"For a clear understanding and appreciation
of subsequent events affecting the relations between Dr. Inglis and the
Serb division, a brief account of its genesis may be given here.
"The division consisted mainly of Serbo-Croats and Slovenes—namely,
Serbs who, as subjects of Austria-Hungary, were obliged to serve in the
Austrian Army. Nearly all of these men had been taken prisoners by the
Russians, or, perhaps more correctly, had voluntarily surrendered to the
Russians rather than fight for the enemies of their co-nationals. In
May, 1915, a considerable number of these Austro-Serbs volunteered for
service with the Serbian Army, and by arrangement with the Russian
Government, who gave them their freedom, they were transported to
Serbia. After the entry of Bulgaria into the war it was no longer
possible to send them to Serbia, and 2,000 were left behind at Odessa.
The number of these volunteers increased, however, to such an extent
that, by permission of the Serbian Government, Serbian officers from
Corfu were sent over to organize them into a military unit for service
with the Russian Army. By May, 1916, a first division was formed under
the command of the Serb Colonel, Colonel Hadjitch, and later a second
division under General Zivkovitch. It was to the first division that the
Scottish Women's Hospitals and Transport were to be attached.
"The Unit mustered at Liverpool on August 29, and left for Archangel on
the following day. It consisted of a personnel of seventy-five and three
doctors, with Dr. Elsie Inglis C.M.O."
A member of the staff describes the journey:
"Our Unit left Liverpool for Russia on August 31, 1916; like the
Israelites of old, we went out not knowing exactly where we were bound
for. We knew only that we had to join the Serbian division of the
Russian Army, but where that Division was or how we were to get there we
could not tell. We were seventy-five all told, with 50 tons of equipment
and sixteen automobiles. We had a special transport, and after nine days
over the North Sea we arrived at Archangel.
"From Archangel we were entrained for Russia, and sent down via Moscow
to Odessa, receiving there further instructions to proceed to the
Roumanian front, where our Serbs were in action.
"We were fourteen days altogether in the train. I remember Dr. Inglis,
during those long days on the journey, playing patience, calm and
serene, or losing her own patience when the train was stopped and would not
go on. Out she would go, and address the Russian officials in strenuous,
nervous British—it was often effective. One of our interpreters heard
one stationmaster saying: 'There is a great row going on here, and there
will be trouble to-morrow if this train isn't got through.'
"At Reni we were embarked on a steamer and barges, and sent down the
Danube to a place called Cernavoda, where once more we were disembarked,
and proceeded by train and motor to Medjidia, where our first hospital
was established in a large barracks on the top of a hill above the town,
an excellent mark for enemy aeroplanes. The hospital was ready for
wounded two days after our arrival; until then it was a dirty empty
building, yet the wounded were received in it some forty-eight hours
after our arrival. It was a notable achievement, but for Dr. Inglis
obstacles and difficulties were placed in her path for the purpose of
being overcome; if the mountains of Mahomet would not
move, she removed them!
"In connection with the establishment of these field hospitals I have
vivid recollections of her. The great empty upper floor of the barracks
at Medjidia, seventy-five of us all in the one room. The lines of camp
beds. Dr. Inglis and her officers in one corner; and how quietly in all
the noise and hubbub she went to bed and slept.
I remember how I had to waken her when certain officials came on the
night of our arrival to ask when we would be ready for the wounded. 'Say
to-morrow,' she said, and slept again!
"'It's a wonder she did not say now,'
one of my fellow-officers remarked!
"We were equipped for two field hospitals of 100 beds each, and our
second hospital was established close to the firing-line at Bulbulmic.
We were at Bulbulmic and Medjidia only some three weeks when we had to
Three weeks of strenuous work at these two places ended in a sudden
evacuation and retreat—Hospital B and the Transport got separated from
Hospital A. We can only, of course, follow the fortunes of Hospital A,
which was directly under Dr. Inglis.
