Finally after many years of visiting the monuments, graves and locations where the Scottish Women’s Hospitals worked in Serbia, I got the opportunity to visit Bajina Basta and the grave of Evelina Haverfield. The journey from Valjevo to Bajina Basta is a memorable one. The drive over the mountain roads is breathtaking, deep gorges on what seems every bend, mountain ranges for as far as the eye can see. Dense forest carpets the mountain faces and tiny villages peer out from the trees. Home to man, wolves and bears, it’s as if mother nature herself got down on one knee and kissed the land.
Evelina’s resting place is close to the majestic river Drina. Its a remarkable landscape for a remarkable lady.
Evelina, was born on the 9th of August 1867 at Inverlochy Castle, Fort William, deep in the heart of the Scottish Highlands. Daughter to William Frederick Scarlett, 3rd Baron Abinger and mother Helen. Born into a life of privilege and wealth, Evelina schooled in London and Germany, but was equally at home in her highland estate. Evelina had two marriages. And during her second marriage she traveled to South Africa to support her husband in the second Boer war. Clearly this was an insight into Evelina’s future plans as she bloomed in the theatre of war and adversity. In the early 1900’s she dabbled in politics, firstly joining a moderate women’s suffrage movement before electing to support the militant suffragettes led by Emmeline Pankhurst. In 1909 she was arrested whilst trying to enter the House of Commons. In 1910 she was charged with assaulting a policeman after hitting him in the mouth. She said at that time “It was not hard enough, next time I will bring a revolver.” Again in 1910 Evelina was on the front line protesting, and this time was sent to prison for two weeks. In 1911 she met Vera Holme, Vera also joined the SWH and was her life partner until Evelina’s death. In 1915 Evelina joined the SWH as administrator in Serbia. She had a prickly relationship with some of the staff and moved from unit to unit. Dr Elsie Inglis was however a champion of Evelina in the early days. In 1916 she became a POW at Krusevac. Days before she was to be repatriated she went missing, the guards found her hiding in a peasants cottage. Serbia by this time was her cause. In August of 1916 she joined Elsie Inglis again, this unit was dispatched to the Russian front at the request of the Serbian government to provide field hospitals for two Serb division who had until their capture by the Russian been constricted by the Austrian/Hungarian forces. In March 1917 she left the unit and went on to form the Evelina Haverfield’s and Flora Sandes’ Fund for Promoting Comforts for Serbian Soldiers and Prisoners. After the armistice ,along with Vera Holme and a small number of co workers from the SWH days, she returned to Serbia as commissioner of the Serbian Red Cross Society in Great Britain. On her own initiative she began to look for a suitable location for Serbian orphans. For a few months they cared for the children at Uzice before locating to Bajina Basta. She used all her own money and devoted all her time to providing care for those starving and homeless children. She managed to place about 100 orphans in a house with a café, which still stands today. After traveling into the snow to help translate for an American Doctor, Evelina fell sick with pneumonia. On Mar 21 1920 she died. Her last words were ‘What will become of the children?’
Evelina Haverfield was the recipient of the highest Serbian award: the Order of the White Eagle and I am glad to report her headstone and grave are kept in immaculate condition to this day.
Tucked among the fruit trees that grow on the slopes of the surrounding hillsides and over looked by Kosmaj mountain is Mladenovac. The town is situated around 30 miles from Belgrade. Home to around 25,000 inhabitants, Mladenovac is an industrial hub with many different factories.
Dr Elsie Inglis, who arrived in Serbia in May of 1915 instructed that a field hospital be located at Mladenovac . The typhus epidemic that had battered Serbia in February and had to some degree diminished was by the end of April and May back with a vengeance. Hundreds of cases were being reported at Mladenovac and Elsie dispatched a unit under the command of Dr Beatrice MacGregor. With Mladenovac being the hub of Transport for the Serbian army, Elsie and here units understood the importance of their work and containing any infectious diseases. The hospital was under canvas and located on the hillside just outside the town. By July there were no more cases of typhus or wounded soldiers, so the unit opened a dispensary for the women and children. Such was the need for this initiative that in the first two weeks 700 visits were made. On the 8th of October, Belgrade fell to the Germans and Austrians. On the 12th the unit evacuated to Kragujevac, they were again in the thick of it, working with nearly 400 cases of wounded men. By the end of October , and with the Bulgarians also declaring war on Serbia, the unit was pushed back again. Many of the Mladenovac unit went on the Serbian retreat including Dr Beatrice Macgregor. Sadly Caroline Toughill, a nurse from Edinburgh perished in the mountains along the thousands of Serbian men,women and children.
Mladenovac will be perhaps the key destination when we visit with the relatives. The monument and fountain in the town was built in 1915 by the Serbian soldiers. Its dedicated to the work of Elsie Inglis and the SWH. Elsie attended the opening ceremony and was left in awe of the people who knew her at that time as the “mother of the nation” Elsie wrote home “these beloved Serbians-you cannot help but love them”. A ceremony has been held at Mladenovac for decades and next being the centenary of her death will be a large scale and very moving occasion. The 15th of September 2017 will be a very special event.
On Saturday 12th November Alan Cumming brought the story of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals to Selkirk in the Scottish Borders.
As an ex-resident of the nearby village of Ettrickbridge, Alan was warmly welcomed back to the town, his talk very much a highlight of Saturday’s event. The free event, which took place in Selkirk Parish Church Hall, was organised by the Saving and Sharing Border Stories of WWI project.
The two year project, run jointly by the Scottish Borders Museums, Archives and Library Services aims to provide a unique and lasting commemorative record of the First World War and its legacy for the Borders. It is being funded the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Armed Forces Covenant.
Throughout the day volunteers scanned and photographed a range of WWI letters, diaries, photographs and more brought along and shared by family members. These will form a digital record, ensuring the contribution of Borderers to WWI is not forgotten.
Over one hundred members of the community attended the event throughout the day. For most who heard Alan’s presentation the subject was previously unknown and all appreciated hearing about the Borders’ women involved. An interesting Q & A session followed the talk and feedback suggested those present were inspired by the story of Dr Elsie Inglis and the many other brave women. We were also delighted to have Paul Murton presenter/broadcaster, film-maker and historian in the audience.