The Ballad of Elsie Inglis By Liz Lochhead, Scots Makar

1. 1864. Elsie Maud Inglis, in India Was born, seventh child, favourite daughter Of a most enlightened father — Despite his being a servant of the Empire, Of the Raj and Queen Victoria. Wee Elsie wanted to cure the whole wide world. Blotches big and red as poppies Were the pockmarks and the mock-measles That she painted on her dollies. Daily she washed off the paint From the dollies’ faces, Daily she disinfected the dollies In all the dollies wounded places. Daily she tended to her dollies, Daily the dollies got better. Elsie’s (gentle) mother and Elsie’s (just) father Had nothing but kisses and yeses When Elsie told them: ‘I am going to be a doctor’. 1886. Grown-up, back in Scotland, Soon as her medical training began Elsie knew she had it in her to be a surgeon As good as any man. And many a suffering woman Would most certainly prefer (If it came to baring her all beneath th’ surgeon’s knife) Said knife be wielded by her. They had to thole tyrannical husbands — His property, in law — that was a wife. He’d the right to refuse her an operation — Even one to save her life. Surely everyone saw what Elsie saw ? ‘Twould be only common decency To have female specialists in obstetrics, Paediatrics and gynaecology? 1894. Doctor Elsie Inglis founded in Edinburgh A Women’s Hospital for the Poor. 1914. Somebody shot somebody in Sarajevo And the whole bloody world was at war. 1914. Britain Needs You! and Young, green, lads were queueing up to enlist. Elsie Inglis saw the necessity For the doctor she was, for the suffragist. For patriotic Elsie knew she could muster All-female medical teams who would want Just as if they were fighting soldiers, To be risking their lives at the front. Then the injustice of further denying women the vote Would be more than crystal clear. So off to the Castle, to the RAMC, Went Elsie to volunteer. The man from the War Office smiled at Elsie My good lady, go home and sit still. Did this make Elsie Inglis angry? If it did, it was grist to her mill For Elsie smiled back at the man, said nothing. She really did not want to be rude. Thought: If my government doesn’t want Women’s Field Hospitals Surely some other government would? 2. My good lady, go home and sit still. But she did not, would not, could not, could she, take no for an answer? She was almost fifty years old already, already ill (Though she kept this close to her chest) with the cancer She, and only in her last days, swearing her to secrecy, Confided to Mary, that long-serving hospital-cook she trusted, She had a…’certain malignancy She was sure she’d survive and not be bested By.’– Oh, the pain it was truly chronic, It really gave her what for, And none of her nice nieces would ever get to ask her ‘Aunt Elsie, what did you do in the war?’ But all this was 1917 And after three long years of that terrible War Throughout which Elsie’d always known Exactly what she was fighting And what she was fighting for. Her father’s daughter — She’d never minded this, just taken it for the compliment She knew whoever had come out with it Certainly meant it to be. But, Edinburgh Castle, the War Office, 1914, that buffoon in charge of the RAMC…! Elsie was not his, nor what he would call Either a lady or good. That she’d have to get round this damnable obstacle Elsie well understood…