceptance, she formed the Scottish Women’s Hospitals and together with her colleagues and associates from the suffragist movement between 1914-1919 raised the equivalent of £53m in today’s money to buy equipment and get their stations to the front line.
Seventeen Scottish Women’s Hospitals were set up across France, Corsica, Greece, Macedonia, Romania and Serbia to treat soldiers, as well as a number of satellite hospitals and dressing stations. Of the near 1,500 personnel, only 20 were men. The Scottish Women’s Hospitals served the war effort from 1914 to 1919 and were not formally disbanded until 1925.
Amateur historian Alan Cumming has been researching the story of Elsie and the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for four years. While attending a football match in Serbia where Elsie spent most of her war years and is affectionately known as the ‘Serbian mother from Scotland’, he saw a commemorative plaque and wanted to know more.
Alan Cumming comments: “As a young doctor in the 1890s Elsie had worked tirelessly to improve maternity care for the women of Edinburgh. At the age of 50 and with cancer, a health issue she kept from her colleagues, she set off on a remarkable journey – often distressing and dangerous – to support her beloved Serbs wherever they needed her. A vigorous campaigner for votes for women, by this cause she also knew she would demonstrate the capabilities of women while doing her bit for the war effort.
“It is very appropriate that we remember on the centenaries of her death and her funeral, the amazing achievements of Elsie and her 1500 colleagues that served with the Scottish Women’s Hospitals.”
Patricia Purdom, whose Great Grandmother was a cousin of Elsie Inglis, and who will take part in the service at St Giles, said: “I am very proud of Elsie Inglis and what she achieved and I am delighted that her memory is being recognised in these services. I would have loved to have met her and heard her stories first-hand. I remembered my father recalling her remarkable achievements when we would look through the family album and I’m very privileged to still have these photos today.”
Clea Thompson, Elsie’s great, great, great niece, commented: “It is a privilege to be involved in the commemorative events here in Scotland and it was an honour to recently be invited to Serbia to mark the astounding achievements of a remarkable person, Dr Elsie Inglis.
“Elsie worked relentlessly with fortitude in highly traumatic circumstances to save lives throughout her life. It is very meaningful to me personally and, as I continue to learn more about her life, I find her courage extraordinary and inspiring.
“Great strides have been made in the past 100 years in breaking down the barriers of inequality, an achievement made possible through the sacrifice and determination of these women and the families, friends and colleagues who supported them. I am grateful to Alan Cumming for bringing the stories of not only Elsie Inglis, but all involved with the Scottish Women’s Hospitals, into the public arena so they can be recognised and remembered.”
A limited number of tickets are available to the general public for the ceremony at St Giles Cathedral on Wednesday 29 November. To register visit here or call 0300 244 4000.