Chapter XII - "If You want us Home, Get them
Through the summer months of 1917 Dr. Inglis had been working to get
the Serbian division to which her Unit was attached out of Russia.
They were in an unenviable position. The disorganization of the
Russian Army made the authorities anxious to keep the Serbian
division there "to stiffen the Russians." The Serb Command realized,
on the other hand, that no effective stand at that time would be
made by the Russians, and that to send the Serbs into action would
be to expose them to another disaster such as had overtaken them in
the Dobrudja. In the battle of the Dobrudja the Serb division had
gone into the fight 14,000 strong; they were in the centre, with the
Roumanians on the left and the Russians on the right. The Roumanians
and Russians broke, and the Serbs, who had fought for twenty-four
hours on two fronts, came out with only 4,000 men. Further slaughter
such as this would have been the fate of the Serbian division if
left in Russia.
"The men want to fight," said General Zivkovitch to Dr. Inglis;
"they are not cowards, but it goes to my heart to send them to their
death like this."
In July there had seemed to be a hope of the division being
liberated and sent via Archangel to another front; however, later
the decision of the Russian Headquarters was definitely stated. The
Serbs were to be kept on the Roumanian front. "The Serb Staff were
powerless in the matter, and entirely dependent on the good offices
of the British Government for effecting their release."
Into this difficult situation Dr. Inglis descended, and brought to
bear on it all the force of which she was capable. The whole story
of her achievement is told in A
History of the Scottish Women's Hospitals, in those chapters
that are written by Miss Edith Palliser. Here we can only refer to
the message Dr. Inglis sent to the Foreign Office through Sir George
Buchanan, British Ambassador at Petrograd, giving her own clear
views on the position and affirming that "In any event the Scottish
Women's Hospitals will stand by the Serbian division, and will
accompany them if they go to Roumania."
At the end of the month of August the Unit, leaving Reni, rejoined
the Serb division at Hadji-Abdul, a little village midway between
Reni and Belgrade.
Dr. Inglis described it as a
"lovely place ... and we have a perfectly lovely camping-ground
among the trees. The division is hidden away wonderfully under
the trees, and at first they were very loath to let us pitch our
big tents, that could not be so thoroughly hidden; but I was
quite bent on letting them see what a nice hospital you had sent
out, so I managed to get it pitched, and they are so pleased
with us. They bring everybody—Russian Generals, Roumanian
Military Attachés and Ministers—to see it, and they are quite
content because our painted canvas looks like the roofs of
"There was a constant rumour of a 'grand offensive' to be undertaken
on the Roumanian front, which Dr. Inglis, though extremely sceptical
of any offensive on a large scale, made every preparation to meet.
"The London Committee had cabled to Dr. Inglis in the month of
August advising the withdrawal of the Unit, but leaving the decision
in her hands, to which she replied:
"'I am grateful to you for leaving decision in my hands. I will
come with the division.'
"Following upon this cable came a letter, in which she emphasized
her reasons for remaining:
"'If there were a disaster we should none of us ever forgive
ourselves if we had left. We must stand
by. If you want us home, get them out.'"
Orders and counter-orders for the release of the division were
incessant, and on their release depended, as we have seen, the
home-coming of the Unit.
"The London Units Committee had feared greatly for the fate of the
Unit if, as seemed probable, the Serb division
was not able to leave Russia, and on November 9 approached the Hon.
H. Nicholson at the War Department of the Foreign Office, who
assured them that the Unit would be quite safe with the Serbs, who
were well disciplined and devoted to Dr. Inglis. At that moment he
thought it would be most unsafe for the Unit to leave the Serbs and
to try to come home overland.
"Mr. Nicholson expressed the opinion that the Committee would never
persuade Dr. Inglis to leave her Serbs, and added: 'I cannot express
to you our admiration here for Dr. Inglis and the work your Units
At last the release of the division was effected, and on November 14
a cable was received by the Committee from Dr. Inglis from Archangel
announcing her departure:
"On our way home. Everything satisfactory, and all well except
This was the first intimation the London Committee had received that
Dr. Inglis was ill.
She arrived at Newcastle on Friday, November 23, bringing her Unit
and the Serbian division with her. A great gale was blowing in the
river, and they were unable to land until Sunday. Dr. Inglis had
been very ill during the whole voyage, but on the Sunday afternoon
she came on deck, and stood for half an hour whilst the officers of
the Serbian division took leave of her.
"It was a wonderful example of her courage and fortitude. She stood
unsupported—a splendid figure of quiet dignity, her face ashen and
drawn like a mask, dressed in her worn uniform coat, with the faded
ribbons, that had seen such good service. As the officers kissed her
hand, she said to each of them a few words, accompanied with her
She had stood through the summer months in Russia, an indomitable
little figure, refusing to leave, until she had got ships for the
remnant of the Serbian division, and then, with her Serbs and her
Unit around her, she landed on the shores of England, to die.