The night of the retreat is made vivid for us by Dr. Inglis:
"The station was a curious sight that night. The flight was
beginning. A crowd of people was collected at one end with boxes and
bundles and children. One little boy was lying on a doorstep asleep,
and against the wall farther on lay a row of soldiers. On the bench
to the right, under the light, was a doctor in his white overall,
stretched out sound asleep between the two rushes of work at the
station dressing-room; and a Roumanian officer talked to me of
Glasgow, where he had once been invited out to dinner, so he had
seen the British 'custims.' It was good to feel those British
customs were still going quietly on, whatever was happening
here—breakfasts coming regularly, hot water for baths, and
everything as it should be. It was probably absurd, but it came like
a great wave of comfort to feel that Britain was there, quiet,
strong, and invincible, behind everything and everybody."
A member of the Unit also gives us details:
"I went twice down to the station with baggage in the
evening, a perilous journey in rickety carts through pitch darkness over
roads (?) crammed with troops and refugees, which were lit up
periodically by the most amazing green lightning I have ever seen, and
the roar and flash of the guns was incessant. At the station no lights
were allowed because of enemy aircraft, but the place was illuminated
here and there by the camp fires of a new Siberian division which had
just arrived. Picked troops these, and magnificent men.
"We wrestled with the baggage until 2 a.m., and went back
to the hospital in one of our own cars. Our orderly came in almost in
tears. Her cart had twice turned over completely on its way to the
station; so on arrival she had hastened to Dr. Inglis with a tale of woe
and a scratched face. Dr. Inglis said: 'That's right, dear child, that's
right, stick to
the equipment,' which may very well be described as the motto of the
Unit these days!...
"The majority of the Unit are to go to Galatz by train with Dr. Corbett;
the rest (self included) are to go by road with Dr. Inglis, and work
with the army as a clearing station.
"On the morning of October 22 the train party got off as quick as
possible, and about 4 p.m. a big lorry came for our equipment. We loaded
it, seven of us mounted on the top, and the rest went in two of our own
cars. The scene was really intensely comic. Seven Scottish women
balanced precariously on the pile of luggage; a Serbian doctor with whom
Dr. Inglis is to travel standing alongside in an hysterical condition,
imploring us to hurry, telling us the Bulgarians were as good as in the
town already; Dr. Inglis, quite unmoved, demanding the whereabouts of
the Ludgate boiler; somebody arriving at the last minute with a huge
open barrel of treacle, which, of course, could not possibly be left to
a German. Oh dear! how we laughed!"
Dr. Inglis would never allow the Sunday service to be missed if it was
at all possible to hold it. Miss
Onslow tells us how she seized a seeming opportunity even on this Sunday
of so many dangers to make ready for the service.
"Medjidia.—Sunday was the day on which we began our retreat from
the Dobrudja. We spent most of the morning going to and from the
station—a place almost impossible to enter or leave on account of the
refugees, their carts and animals, and the army, which was on the move,
blocking all the approaches—transporting sick members of the Unit and
some equipment which had still to be put on the train, and only my
touring car and one ambulance
with which to do the work. Dr. Inglis had been at the station until the
early hours of the morning, but nevertheless superintended everything
that was being done both at the train and up at the hospital.
"Towards noon a Serbian officer brought in a report that things were not
as bad for the moment as they expected. Whereupon the Doctor immediately
gave orders to prepare the room for service at 4 o'clock that afternoon!
And she began revolving plans for immediate work in Medjidia. But, alas!
the good news was a false report—the enemy was rushing onwards. The
Russian lorry came for the personal baggage and any remaining equipment
which had not gone by train; and it, piled high with luggage and some of
the staff, left at 3, the remainder of us going in the ambulance and my
car. Dr. Inglis came in my car, and I had the honour of driving our dear
Doctor nearly all the time, and am the only member of the Unit who was
with her the whole time of the retreat from Medjidia until we reached
the Danube at Harshova."
The four days of the Dobrudja retreat from October 22nd to 26th were
days of horror for all who took part in it, not least for Dr. Inglis and
the members of her Units. "At first we passed a few carts, then at some
distance more and more, till we found ourselves in an unending
procession of peasants with all their worldly goods piled on those
vehicles.... This procession seemed difficult to pass, but as time went
on, added to it, came the Roumanian army retreating—hundreds of guns,
cavalry, infantry, ambulances, Red Cross carts, motor-kitchens, and
wounded on foot—a most extraordinary scene. The night was inky black;
the only lights were our own head-lights and those of the ambulance
behind us, but they revealed a sad and never-to-be-forgotten picture.
