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Honoria somerville Keer

Date of Bith: 1883
Place of Birth: Toronto Canada

Honoria Somerville Keer was born on 26th December 1883 in Toronto, daughter of Eliza Somerville and Jonathan Keer. She attended the University of Glasgow, Scotland, where she graduated MB ChB in 1910. Initially, she practised medicine in Hamilton, but on the outbreak of war, volunteered for service under the Scottish Women’s Hospital. From May 1915 to February 1918, she acted as assistant Medical Officer in the Girton and Newnham unit of the hospitals, first in France, then in Salonica, and in April 1918, was appointed chief Medical Officer of the unit in Corsica for the medical care of Serbian refugees, where she gave valuable service. During her time in Europe, Dr Keer was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Medailles des Epidemies by the French Government. From the King of the Serbs she received the Order of St. Sava.

Following her sterling work in the First World War, and having first taken the Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in London, Dr Keer was accepted for government service as Lady Medical Officer in Nigeria. She was posted to the African Hospital Lagos and worked at the Massey Street Dispensary until 1931. Sadly, her medical career was curtailed by illness and debilitating deafness. She retired in 1934 on health grounds. Dr Keer died on 20 March 1969.

Jessie Margaret Kelsall

Date of Bith: 1883
Place of Birth: Devon

Jessie was born in Bideford, Devon in 1883, her father Theophilus Moultrie Kelsall was a commander in the Royal Navy. . Jessie joined the Scottish Women’s Hospitals in 1915 as an orderly. The Orderlies were the lowest in rank of the hospital set up but often came from family’s of wealth and privilege. It was a huge contrast and they were often known for their wild behaviour and zest for life. More often than not, they were at the sharp end, carrying the stretchers, mopping up the blood and bandages and busy with all the domestic tasks that were required in field hospitals at that time. At Cardiff dock on April the 1st, Jessie with her sister Ellon joined their new colleagues including 4 Doctors.They were regaled to the song of “Long way to Tipperary” and boarded the SS Ceramic and headed for Salonika(Greece) where by train they would travel to Valjevo in Serbia. On board with her were Chief Medical Officer Dr Alice Hutchinson, 25 nurses, a sanitary inspector, matron, clerk, 2 cooks, four orderlies and two handymen ( the only males of the unit). The voyage took a detour and docked at Malta for around 3 weeks at the request of the Home Office. Soldiers mainly from Australia and New Zealand were pouring in from Gallipoli many with serious wounds. The unit began working immediately at the Hospital of the Knights of St John, however they were ordered by the SWH to move on to Serbia and keep on programme.
Valjevo was a small town, 80 miles south of Belgrade. Lying in a sleepy green valley Jessie would have felt at home, however only a few months earlier Valjevo had looked very different. The big guns boomed day and night, men fell in their thousands, civilian’s were rounded up and often massacred and the dreaded Typhus raged through Serbia, uncontrollable and without mercy. The mortality rate in Valjevo was 70% and as a result they lost a huge number of Doctor’s and nurses.
By the time the unit reached Valjevo things were improving however there was much to be done, Valjevo had been on the front line and with the summer heat and all the rotten flesh from man and animal, the flies swarmed in their millions bringing diseases.
The hospital was under canvas, the 40 tents pitched on the hillside over looked the town and by and large up until August there were few serious cases. Their was still plenty to do, many wounds had been untended and cases scurvy and malnutrition required urgent attention. However by mid August the big guns were back. This time it was the Germans, Austrians, Hungarians and Bulgarians, and Serbia stood alone encircled by 500,000 fighting men. Also making an unwelcome comeback was Typhus and sadly nurse Sutherland succumbed to the deadly disease. Jessie left Serbia in September 1915 and only just in time as by October the entire nation was thrown into chaos.
We know that Jessie returned to Devon after the war and she died in 1953 at Westward Ho! Devon.

