The Ethel Moir diaries

With International Women’s Day taking place today, we thought we’d let you know about one remarkable woman’s story from our collections. Tucked away on the shelves of the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection are the personal journals and scrapbook of Ethel Moir.

You’ve probably never heard of Ethel, but as a young woman she lived an incredible life working as a nurse to help save the lives of soldiers and victims of World War One. As the war raged across Europe she served as a ward orderly in Dr Elsie Inglis’ Scottish Women’s Hospital in Rumania and Serbia.

Along with her friend and fellow nurse Lilias Grant, Ethel departed from Liverpool on the troopship Hanspiel on August 30th 1916. The Hanspiel also carried thirty Serbian soldiers and six officers returning to the battlefields. Their ship was escorted by a naval destroyer past the coast of Northern Ireland, before heading west into the stormy Atlantic and then north over the Arctic Circle, passing close to Iceland and through the Barents Sea. The Hanspiel finally made land at Bacheridza, about five miles from the seaport town of Archangel in Russia, on September 10th 1916. Ethel and her companions would continue their journey by train. Plans to go to Petrograd were changed because on arrival at Archangel a wire was waiting for Dr Elsie Inglis.  Ethel writes, “Plenty of work awaiting us “down south” we hear, so Dr Inglis wants to hurry on as quickly as possible”.

In her journals which span September 1916 to January 1919, Ethel Moir recounts her daily life through words and photographs. Here we can give just a small insight into her experiences through a handful of the pictures we’ve digitised so far.  The pictures show the first entry in her journal, a map of the route the Hanspiel took, as well as atmospheric photographs Ethel took on her journey and in the nursing unit. There is a group portrait showing Dr. Elsie Inglis surrounded by her nursing unit and a religious ‘Ikon’ card given to Ethel by the governor’s wife in Archangel for good luck and stuck into her diary for safe keeping.

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Soon though, we’ll be making the full volumes as well as transcriptions of the diaries accessible to all via Capital Collections.  Look out for further instalments as Ethel’s journey unfolds…

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