Our driver was quite wonderful; she sat unmoved, often for half an hour
at a time. There was a block, and we had to wait while the yelling,
frantic mob did what they could to get into some sort of order; then we
would move on for ten minutes, and then stop again; it was like a dream
or a play; it certainly was a tragedy. No one spoke; we just waited and
watched it all; to us it was a spectacle, to these
poor homeless people it was a terrible reality."
At 11.30 that Sunday night Dr. Inglis and the party with her arrived at
Caramarat. The straw beds and the fairytale dinner, and the cheery voice
of Dr. Inglis calling them to partake of it, will never be forgotten by
these Scottish women.
On arrival at Caramarat Dr. Inglis had asked for a room for her Unit and
"a good meat meal." She was told a room was waiting for them, but a good
meal was an impossibility; the town had been evacuated; there had been
no food to be got for days.
"Though it was only a bare room with straw in heaps on the floor and
green blankets to wrap ourselves in, to cold, shivering beings like
ourselves it seemed all that heart could desire.... Never shall I forget
the delight of lying down on the straw, the dry warm blanket rolled
round me. Then a most wonderful thing happened—the door opened and
several soldiers entered with the most beautiful meal I ever ate. It was
like a fairytale. Where did it come from? The lovely soup—the real
roast turkey and plenty of bread and chi.
We ate like wolves, and I can remember so distinctly sitting up in my
straw nest, with my blanket round me, and hearing Dr. Inglis's cheery
voice saying, 'Isn't this better than having to start and cook a meal?'
She was the most extraordinary person; when she said she must have a
thing, she got it, and it was never for herself, always for others."
They started again early on Monday morning, and after another day of
adventures slept that night in the open air beside a river.
"Cushions were brought from the cars and all the rugs we could find, and
soon we were sitting round the fire waiting for the water to boil for
our tea, and a more delightful merry meal could not be imagined. We all
told our experiences of the day, and Dr. Inglis said: 'But this is the
best of all; it is just like a fairytale.' And so it was; for as we
looked there were groups of soldiers holding their horses, standing
motionless, staring at
us; we saw them only through the wood-smoke. The fire attracted them,
and they came to see what it could mean. Seeing nine women laughing and
chatting, alone and within earshot of the guns, the distant sky-line red
with the enemy's doings, was more than they could understand. They did
not speak, but quietly went away as they had come.... Rolled in our
blankets, with the warmth of the fire making us feel drowsy, our chatter
gradually ceased, and we slept as only a day in the open air can make
Another two days of continued retreat, and the different parties of
Scottish women arrived at places of safety.
"Thus we all came through the Dobrudja retreat. We had only been one
month in Roumania, but we seemed to have lived a lifetime between the
22nd and 26th of October, 1916." In a letter to the Committee Dr. Inglis
says of the Unit: "They worked magnificently at Medjidia, and took the
retreat in a very joyous, indomitable way. One cannot say they were
plucky, because I don't think it ever entered their heads to be afraid."
Finally the scattered members of the Unit joined forces again at Braila,
where Dr. Inglis opened a hospital.
During the time at Braila Dr. Inglis wrote to her relations. The letter
is dated Reni, where she had gone for a few days.
"October 28th, 1916.
"Just a line to say I am all right. Four weeks to-morrow since we
reached Medjidia and began our hospital. We evacuated it in three
weeks, and here we are all back on the frontier.... Such a time it
has been, Amy dear; you cannot imagine what war is just behind the
lines. And in a retreat....
"Our second retreat—and almost to the same day. We evacuated
Kraguevatz on the 25th of October last year. We evacuated Medjidia
on the 22nd this year. On the 25th this year we were working in a
Russian dressing-station at Harshova, and were moved on in the
evening. We arrived at Braila to find 11,000 wounded and seven
doctors, only one of them a surgeon.
"Boat come—must stop—am going back to Braila to do surgery. Have
sent every trained person there.
"Ever, you dear, dear people,
"Your loving sister,
"We have had lots of exciting things too—and amusing things—and good things."
Two further retreats had, however, to be experienced by
Dr. Inglis and her Unit before they could settle down to steady work.
The three retreats took place in the following order:
Sunday, October 22nd.—Retreated from Medjidia.
October 25th.—Arrived at Braila. Worked there till December 3rd.
December 3rd.—Retreated to Galatz, where very strenuous work
January 4th.—Retreated to Reni.
August, 1917.—Left Reni, and rejoined the Serb division at Hadji
The work during the above period, from October 25th, 1916, to August,
1917, was done for the Russians and Roumanians. As soon as it was
possible, Dr. Inglis joined the Serb division in the end of August,
"Dr. Inglis was still working in Reni when the Russian Revolution broke
out in March. The
spirit of unrest and indiscipline, which manifested itself among the
troops, spread also to the hospitals, and a Russian doctor reported that
in the other hospitals the patients had their own committees, which
fixed the hours for meals and doctors' visits and made hospital
discipline impossible. But there was no sign of this under Dr. Inglis's
kindly but firm rule. Without relaxing disciplinary measures, she did
all in her power to keep the patients happy and contented; and as the
Russian Easter drew near, she bought four ikons to be put up in the
wards, that the men might feel more at home. The result of this kindly
thought was a charming Easter letter written by the patients—
"To the Much-honoured Elsie Maud, the Daughter of John.
"The wounded and sick soldiers from all parts of the army and fleet of
great free Russia, who are now for healing in the hospital which you
command, penetrated with a feeling of sincere respect, feel it their
much-desired duty, to-day, on the day of the feast of Holy Easter, to
express to you our deep reverence to you, the doctor warmly loved by
all, and also to your honoured personnel of women. We wish also to
express our sincere gratitude for all the care and attention bestowed on
us, and we bow low before the tireless and wonderful work of yourself
and your personnel, which we see every day directed towards the good of
the soldiers allied to your country.... May England live!
Russian Citizen Soldiers."
We cannot be too grateful to one member of the Unit who, in her
impressions of Dr. Inglis, has given us a picture of her during these
months in Russia that will live:
"I think so much stress has been laid, by those who worked under her, on
the leader who said there was no such word as 'can't' in the dictionary,
that the extraordinarily lovable personality that lay at the root of her
leadership is in danger of being obscured. I do not mean by this that we
all had a romantic affection for her. Her influence was of a much finer
quality just because she never dragged in the personal element. She was
the embodiment of so much, and achieved more in her subordinates, just
because she had never to depend for their loyalty on the limits of an
"There is no one I should less like to hear described as 'popular.' No
one had less an easy power of endearing herself at first sight to those
with whom she came in contact—at least, in the relations of the Unit.
The first impression, as has been repeated over and over again, was
always one of great strength and singleness of purpose, but all those
fine qualities with which the general public is, quite rightly, ready to
credit her had their roots in a serenity and gentleness of spirit which
that same public has had all too little opportunity to realize. Her Unit
itself realized it slowly enough. They obeyed at first because she was
stronger than they, only later because she was finer and better.
"You know it was not, at least, an easy job to win the best kind of
service from a mixed lot of women, the trained members of which had
never worked under a woman before, and were ready with their very narrow
outlook to seize on any and every opportunity for criticism.
There was much opposition, more or less grumblingly expressed at first.
No one hesitated to do what she was told—impossible with Dr. Inglis as a
chief—but it was grudgingly done. In the end it was all for the best. If
she had been the kind of person who took trouble to rouse an easy
personal enthusiasm, the whole thing would have fallen to pieces at the
first stress of work; on the other hand, if she had never inspired more
than respect, she would never have won the quality of service she
succeeded in winning. The really mean-spirited were loyal just so long
as she was present because she daunted them, and Dr. Inglis's
disapproval was most certainly a thing to be avoided. But the great
majority, whatever their personal views, were quickly ready to recognize
her authority as springing from no hasty impulse, but from a finely
consistent discipline of thought.
"We were really lucky in having the retreat at the beginning of the
work. It helped the Unit to realize how complete was the radical
confidence they felt in her. I think her extraordinary love of justice
was next impressed upon them. It took the sting out of every personal
grievance, and was so almost passionately sincere it hardly seemed to
matter if the verdict went against you. Her selflessness was an example,
and often enough a reproach, to every one of us, and to go to her in any
personal difficulty was such a revelation of sympathy and understanding
as shed a light on those less obvious qualities that really made all she
"People have often come to me and said casually, 'Oh yes, Dr. Inglis was
a very charming woman, wasn't she?' And I have felt sorely tempted to
say rather snappishly, 'No, she wasn't.' Only they wouldn't have
understood. It is because their 'charming' goes into the same category
as my 'popular.'
