Elsie Maud Inglis, (1864–1917)

26 November 2017 marks the 100th Anniversary of the death of one of Scotland’s most famous doctors and founder of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals, Elsie Inglis.

Dr Elsie Inglis

Elsie Maud Inglis was born in India on 16 August 1864 where her father was employed in the Indian Civil Service. When he retired they returned to their former home where Elsie studied in the Edinburgh School of Medicine. After qualifying she worked in London returning to Edinburgh in 1894 where she established a medical practice with a fellow female physician. In 1904, she set up a small maternity hospital in the High Street staffed entirely by women.

For many years Inglis had been a member of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and in 1906 she launched the Scottish Suffrage Federation.

When war broke out in August 1914, the people of Britain responded. Men volunteered for the army and others set about establishing relief units to help the army or provide assistance to civilians and refugees. The Scottish Women’s Hospitals were one of those – yet they were also very different, because they were set up with two specific aims: to help the war effort by providing medical assistance, and to promote the cause of women’s rights and by their involvement in the war, help win those rights.

Dr Elsie Inglis – Serbia

She set up a field hospital in Serbia, where she was captured by Austrian forces in 1915, but released after the intervention of the US. On returning to the UK she raised funds for a hospital for Serbian forces in Russia and went there in 1916, but she became ill and died of cancer on her return to Britain in 1917.

Dr Elsie Inglis and “Matie”

In one of these Serbia units was nursing orderly Ethel Moir, who served 2 tours of duty as part of the SWH. As noted in one of 3 volumes of diaries and photographs in our collections and written a few months after her death, we can see how proud and honored she was to serve “The Chief” :

“Dr Elsie Inglis and some of us”

“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, as the King told us of his admiration for her, 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”.

To read more about Ethel Moir and her time serving in the Scottish Women’s Hospital, catch up with our earlier posts:

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 1)

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 2)

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 3)

Our Search for Ethel (part 4)

Scottish Women’s Hospitals (part 5)

Scottish Women’s Hospitals

Part five in our There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding Series

When war broke out in August 1914, the people of Britain clamoured to do what they could to support the war effort. Men volunteered for the army and others set about establishing relief units to help the army or provide assistance to civilians and refugees. The Scottish Women’s Hospitals were one of those – yet they were also very different, because, right from the beginning, they were set up with two very specific aims: firstly, to help the war effort by providing medical assistance and secondly, and equally importantly, to promote the cause of women’s rights and by their involvement in the war, help win those rights.

The SWH’s original idea was set up a hospital in Edinburgh to help treat the war wounded.  However this was soon abandoned in favour of setting up hospitals in the field, close to the fighting. Fundraising commenced and by the end of August 1914 more than five thousand pounds had been raised.

Scottish Women's Hospitals Fund flag day badge

Scottish Women’s Hospitals fund flag day badge

The SWH founder Dr Elsie Inglis approached the War Office with the idea of medical units being allowed to serve on the Western Front. The offer was turned down and she was told by an official “My good lady, go home and sit still”. Undeterred, the hospital was offered to Britain’s allies and the Scottish Women’s Hospitals operated in France, Macedonia, Greece, Corsica, Romania and Russia, but the majority of their work was to help Serbia, all staffed by volunteer doctors, nurses, orderlies and ambulance drivers.

Conditions in Serbia were dire; the army had less than 300 doctors to serve more than half a million men. By the winter of 1915 Serbia could hold out no more, and were forced to retreat into Albania. The SWH had a choice to make, stay and go into captivity or go with the retreating army into Albania. Some stayed and several including Elsie Inglis were taken prisoner and later repatriated to Britain. The army retreated over the mountains with no food, shelter or help, suffering many casualties.

Following her repatriation to Britain in February 1916, Elsie Inglis set about equipping and staffing a hospital to serve in Russia. It served in southern Russia and in Romania, providing medical help to the Serbian Division of the Russian Army. This division was made up from Serbs and Yugoslavs who had been taken prisoner by the Russians but had volunteered to fight for the allies. The SWH once again had to retreat. The hospital was withdrawn and they sailed back from Archangel to the UK. The day after they returned back, Elsie Inglis who had been ill for some time, died.

