Talk – Scottish Women’s Hospitals in Serbia – Evaluation summary
Meadowbank Library, Polmont
The talk was organised to mark the last day of the ‘Our Area in the First World War’ community exhibition being on display at Meadowbank Library. Our speaker is Alan Cumming, founder of www.scottishwomenshospitals.co.uk, spoke about his research into the fascinating history of The Scottish Women’s Hospital for Overseas Service.
The Scottish Women’s Hospital was set up by Dr Elsie Inglis early on in after war was declared. Over the course of the war fourteen medical units were deployed to serve in France, Serbia, Corsica, Salonika, Romania, Russia and Malta. This included doctors, nurses, cooks, ambulance-drivers, orderlies and relief-workers. Their presence was particularly welcome in Serbia where they are remembered to this day. Several women from the local area are known to have served in the Scottish Women’s Hospital, including Margaret Crowe from Laurieston; who features as part of the Our Area in the First World War community Exhibition.
The event audience were gathered around the large screen TV in the corner of the library and were welcomed by Meadowbank librarian Margo Johnston. Laura Macdonald, heritage learning assistant for Falkirk Community Trust then gave a brief introduction to the community exhibition and explained how the ‘Our Area’ research had crossed over with the ‘Scottish Women’s Hospitals’ project. Alan Cumming then introduced his project and explained its origin. He showed a film that he had made, recounting his research and travels to France and Serbia to visit the sites and graves of the women involved.
The reaction from the audience was overwhelmingly positive as well as emotional. One audience member, who was a relative of a Scottish nurse who had served in Serbia, was moved to tears to have her story shared and remembered in such a way. Several people asked for a copy of the film shown, so that they could share the stories with their friends and community groups. Two of the audience members admitted that they had seen the talk and film at a previous event, but had learned and enjoyed so much that they had decided to attend again. After the short Q&A that closed the talk, several people commented that they were shocked that they had never heard of this organisation before, or had any idea of the work that they had done. The conclusion was reached that the most important thing that we can do in these centenary years is to learn and share as many of these stories as possible. Alan explained that the project had already paid for the renovation of Elsie Inglis’ headstone in Edinburgh and the audience also seemed very keen to contribute to the fund that www.scottishwomenshospitals.co.uk has started to refurbish the headstones of several other nurses who did not survive the war.