"I am afraid you will hardly have anticipated such an outburst; the
difficulty is, indeed, to know where to stop. For what could I not say
of the way her patients adored her—the countless little unerring things
she did and said which just kept us going, when things were unusually
depressing, or the Unit unusually weary and homesick; the really good
moments when one won the generous appreciation
that was so well worth the winning; and last—if I may strike this
note—her endless personal kindness to me."
The following letter to her sister, Mrs. Simson, reveals something of
the lovable personality of Elsie Inglis. The nephew to whom it refers
was wounded in the eye at the battle of Gaza, and died a fortnight
before she did.
"June 24th, 1917.
"Eve's letter came yesterday about Jim, and though I start at seven
to-morrow morning for Reni, I must write to you, dear, before I go.
Though what one can say I don't know. One sees these awful doings
all round one, but it strikes right home when one thinks of Jim.
Thank God he is still with us. The dear, dear boy! I suppose he is
home by now. And anyhow he won't be going out again for some time.
We are all learning much from this war, and I know —— will say it is
all our own faults, but I am not sure that the theory that it is
part of the long struggle between good and evil does not appeal more
to my mind. We are just here in it, and whatever we suffer and
whatever we lose, it is for the right we are standing.... It is all
terrible and awful, and I don't believe we can disentangle it all in
our minds just now. The only thing is just to go on doing one's
bit.... Miss Henderson is taking home with her to-day a Serb
officer, quite blind, shot right through behind his eyes, to place
him somewhere where he can be trained. I heard of him just after I
had read Eve's letter, and I nearly cried. He wasn't just a case at
that minute, with my thoughts full of Jim. Dear old Jim! Give him my
love, and tell him I'm proud
of him. And how splendidly the regiment did, and how they
"Ever your loving sister,
Another of her Unit, who worked with Dr. Inglis not only during the year
in Russia, but through much of the strenuous campaign for the Suffrage,
gives us these remembrances:
"Our Last Communion.
"'He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide
under the shadow of the Almighty.'
"Dearer to me even than the memory of those outstanding qualities of
great-hearted initiative, courage, and determination which helped to
make Dr. Elsie Inglis one of the great personalities of her age is the
remembrance of certain moments when, in the intimacy of close fellowship
during my term of office with her on active service, I caught glimpses
of that simple, sublime faith by which she lived and in which she died.
"One of my most precious possessions is the Bible Dr. Inglis read from
when conducting the service held on Sunday in the saloon of the
transport which took our Unit out to Archangel. The whole scene comes
back so vividly! The silent, listening lines of the girls on either
hand—Hospital grey and Transport khaki; in the centre, standing before
the Union Jack-covered desk, the figure of our dear Chief, and her
clear, calm voice—'He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most
High.' One felt that such a 'secret place' was indeed the abode of her
serene spirit, and that there she found that steadfastness of purpose
which never wavered, and the strength by which she exercised, not only
the gracious qualities of love, but those sterner ones of ruthlessness
and implacability which are among the essentials of leadership.
"Dr. Inglis was a philosopher in the calm way in which she took the
vicissitudes of life. It was only when her judgment, in regard to the
work she was engaged in, was crossed that you became aware of her
ruthlessness—her wonderful ruthlessness!
I can find no better adjective. This quality of hers, perhaps more than
any other, drew out my admiration and respect. Slowly it was borne in on
those who worked with her that under no circumstances whatever would she
fail the cause for which she was working, or those who had chosen to
"Another remembrance! By the banks of the Danube at Reni, where at night
the searchlight of the enemy used to play upon our camp, in the tent
erected by the girls for the service, with the little altar simply and
beautifully decorated by the nurses' loving hands, I see her kneeling
beside me wrapt in a deep meditation, from which I ventured to rouse
her, as the Chaplain came towards her with the sacred Bread and Wine.
Looking back, it seems to me that even then her soul was reaching out
beyond this present consciousness:
"'Here in the body pent,
Absent from Him I roam.'
The look on her face was the look of those who hold high
Communion. So 'in remembrance' we ate and drank of the same Bread and
the same Cup. Even as I write these words remembrance comes again, and I
know that, although her bodily presence is removed, her spirit is in