Towards the end of the war the SWH in Serbia provided medical care to soldiers, civilians and prisoners of war. A new fixed hospital was established in Vranje and by early 1919 this was handed over to the Serbian authorities bringing to an end the SWH. Most SWH members returned home and resumed their pre-war lives, others stayed behind to continue to provide medical care in Serbia.

Over 1,000 women from many different backgrounds and many different countries served with the SWH. Only medical professionals such as doctors and nurses received a salary, all others were expected to pay their own way. Some women joined because it was one of the few opportunities open to women to actively help the war effort, for others it was the rare chance for adventure.

Scottish Women's Hospitals nurses at Wilton Hotel, London. Image kindly reproduced with permission from Glasgow City Archives

Scottish Women’s Hospitals nurses at Wilton Hotel, London. Image kindly reproduced with permission from Glasgow City Archives

The women involved are known and revered in Serbia. There are statues, monuments and streets named after them, yet in their home countries they have been virtually overlooked.

In December 2015 the British Embassy teamed up with Serbian Post to celebrate the efforts of the SWH. The stamps are part of a wider campaign by the British Embassy in Belgrade aimed at highlighting more than 600 British women who contributed to the war effort in Serbia. Five Scots women who worked as doctors, nurses and drivers feature on the new stamps. A sixth English woman, Captain Flora Sandes, who was the only British female to bear arms during WW1, is also remembered.

The five Scots are:

  • Evelina Haverfield – British suffragette and humanitarian worker. She was the chief administrator of Scottish Women Hospitals in Serbia and set up one of the first local orphanages.
  • Dr Elsie Inglis – campaigner for women’s suffrage and the founder of the Scottish Women Hospitals in Serbia. Dr Inglis was one of the first female graduates at the University of Edinburgh.
  • Dr Elizabeth Ross – one of the first women to obtain a medical degree at the University of Glasgow. She travelled to Serbia as a volunteer and tragically passed away during the typhoid epidemic in 1915.
  • Dr Katherine MacPhail OBE – involved in humanitarian work in Serbia throughout WW1. She is remembered for opening the first paediatric ward in Belgrade in 1921.
  • Dr Isabel Emslie Galloway Hutton – joined the Scottish Women Hospitals as a volunteer in 1915 after she was turned away by the War Office in London. She served in France, Greece and Serbia until 1920.
Serbian stamps commemorating heroines from the Scottish Women's Hospitals

Serbian stamps commemorating heroines from the Scottish Women’s Hospitals

Read the previous installments in this series about Ethel Moir and the Scottish Women’s Hospital:

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 1)

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 2)

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 3)

Our search for Ethel (part 4)


Our search for Ethel

Part four in our ‘There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding’ series

Janette, Library Services Officer with the Libraries’ Digital Team tells how some genealogy research enabled us to find Ethel’s family:

Back in 2012 when we were making preparations to mark the centenary of the start of World War One, and with the help of volunteers from Glasgow Women’s Library, we started transcribing diaries in our collections which had belonged to Ethel Moir, a member of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals (SWH). The two diaries together with a photo album had been gifted to us in 1968 by a ‘Miss Moir’, presumed to be, Ethel herself. The diaries, covered in purple cloth with the initials E.M. hand sewn on the cover, contained the handwritten account of her time with a SWH Unit including drawings, photos and newspaper clippings.

Title page from Ethel Moir Diary, volume 1

Title page from Ethel Moir Diary, volume 1

Moving forward to 2014, I was tasked to work on the material to add information to the records so that the diaries could be made available online.

As I started reading the diaries, I found myself getting more and more involved in what the pages held. Whilst doing some family history research of my own at the ScotlandsPeople Centre, I typed in Ethel’s name and found that she had died here in Edinburgh aged 89, in the district of Morningside where I was brought up. A swift calculation told me that she was born in 1885, I now had two solid pieces of information, and I was hooked!  I love digging away and doing a bit of detective work, and I wanted to find out more about this 32 year old middle class doctor’s daughter from Inverness, who had given up a presumably very comfortable life and joined the SWH in war-torn Serbia. Much to the amusement of my colleagues, I was becoming a bit obsessive about ‘Our Ethel’ and thought there must be a story to discover. What had started as an information inputting task had suddenly grown much bigger!