Ellen Louise Kelsall

Date of Bith: 1872
Place of Birth: Ramsgate, Kent

Ellen was born in Ramsgate, Kent in 1872, her father Theophilus Moultrie Kelsall was a commander in the Royal Navy. . Ellen joined the Scottish Women’s Hospitals in 1915 as an orderly. It wasn’t uncommon for sisters to serve in the Scottish Women’s Hospitals but it was certainly unusual for sisters to join the same unit at the same time. On the 1st of April 1915 Ellen with her sister Jessie joined their unit at Cardiff docks and sailed for Valjevo in Serbia. A journey that took around 2 weeks and fraught with dangers, submarines, mines and Zeppelins all responsible for the lost of many a ship, sailing from the UK, passing the Bay of Biscay, through the Straits of Gibraltar, the Mediterranean sea, the Aegean sea and into the port at Salonkia (Thessaloniki). Then a few more day’s travel by train to Valjevo. Her post was in the small town of Valjevo in Serbia, a town some 80 miles south of Belgrade. That winter Valjevo had gone through its own personal hell, thousands of its citizens and thousands of soldiers had perished in a typhus outbreak that was destroying huge parts of Serbia. Valjevo had itself been turned into one large field hospital and many, many men lay wounded and untreated due to the lack of Doctors and nurses.The unit worked completely under canvas on a hillside just outside the town and although it was an improving picture by the time they reached there, there was still plenty of work to do. Dr Alice Hutchinson and her unit are fondly remembered today in Valjevo for their bravery and helping to bring stability to the towns people. Ellen returned home in August 1915.

Ellen it seems went to live with her sister in Westward Ho! Devon. She passed away in 1950, neither of the sisters married.

Olive Kelso King

Date of Bith: 1885
Place of Birth: Sydney Australia

Sergeant Olive Kelso King. King was born in Croydon, Sydney, NSW on 30 June 1885, daughter of Sir George Kelso and Irene Isabella King.
An adventurous and strong-willed woman, she was already an accomplished mountaineer, traveller and motor mechanic with a flair for languages when, in her late 20s, she visited her sister in England, just as the First World War started.

Her response, in early 1915, was to join the Allied Field Ambulance Corps as a driver. She purchased a 3 litre French Alda lorry which she had converted into an ambulance capable of seating 16 patients.

She christened it “Ella” (short for “elephant”) the nickname referring to the effect the heavy ambulance bodywork had on slowing the Alda from its usual 40 mph to a lumbering 30.
An engraving of this vehicle appears on the reverse of King’s Serbian identity bracelet. She travelled to Belgium where she was temporarily held by the authorities, suspected of being a spy and consequently abandoned by the Ambulance Corps, which also took her ambulance.

She was quickly released just ahead of the advancing German Army.

Returning to England and recovering “Ella”, King joined the Scottish Women’s Hospital (SWH) in May 1915. In October 1915 the unit sailed to Salonika, in Macedonia, aboard the SS Mossoul.

Their role in the Balkans was to provide medical assistance to the Serbs in their fight against the Austro-Hungarians, Germans and Bulgarians. King quickly picked up the Serbian language and proved herself brave in the face of Bulgarian fire when evacuating patients at Guevgueli, from which she only just managed to escape. The allies retreated to Salonika, where the SWH established a tent hospital. King remained here for the next two and a half years, even after the SWH had left the country. She resigned from this organisation in mid 1916 and enlisted in the Serbian Army as a driver.
She was attached to the Headquarters of the Medical Service and eventually rose to the rank of sergeant. She had managed to retain “Ella”, despite its broken springs and mechanical problems (many of which she repaired herself) and it was one of only three ambulances available to the Medical Headquarters unit, thus earning the number plate C3. Towards the end of 1916, Olive King contracted malaria and one of her most frequent visitors was Captain Milan “Yovi” Yovitchitch, the Serbian Liaison Officer with the British Army in Salonika. They fell in love and saw each other every day until October 1917, when he was posted to London.

Yovitchitch gave her a sterling silver cigarette case as a memento of their affair, which had been the subject of gossip around Salonika. King wrote to her father and sister frequently (see “One Woman at War” edited by Hazel King) and clearly enjoyed her job despite the danger and horror she witnessed.
She frequently travelled to the front, transporting men and recovering wounded. Her tireless efforts in evacuating civilians and medical stores during the burning of the mainly wooden town of Salonika in August 1917 earned her the Serbian Silver Medal for Bravery. (see right)

In 1918 her committed work for the Serbians earned her the Gold Medal for Zealous Conduct.

Before the war’s end, supported by over 10,000 pounds raised by her father in Sydney, she had established a string of Australian Serbian Canteens to help displaced Serbian families and soldiers. For this work King Alexander presented her with the Samaritan Cross and the Cross of the Order of St Sava. (see above left)

Back home after the war in 1923, Olive put her energy into the Girl Guides Association, becoming State Secretary and later Assistant State Commissioner (1932/42). She tried to enlist as a driver during the Second World War but was deemed too old. Instead she worked at the de Havilland Aircraft factory at Mascot between 1942 and 1944 as a quality examiner.

