Elsie Maud Inglis

Timelines: Ribbon of Remembrance Elsie Maud Inglis

Elsie was born on the 16th August 1864 at Naini Tal in India. Her father John Forbes David Inglis was a chief commissioner in the Indian Civil Service. She was one of six siblings. Her father retired in 1876 and after a two year period in Tasmania, where two of her eldest brothers had settled, returned to Edinburgh.

Fortunately for Elsie her father considered education for his daughter just as important as for a son. It was in Edinburgh, and then Glasgow, that Elsie studied medicine, something that was unusual and difficult for a woman to achieve. However she passed the requisite exams in 1892 and took up the position of house surgeon at a new hospital for women in Euston Road London. She was also an ardent supporter of women’s suffrage.

Elsie returned to practice in Edinburgh and studied for further medical degrees at the University of Edinburgh graduating MB, CM in 1899. She now dedicated her life to her work, including the founding of a nursing home and maternity centre, and the suffrage movement.

When war broke out in 1914 Elsie visited the War Office to offer her services. At the time the war was perceived to be short affair, and consequently Elsie received the historic remark: ‘My dear lady go home and sit still’. The remark became famous amongst British nurses working in Serbia. Whilst working under terrible conditions they would ask as to what was their next task. The answer, received with much amusement, would be the famous remark. Elsie had been instrumental in setting up a fully equipped nursing unit for the Serbian Army.

In the spring of 1915, when the current head of the unit at Kraguievatz went down with diphtheria, that Elsie went to there to take over the unit. It was primarily involved with combating typhus, a decease which ravaged Serbia in 1915. Other Serbian hospitals were in a terrible condition and it would be Elsie that championed the need improvements. She would eventually gain ‘heroine’ status. She became the first woman to be awarded the Order of the White Eagle, Serbia’s highest honour.

As the Germans overran Serbia later in 1915 and personnel were encouraged to evacuate, Elsie refused to go. She and her unit were made prisoner and were eventually repatriated in 1916. She campaigned further and in 1917 was back with another unit treating Russian troops. After the Russian Revolution she and her team were evacuated home in November 1917. However, by now she was very ill suffering from cancer and died on the 26th November 1917. She is buried in Edinburgh.

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