As many who have decided at some point to research their family tree, I started with what I could find online. My initial search started in the Library and with our free access to Ancestry, I found several vital pieces of information. One of the earliest entries, was a New York Passenger List from 17 April 1884, where a 3 month old Ethel was leaving her birthplace Belize, British Honduras, on board the S.S. Loch Tay, headed for Scotland via New York! The list gave me a wee bit more information about her family. I now knew that she had travelled with her mother and father (a doctor) and sister “Nellie”.

Dr John Moir, father of Ethel

Dr John Moir, father of Ethel. Reproduced by kind permission of the Calder Family.

Another passenger list, this time from 1888 has the 4 year old Ethel, travelling with her mother Jessie and siblings Helen (Nellie), twin sisters Ida and Olive and a brother John en route on the S.S. Aguan from Port Antonio, Jamaica heading for Boston, Massachusetts. They were certainly getting around!

Jessie Moir, mother of Ethel.

Jessie Moir, mother of Ethel. Reproduced by kind permission of the Calder Family.

Census returns provide us with lots of information; they are carried out on one specific day every 10 years, the first one in Scotland was 1841.Through Census returns I was able to gather more bits and pieces. In the 1891 Census I found the family, minus father John, staying with Ethel’s grandfather, a farmer in Dairsie, Fife. I now discovered that Jessie (Ethel’s mother) had been born in Forfarshire. The 1901 Census has the family staying at Ardross Terrace in Inverness. This census gives information for Douglas, a new brother for Ethel, who had been born 6 years earlier. One interesting detail in this 1891 Census, is that for some reason all the children whose previously recorded place of birth was British Honduras, now have their birth place as Dundonald, Ayrshire! (A mystery I have still to solve).

The last available Census in 1911 finds the family still at Ardross Terrace, and contains yet more information than previous years. The Census for that year asked additional questions, the number of persons in the house (8) and “particulars as to the marriage”. Included in this was the questions how many children born alive (7) and how many still living (6), we therefore know that Ethel had another sibling who died in infancy.

Douglas Moir younger brother of Ethel, killed in World War 1

Douglas Moir younger brother of Ethel, killed in World War 1. Reproduced by kind permission of the Calder Family.

At this point and with all the other information I was beginning to gather, we decided to take it a step further and see if we could find a living relative of Ethel’s. We knew the names and approximate birth dates of everyone so now the real detective work began. We knew that Ethel, her elder sister Helen and younger sister Ida had never married. Her younger brother Douglas had died in World War One aged 23, and we’d found no evidence of him marrying. That only left younger brother John Ernest and sister Olive. Now was the time to make a visit to the National Records of Scotland. In order to view any of their records you first have to join, so with a decidedly dodgy photograph, clutched in my hand I made my way up to the Historical Search Room. Membership completed and without a second glance at the aforementioned photo, I set about ordering some documents. One of them proved most helpful: Ethel’s will. Here I found confirmation that Olive was now a Mrs Calder and in handwriting that was very familiar to me, a list of bequests to a niece and nephew. This is when I roped in John one of our volunteers and while I concentrated on the Ethel trail, John was tasked with tracking down a living relative!

John takes up the story here:

Ethel’s father’s will had revealed that Olive Moir had married William Calder and their address at the time (1926) was Oxenrig, Coldstream. Ethel’s will told us that Olive and William had two children, Helen Bell and William Allan. Further searching found that William Allan had married Isobel Margaret Sturrock.

Ethel's younger twin sisters Ida and Olive Moir

Ethel’s younger twin sisters Ida and Olive Moir. Reproduced by kind permission of the Calder Family.

Ethel’s will also revealed a small legacy to an Allan and one to a Jill, but who were they?  We assumed that Allan was in fact William Allan Calder and found evidence to back this up. We’d found a death record for Isobel Margaret Calder, (Allan’s wife), but Jill, remained a mystery. That was until, a lucky online search for Jill Calder returned an obituary for someone (nee Sturrock) from Coldstream who had died in 2011. Finally we’d worked it out – Jill Calder was the name Isobel Margaret went by!

Another piece of information found in the death record for Isobel was to turn out to be the lead we were looking for. The informant of the death was a Maureen Calder, with an Edinburgh address. We decided to send her a letter…

Janette resumes the story:

By this time, I had been reading quite a lot of articles and books about the SWH, and had found a fascinating website www.scottishwomenshospitals.co.uk, that had been created by a gentleman called Alan Cumming. I decided to contact Alan to see if he could fill me in with answers to my growing list of questions. After speaking to him at some length, it seemed that my next port of call should be The Mitchell Library in Glasgow. Alan told me that they retained all the archives for the SWH and that is where he had done most of his research. He also warned me that the SWH had kept ‘everything’. I contacted the Mitchell Archives and asked if I could get some kind of idea what they held, a few days later one of their archivists, very helpfully provided me with a list… all 96 A3 pages of it. Alan hadn’t been exaggerating!

Having ordered in advance some of the documents I was interested in, I set out on the train to Glasgow. The Mitchell Library is perfectly situated, just across the road from the train station. I headed up to the Archives on the 5th floor. A quick chat with the staff at the desk and the items that I had ordered were ready for me to look at. My starting point was an item listed as “correspondence – M – Z”. Expecting the box to contain a few dozen letters, I was faced with a box containing hundreds. I ploughed through them hoping to find something with a reference to Ethel, but to no avail. I then had another look at the archive list and came across personnel records. I ordered them and this time I was in luck. I started looking through a folder containing various letters from Ethel herself, and also one from her father. He had contacting the offices of the SWH saying that he had heard from Ethel in Petrograd, and was enquiring whether she had received the £10 that he had sent. A form dated 20th July 1916, showed that Ethel had filled in an expense form claiming back 5s for an inoculation and 5s for a vaccination, both required for her first trip to Salonica (Thessaloniki, Greece?). Another two page form dated 1917, gave a detailed expenses listing for the 7 weeks she had been detained in Petrograd. She had spent 8 roubles a day on board, 20 r on cabs and 30 r on tips making a total of 487 roubles which amounted to just over £30.

It was also while I was at the Mitchell Library that we had another breakthrough. The same morning I was delving into the SWH archive at The Mitchell, my colleagues received a phone call from Maureen Calder saying that not only had she been surprised to receive such an official looking letter, but even more surprised to find out about her little known great-aunt Ethel.

Maureen, we had discovered was related to Ethel through her father William Calder, son of Ethel’s younger sister Olive. Maureen told us that she could vaguely recall her great-aunt Ethel, and was really excited to discover that her diaries had ended up here in Central Library. A meeting was arranged, and at the beginning of January this year, we were able to finally meet up. Maureen brought her niece, and cousin Dave, and we spent a couple of hours showing them the diaries and exchanging information about Ethel and the Moir family. None of them had any idea that their great-aunt had been a member of the SWH or of her work with the Elsie Inglis Unit during WW1. They were fascinated to see her handwritten pages and newspaper cuttings, together with photographs she had taken during her time with the Units.

About a week later, we got an unexpected visit from Maureen. She had something she wanted to show us. She’d told us when we met, that she thought most of the Moir Family photographs had been lost over the years. However, she’d been having another look at home and made a discovery of her own. She handed over an envelope containing photographs of the complete Moir family: mother Jessie, father John, sisters Helen, Ida and Olive and brothers Douglas and John Ernest. But there were two that interested me most – one of Ethel aged about five taken in a photo studio in Aberdeen, dressed in a sailor’s tunic and one taken many years later in South Africa, of Ethel sitting in a chair, smiling for the camera with a dog on her lap and one at her feet. After all the months spent researching the family it was really nice to finally be able to put faces to names.

Ethel Mary Moir, aged about 5

Ethel Mary Moir, aged about 5. Reproduced by kind permission of the Calder Family.

I haven’t been able to find out much more of what Ethel did after her time in the SWH, although I can’t believe that someone that had gone through all that she had, came home and simply did nothing. When Helen died in 1942, I found a notification that Ethel was the executor of her will, and the address given was Gogarburn Hospital. I knew that during World War Two, Gogarburn had been used by the Army and Air Force. Could she have been a volunteer?  I emailed the Lothian Health Services Archives requesting any information they might hold. Unfortunately, they were unable to find anything in their archives. The last known address I have for Ethel is the Skye Nursing Home, in Polwarth Terrace, Edinburgh.

Ethel Moir travelling in South Africa, 1930s

Ethel Moir travelling in South Africa, 1930s. Reproduced by kind permission of the Calder Family.

Ethel died in 1973 aged 89 in Edinburgh and is buried together with her elder sister Helen in the churchyard of their mother’s birthplace, Dairsie in Fife.

With still a few loose ends to tie up, I aim to continue researching Ethel and her family; after all, you never know what else I’ll find!


You can view the pictures of Ethel and her family in a special mini-exhibition on Capital Collections.

Read the other posts in this series about Ethel Moir and the Scottish Women’s Hospital:

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 1)

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 2)

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 3)

Scottish Women’s Hospitals (part 5)


Thanks to the following for all their help in our search:

Alan Cumming of Scottish Women’s Hospital website

Lothian Health Service Archives 

The Mitchell Library 

The National Library of Scotland

The Scottish Genealogy Society


There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 3)

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 "Elsie Inglis" Corps at the Palace

The “Elsie Inglis” Corps at the Palace

“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”!

Rome - The Vatican

Rome – The Vatican

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!” 

Setting up camp at Verbliani

Setting up camp at Verbliani

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.

C. Douglas and Ethel Moir in Verbliani

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:

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 1)

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 2)

Our search for Ethel (part 4)

Scottish Women’s Hospitals (part 5)

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 2)

Alongside Ethel Moir’s two handwritten diaries from her time serving as a Scottish Women’s Hospital nursing orderly, there is also a photo album full of black and white images. Some of the photographs were presumably taken by Ethel herself, each one telling its own story.

The handwritten title page reads simply:

“Scottish Women’s Hospital”

Dr Elsie Inglis’ Serbian – Russian Unit

Rumania – Russia

August 1916 – April 1917

(and in the corner) E. M. Moir S.W.H

All the photos and cuttings have written descriptions, the very first is of “The Chief” Dr. M. Elsie Inglis. There is no doubt that this is what Ethel and her fellow SWH colleagues thought of her. In another, Dr. Inglis is surrounded by a group of nurses and orderlies and pride of place in the middle of the group is one of the camp’s pet dogs!

 Dr Elsie Inglis & "some of us"

Dr Elsie Inglis & “some of us”

Turning over the pages, we scrutinised each photo, hoping to find a photo of Ethel. We had been doing so much research into her story and background; we now really wanted to see what she looked like. Unfortunately as with most photographers, they seldom, if ever feature in any….oh for the advent of selfies!

It would only be much later, that we discovered what this woman, looked like. We had found a couple of photos in one of the diaries, but none that were really clear. It was only when Ethel’s great-niece Maureen handed in the photos she had found, there among them some ten odd years after her time with the SWH, was Ethel smiling happily at the camera.

Murphy, Fawcett & camp followers

Murphy, Fawcett & camp followers

The first few pages are taken up with photos of the journey to Russia, group photos taken on board the troopship all posing together at the start of their long journey. Others in the camp introduce us to her fellow “campers”. There’s “Murphy” and “Fawcett” holding aloft two dogs that they had presumably adopted, another showing a more serious task, kit inspection, everyone lined up alongside their meagre belongings.

Market day- Izmail

Market day- Izmail

Some of the photos in the album could have been taken by a tourist. They show a market day where children sit in among piles of vegetables for sale, others the true reality of war. Halfway through the album there are some photographs of history in the making, taken in Odessa, they show the first days of the Russian Revolution, with troops piled on the roofs of trains and marching through the city, rifles and bayonets at the ready.

Revolutionary soldiers

Revolutionary soldiers marching through Odessa

These were all memories that Ethel brought back home to Scotland with her and carefully pasted into the album, perhaps to take out and look at now and again.

You can see all the pictures from Ethel’s scrapbook on Capital Collections.

Read the other posts in this series about Ethel Moir and the Scottish Women’s Hospital:

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 1)

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 3)

Our search for Ethel (part 4)

Scottish Women’s Hospitals (part 5)

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 1)

Sept 5th 1916

“We are supposed to reach Archangel in a couple of days, so I will start a letter, in hopes of getting it posted there. You will want to hear everything from the beginning; so here goes!”

So starts the diaries of Ethel Mary Moir, a real gem from Edinburgh Libraries’ Special Collections.

The diaries were kept by Ethel during her time with The Scottish Womens Hospital (SWH) during World War One. In the first volume, covered with purple cloth and bearing large letters E M embroidered  in black, Ethel records in very precise, neat handwriting her “adventures” serving with the hospital in Roumania (Romania) and Russia. Inside the pages are her own drawings, postcards collected and photographs taken, all documenting the time she spent with the SWH unit.

Aboard the river steamer The George

Nurses travelling with Ethel aboard the river steamer The George on the Danube River en route to Russia

This was a very different life from which she had been used to. Born in 1885, in British Honduras, the daughter of a doctor, she spent most of her life in Inverness. Not much is known of Ethel’s early life. The 1901 Census return finds her aged 19, a scholar, and her four siblings at Ardross Leas with their parents and three servants. By the 1911 census the family are still residing there. It doesn’t give the profession of 27 year old Ethel, but seems to suggest she lived at home helping the family.

We don’t know how Ethel came to be involved in the SWH, but it’s possible that she was drawn to it from an interest in the emerging women’s suffrage movement. As a young, single middle-class woman in the early 1900s she may have been involved in several organisations and societies. When Elsie Inglis returned to Britain after her initial trip to Serbia during 1914-15, she embarked on a tour of cities to gain additional funds for equipping a hospital in Russia, meeting and inspiring women to her cause along the way. In August 1916, the London Suffrage Society financed Inglis and eighty women to support Serbian soldiers fighting the allies.

We do know that Ethel, together with her friend Lilias Grant enlisted with the SWH in 1916. They set sail for war-torn Serbia on the troopship “Hanspiel” from Liverpool heading for Archangel in Russia, via Ireland and Lapland describing the boat as  …”quite a small boat, & a fiend of a tub, very narrow in her bottom & in consequence rolls like fun! She’s filthy too; at present, I hate her like nothing on earth!” The ship had been escorted part of the way by a D70 destroyer, but this was unable to weather the storm and so The Hanspiel continued onwards to Archangel alone. In the end the journey took 5 days.

Once they arrived at Archangel, they were moved 5 miles further up the river to Bacheridza. Here they were visited on board by dignitaries from the British Consul and the Russian Governor of Archangel who “all displayed an extraordinary amount of interest in us & they seemed highly amused at us!”

The Chief [Elsie Inglis] and some of her sisters

Dr Elsie Inglis with nurses from Ethel’s Scottish Women’s Hospital unit, Medgidia, Romania

On snatched hours off Ethel and Lilias Grant had the chance to visit a local village where she describes how to get along with the locals…”There are two words, which will cover a lot of other deficiencies in “the lingo”- the one is, “pozháluista” -“please”; the other, “spacibo” [spasibo] – “thank you”!

 “I have discovered here in Russia, the national equivalent for the American “institution” of chewing-gum. At all the street corners are hawkers offering sunflower-seeds for sale. ..folk everywhere persistently engaged in the not over-picturesque occupation of splitting up these seeds with their teeth, munching the soft kernels within, & spitting out the empty husks”

 Just over 2 weeks after her departure from Liverpool Ethel is writing in her diary –

“..we’ve been 2 days on the train & it has been terrifically hot….but are we downhearted? No! ….soldiers & civilians cheered and cheered. Russian & English alike have been simply splendid to us & never will we forget all the kindness we received ….Dr Inglis has just been telling me that we are to be in the very thick of things, as we are to be with the 1st Serbian Division which is right up at The Front. “

Once there, a makeshift hospital was made from a barn which was converted into 2 wards each holding 100 patients on each side, the only bedding, straw mattresses on the floor.