Olive Kelso King died in 1958.

Jessie Elizabeth Martin Kerr

Date of Bith: 1875
Place of Birth: Campsie, Strilingshire

Jessie as a child was living at the family home in Lenzie, Scotland. Her Father George was a ship owner, clearly a man of some means.
In 1915 Jessie signed up to serve in the Scottish Women’s Hospitals at the Hospital in Troyes, France. Her sister Margaret also joined at that time, electing to head to Serbia. Jessie joined as an orderly, a difficult job especially during times of fighting or in the aftermath of the battles. The Girton and Newnham Unit began its journey in the Scottish Women’s Hospitals in Troyes, a hospital under the command of the French War Office. The hospital with it tents was a source of fascination to the French but quickly gained a name for itself as hard working, efficient and highly skilled. Jessie’s time in the unit took her from France to Salonkia and up to Guevgueli, Serbia. The hospital at Guevgueli was part of group of French hospitals, that had hoped to from a base in the region. The Allied attempts at saving Serbia were, however, too late and the hospital had only been fully operational a short time before the Unit was commanded to retreat along with the Allied forces to Salonika. Here, the Unit re-established the hospital on a piece of swampy waste ground by the sea – the only place they could find in an area overflowing with refugees and retreating army

The summer in Macedonia in 1916 was very hot and brought with it the attendant problems of dysentery, flies and, worse of all, malaria. Jessie we know returned home for a couple of months before heading back out to Salonika where she rejoined the unit. July, August and October of that year were demanding, The Serbs were attempting to fight there way back home and the hospital was full, many with head wounds, abdominal wounds and fractures requiring amputations. Very demanding conditions with the heat, malaria and long hours of heavy work. Their devotion to duty meant the mortality rate at the hospital was as low of any in region.
Jessie returned home in February 1917. She died in 1954 and is buried in the Auld Aisle Cemetery in Kirkintilloch.

Margaret Helen Kerr

Date of Bith: 1879
Place of Birth: Campsie, Strilingshire

As a child Margaret lived at the family home in Lenzie, Scotland. She spent time living with other relatives in Fife and Drymen in Stirlingshire.

Margaret’s sister Jessie also served in the Scottish Women’s Hospitals as an orderly in France, Serbia and Salonika.
Margaret in April 1915 went to Serbia as a cook with Dr Alice Hutchinson unit, at Valjevo, a town some 80 miles south of Belgrade had that winter gone through its own personal hell. Thousands of its citizens and thousands of soldiers had perished in a typhus outbreak that was destroying huge parts of Serbia. Valjevo had itself been turned into one large field hospital and many, many men lay wounded and untreated due to the lack of Doctors and nurses.The unit worked completely under canvas on a hillside just outside the town and although it was an improving picture by the time they reached there, there was still plenty of work to do. Dr Alice Hutchinson and her unit are fondly remembered today in Valjevo for their bravery and helping to bring stability to the towns people. Unfortunately for Margaret they only were able to work at the hospital for six months. By September Belgrade had fallen and Serbia was forced into retreat. During mid-august the big guns had returned, this time it was the Germans, Austrians, Hungarians and Bulgarians, and Serbia stood alone encircled by 500,000 fighting men. In October, German and Austrian troops attacked Serbia with such huge force that by the 12th of October the unit had no choice but to evacuate the hospital as the town was on the main railway line. They fled south to Kraguievac and regrouped, opening an emergency dressing station where 100′s of Serbian causalities poured in. With the Bulgarians joining the assault on Serbia they were forced to move down to Kraljevo and open another dressing station. Finally in early November all hope was gone and the SWH were forced to choose between retreat to the Adriatic Sea or remain and fall into enemy hands. Margaret effectively became a prisoner of war and spent close to three months under guard. Margaret rejoined the SWH in August 1916 electing to go to Lake Ostrovo in Macedonia Here the enemy was not the Austrians but their ally Bulgaria. Fighting took place in the Kamalchalan mountains and casualties had to be transported over rocky roads for two hours to Ostrovo, The hospital contained four surgical and one medical ward each containing forty beds. Fierce fighting by late 1916 meant that the hospital was very busy with the three surgeons, Anna Muncaster, Lilian Cooper and Sybil Lewis operating all day and in to the night. In his evocative painting Travoys with Wounded Soldiers at a Dressing Station at Smol Macedonia the artist Stanley Spencer who served with 68thField Ambulance unit in Macedonia gives a visual impression of a field hospital like Ostrovo. A journey of two hours from the battlefield was too long for many casualties so a casualty clearing station was established at Dobreveni, high in the mountains close to the front line. Margaret left the unit in the summer of 1917, returning home for some well needed rest. In 1918 again she she put her skills as a cook to to good use by joining the SWH at Creil, where a canteen was set up supporting the men during the final push. In June 1918 the canteen at Creil was bombed and the women were force to close the operation. Margaret died in 1957 and is buried in the same cemetery as her sister in Kirkintilloch. She was awarded a large collection of medals for her incredible service during the great war.

