There is plenty around at the moment to mark the First World War Centenary and here at the Glasgow Women’s Library we’ve put up a display highlighting the achievements and varied roles of women during this key period in Britain’s history.
Elsie Inglis (1864-1917) was a Scottish doctor and a suffragist. She set up the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service Committee, an organisation funded by the women’s suffrage movement and staffed entirely by women. These hospitals were placed all over, from France to Russia to Serbia. The Glasgow Women’s Library holds a brilliant diary account – titled ‘Little Grey Partridge’ after the nickname given by soldiers to the Scottish nurses – of a cookery teacher from Skye called Ishobel Ross (1890-1965) who worked on the Serbian front line.
She describes her journey through France, Italy, Greece, Serbia and back. She worked in freezing conditions and sweltering heat and even heard Serbian wolves scratching at her tent. Ishobel treated wounded soldiers and witnessed some of her colleagues die of malaria, always with the threat of enemy planes overhead. None of the diary feels frightening though; her consistent jolly attitude prevails! She found joy in almost every day as she grew close to nurses, soldiers, and locals. She picked up different languages and travelled rough roads to explore the country’s mountains and sea-sides. She played fancy dress at Christmas and watched British and Serbian soldiers play Scottish songs on a Greek island. Many of the women volunteering for this organisation made lifelong friends with each other as well as with the soldiers they saved and with the locals they met. Ishobel herself received a beautiful letter shortly after her return to Scotland from Mikail Dimitrivitch, a Captain of the Serbian army, who wanted to thank her for her work. He told her: “It is a necessity for us all (for me personally too) to bow deeply from the old Nish to all stoic dear British Ladies having helped Serbs to grow strong enough for the to-day’s task”. While the horrors of war are evident, the excitement of travelling to new places and interacting with different cultures makes this diary a real adventure.
This delightful and short afternoon read can be found in the Biography section of the GWL.
*Bonus fun fact: Ishobel’s father, James Ross, invented Drambuie!*