“ we have no water, lighting or any such luxuries – all the water we have to fetch from a pump up on the hill, some considerable distance away, then after it has been carted down it has to be boiled, so you see the conveniences are not great – but it’s wonderful how soon we’ve got it to look like a hospital”.

 After moving camp to Boul-boul-mic [Bulbul Mic, now Ciocârlia] the candid entries in the diary continue to tell of the harsh realities of life in a field hospital –

” I fear the life of our present dressing-tent will be very short, as the news is very bad. There is a certain sense of strain about the life up here – uncertainty. The booming of the guns goes on day & night. There seems to be no panic among the inhabitants (the few who are left in the village) but certainly a very fixed determination to get away. The ceaseless stream of motor ambulances tearing along the dusty road never stops, the tooting of horns never ceases, while the sense of hurry & stress goes on all the time”.

No 7 Ambulance car

Ambulance car used to carry Ethel and fellow nurses from their camp

Food, or lack of it was obviously never far away in her thoughts, when writing about the distribution of food “we take round the rations in a sack first thing in the morning – 6 different people every day- a chunk of black bread for each, a hard boiled egg & a slice of jam…I mean – ham – everyone is talking & someone at the moment mentioned how she would like some jam – so down went jam on paper!! ……and later –

“ We “looted” a goose en route the other day & it afforded us no end of amusement preparing it “for table” & no end of joy consuming it. It lasted us for 3 days! The soldiers assisted with the plucking – but I wish you could have seen us severing the brute with the aid of one pen knife – it was “some” work of art I assure you”.

 By the end of 1916 Ethel’s unit had been moved to Odessa to set up a hospital there she writes –

“We have been very busy all week getting our Hospital in order & getting in patients. It all looks so nice now & quite professional! I’m in the theatre, it is topping. I’m most awfully pleased I’ve got that job & am quite happy & in my element. The theatre is perfectly ripping; it might just have been specially designed for an operating theatre. I hope we get plenty of “ops” – just heaps & heaps! Blood thirsty? Yes.”

Grant & I aloft on our cart

Lilias Grant and Ethel Moir aboard a hospital cart

The diary entry for 5th January 1917 says that, “Since writing last, everything is changed & after the cable I talked things over with Dr. Chesney & am going home as soon as Mrs. Bagge can secure a place on the train”. We know that Ethel’s mother died on 31st December 1916, and that she started her journey back home to Scotland with her good friend Lilias Grant for company, a journey that she hoped would take 12-14 days. In fact things were changing in Russia and it was to be nearly 3 months before she arrived back in Scotland. Her first stop was Petrograd where –

“there are rumours of a Revolution on all sides …. things are becoming very serious – thanks to the Tsarina & her party. They seem to be doing their best to starve the people & the troops in to making peace. The people in Petrograd are dying of starvation… They can’t get bread & the prices are simple [simply] impossible. It can’t go on. Of course Rasputin’s death is still the talk. It’s a blessing they’ve got rid of him”.

By 22nd March they have finally made it to Scotland, although this was not their intended destination. The boat that they were on had been headed for Liverpool, but because its cargo,  600 tons of valuable zinc-spelter for munitions, the Germans were aware of their movements and so were detoured to the Shetland Isles arriving at Lerwick Harbour the diary proclaims….“ “Scotland for ever!” – so near & yet so far! We’ve got so far, but can’t get no further!! We’re “interned” here. The 31st March entry… “It’s “Ireland for ever” this time & I don’t think!! I wonder if we will ever reach home!? I hae ma doots!”

The last entry in the diary, dated 1st April is headed N.B [North British] Hotel, Edinburgh. It starts with  “Three cheers for “Auld Reekieand ends with “we simply cannot believe that we are really back in Scotland! Our excitement is beyond words! Good old Scotland!!  So long!!!    (not long now!)   

Cheers!!             (from 4 “Scottish Widows!)

You can read full transcripts of the pages from the first volume of the diaries and see all the pictures and clippings from it, on Capital Collections.

Read the further installments in this series about Ethel Moir and the Scottish Women’s Hospital

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 2)

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 3)

Our search for Ethel (part 4)

Scottish Women’s Hospitals (part 5)

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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…