Ethel Moir served as a nursing orderly with the The Scottish Women’s Hospital (SWH) during World War One. At the start of the third volume of Ethel’s diary, it is February 1918, and she was once again preparing to leave Scotland and serve a second tour for the SWH.
The beginning of the diary, titled “Jottings”, follows the death of Dr. Inglis the previous year, and the now named “Elsie Inglis Unit” are staying in London and are “Back once more to the “rush & hurry” of existence, as a member of the S.W.H! And back to the dear old grey uniform & tartan facings & kit bags & ground sheets & all!”
On the 17th February she writes –
“we had “our pictures” taken & there followed a full-dress rehearsal, for the inspection at The Palace tomorrow. It was enormous fun meeting old friends again & we had great talks over the old Russian days… But very few of the “old originals” are going out again this time…… However, this crowd, look as jolly as the Past & I think we will be a v. “happy family”.
The following day the Unit “marched as a body“ to Buckingham Palace where they were inspected by King George V and Queen Mary. Ethel tells us that –
“Her Majesty seemed greatly concerned at our lack of clothing! However, on being told that, we had overcoats, but that they were not “official dress” when being presented to Royalty, she seemed happier.”
“The Royal Inspection”. A red-letter day in the history of the S.W.H. – & especially in the history of “The Elsie Inglis Unit”. How proud we were of our dear old Chief, oh, to have her with us now! We carry her name forever with us & may we carry it nobly & may we work as she would have us work & do, may “The Elsie Inglis Unit”, prove itself worthy of the noble name it bears.
On 20th February the unit made their way to Victoria Station on route to Boulogne and had a rousing send off:
“friends & relations” being present to see us away. What bricks some people are, to turn up at 6.30am on a dark, cold winter morning, to see a crowd of hooligans off on “active service”!!
Travelling by train on from France, through Italy, anyone reading the diary could be mistaken in thinking that it is being written by a young lady travelling across Europe on holiday. Although at times you are made aware of the real reason she is there where –
“at every little way-side station were always soldiers, – soldiers of every nationality & in every kind of dress, i.e. British in khaki Scotch, English, Australians & Canadians, all were there”. Onwards through Turin she eventually reaches Rome “the enchanting & wonderful place! It is absolutely heavenly & quite beyond description – words fail me, so no use attempting to describe it.”
From Rome on to Naples and a short detour to visit Pompeii where –
“We wandered about the fine old ruins, along the narrow streets, in & out, & as we wandered, I seemed to see the little “Blind Girl” in her loneliness & sadness feeling her way along with her stick & feel “The Last Days of Pompeii” to be a “living thing”!
A few days are spent at a Rest Camp in Taranto “where all the troops are shoved, going & coming from the war zone in the Near East. It’s a bright spot! However, cheerio!”
Finally on March 8th nearly 3 weeks after leaving London the Unit arrived at their destination, S.W.H Salonique. Here days waiting for equipment to arrive were spent visiting churches, and surrounding areas. There were invitations to visit the homes of villagers and taste the local sweet Turkish coffee and freshly made maize cake…..
“our host & hostess were both most charming & it was quite astonishing how we all succeeded (& quite successfully, too!) in carrying on a conversation by means of signs & gesticulations & a mixture of English, French & Serbian words thrown in!”
After a delay due to a snow blizzard the Unit arrived at S.W.H. “Elsie Inglis” Camp in Verbliani. Here a hospital which was on the “direct route” from the trenches was to be built comprising of a whole camp of tents. One day Ethel went “up the line” as an attendant on one of the ambulances and describing on arrival –
“the dozens & dozens of poor suffering creatures we found waiting for us”. They ferried the wounded to a dressing station for over twelve hours and “got the last of the wounded in at 9 p.m. & then got off for “home”. In spite of this”, it was a v. interesting day nevertheless & if we’re not too busy, I hope for another day in a ambulance before long.”
At the beginning of July, Ethel notes of being a bit “off colour” and the diary skips a few months, resuming in September. She states:
“that it’s like starting another diary; it’s so long since my last entry! Exactly 2 months I think! Two months since I was “knocked out” – well, all I can say is, I’m very disgusted with myself! I see my last date was July 12th – the day before I took ill”.
The reason for the break was that she had contacted paratyphoid and had been cared for at the hospital, though she mentions no details of her illness. She was obviously still not fit for returning back to duty and was transferred to a Convalescent Camp in Horliack.
On October 14th 1918, Ethel was transported by ambulance to the Hospital ship “Goorkha” … “here I am homeward bound! Is it possible? But, alas, it’s “finish Johnnie” with Macedonia for me!”
Accompanying her on the boat were … 7 “sick sisters”, 126 officers & 380 “tommies”. The boat was headed for Malta where Ethel was to spend the rest of the war in the Imtarfa Hospital. It was here that the diary proclaims on 11th November – “Armistice Day” – “God Save the King”!
“The news was received with ringing cheers, & wild scenes of enthusiasm followed, the Tommies gong mad with excitement. I could see it all from my verandah – where my bed is”.
Back on the “Goorkha” she left Imtarfa on 4th January 1919 on her way to France and still obviously convalescing, remarks….
“By the way, German prisoners carried my stretcher!!”
Ethel and the other sisters finally arrived back in London on 15th January. The last entry in the diary reads…. “Blighty, good old Blighty at last!!”
“We arrived here at a very late hour last night. We came up in a beautiful hospital train from Southampton to Waterloo, then on here by ambulance. I am told I may be some weeks here before they let me home – but as it’s Blighty no more diary!!”
“Long live Blighty” & “God Save The King!”
You can read full transcripts of the pages from the third volume of the diaries and see all the pictures and clippings from it, on Capital Collections.
Read the other posts in this series about Ethel Moir and the Scottish Women’s Hospital: