Heroes of History

The 11th November 2018 marked the 100th anniversary of the end of the war that was meant to end all wars, The Great War, World War One. The focus on loss and sacrifice is quite rightly placed heavily on the soldiers who fought in those horrendous conditions – keep in mind, that on the first day of The Battle of the Somme, some 57,000 casualties were created from the allied forces alone – but what about the people who were dealing with the aftermath of man’s need and lust for destruction? What about the women who were trying to pick up the pieces to keep this giant war machine rolling?

For that reason, I thought this new history blog should be focussed on one of those inspirational ladies who defied convention to do her bit and show what she was capable of to the men in charge.

Born into an already powerful family of women in the July of 1873, she was the daughter of some may say the first ever female medical doctor, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and also the niece of one of the most well known leaders of the female suffrage movement, Millicent Fawcett.

Early in the outbreak of the First World War, her and her colleague and friend Flora Murray, approached the French Embassy with the idea of creating a hospital to treat the French victims of the fighting – knowing that the British government would dismiss their offer with an insignificant wave of the hand – and a short time after this, the Womens Hospital Corps was formed. Coupled with a cash injection due to fundraising efforts of £2,000, the Doctors found themselves in Paris, setting up their first hospital in the former Claridges Hotel.

A second French hospital was to follow before the British Government finally cottoned on to the professionalism and care that the Womens Hospital Corps offered and requested they establish a military hospital back in the UK, in the former St Giles Workhouse in Covent Garden. What is interesting that is despite the huge disparity with pay for many of the women seconded into the more traditional male roles during the war – women took home around 1/3rd of that of their male colleagues – Flora and Louisa were given the same remuneration as their male equivalents and also given military rank, lieutenant Colonel and Major respectively.

This hospital was staffed entirely by women including doctors, surgeons, ophthalmic surgeons, dental surgeons, an anaesthetist, bacteriological and pathological experts and seven assistant doctors and surgeons, together with a full staff of women assistants. The records state that in the four years that they operated this endeavour, from March 1915 to October 1919, they treated in the region of 24,000 soldiers on an in patient basis and nearly the same number on an outpatient regime.

Pretty amazing when you think that the powers that be didn’t believe women could be medical practioners or in positions of authority, yet the care that was given by the Womens Hospital Corp enduced a real sense of loyalty amongst those it treated, a comment home by one Australian Private illustrates this perfectly –

“The management is good, and the surgeons take great interest in and pains with their patients. They will persevere for months with a shattered limb, before amputation, to try to save it…The whole hospital is a triumph for women, and incidentally it is a triumph for suffragette”.

We will be looking at more women intrinsic to this time period over 2019, but do read more about the wonder Womens Hospital Corps and the advances that these women made in the attitude towards women by the greater public in the early part of the 20th century as I can only touch on their achievements in 500 or so words

If you want to listen to a show that I did with the wonderful Kerry Greenaway on World War One, click here - https://www.spreaker.com/user/parasearchuk/the-spi...

Or via you tube -

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