Agnes Kerr

Date of Bith: 1870
Place of Birth: Gloucestershire

Born in 1870 – Agnes Dorothy Kerr was born in Marston Sicca, Gloucester, England, daughter of Howard Kerr & Mary nee’ Kerr. The family had emigrated to NZ by 1886 and they settled in the Gate Pa district of Tauranga, BOP. Her father, Captain Howard Kerr, (Royal Navy) was born in 1833 in St Hellone, Jersey and died in 1914 aged 81yrs in Tauranga, New Zealand.
Apr 1890 – Nov 1893 – Agnes was a Certified Nurse – Wellington N.Z 1893 – 1895 -She nursed at the Palmerston North Hospital March 1895 – March 1896 – Agnes was working as a Private Nurse In 1896 – Agnes KERR left NZ and travelled to London where she joined King’s College, Reg # 2765 Register of Nurses – Royal British Nurses’ Assoc. (RBNA) – Agnes Kerr # 4/41 In 1901 – Agnes Kerr was a trained Nurse, living in Chislehurst, Kent, England In 1902 – Agnes became a registered Nurse having finished her training in Wellington. October 1915 – Agnes volunteers to join the war and sails to Egypt. From August 1916 to March 1919 – Nurse Kerr joins the Scottish Women’s Hospitals and serves in the America Unit. The American Unit (this hospital was funded chiefly by American donors and was so named as a thank you to them). The unit was moved 30 miles north of Salonika to Lake Ostrovo and supported the Serbian Army’s push back into her homeland. Also sent to Ostrovo was a Transport Column (this was an ambulance unit which allowed SWH to go a get casualties quickly rather than wait for casualties to be brought to them). The unit in 1918 moved up to Vranje, Serbia before eventually ending up in Belgrade.

Sister Agnes Dorothy KERR, later Matron of Burketown Hospital, Queensland, died in NSW, Australia, aged 81yrs

Margaret Kinnaird

Date of Bith: 3rd June 1890
Place of Birth: Banchory Devenick, Aberdeen

Margaret Warrender Kinnaird was the second child of Frank Kinnaird and Margaret Amelia Smith, both of Aberdeen.

As a young woman “Maggie” played in the Aberdeen Amateur String Orchestra. It’s known that in late 1912 and early 1913 she was working at the Sick Children’s Hospital in Aberdeen. On 1 June 1916 she completed three years of training at the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and was certified as a nurse. At that time she was living with her family at Braefarm, Mannofield, Aberdeen.

Many years later, Margaret wrote: “Most of the nurses, as they finished [their training], joined the Territorial Nurses, and I was more or less expected to do the same, but the opportunity that gave me of being sent abroad was vague for me, as there were so many senior nurses eagerly awaiting their turn to be sent to the western front, so when I discovered there was an opening in the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for trained nurses to go to Serbia, I immediately applied, was accepted, and in August 1916 a group, including nursing staff and transport section, set sail on a troop ship for Serbia where nurses were urgently needed.” She was with the London Unit under Elsie Inglis that embarked from Liverpool on 30 August 1916.

“We sailed the North Sea for ten days, much longer than the normal time for the same journey, but we had to avoid the coast on account of mines. After the first day most of us had found our sea legs, and we thoroughly enjoyed our voyage to Archangel, in the north of Russia. There we boarded a train and had a most wonderful journey from the north of Russia to Odessa in the south. This journey took another ten days, and during that time we had some wonderful and unique meals, including one in the Kremlin, during a 7-hour stopover in Moscow.” In Odessa she saw “a very beautiful Russian ballet five times” at the Opera House.

“On arriving in Odessa we were told we could not go on to Serbia, as that country had been completely taken by the enemy. After much negotiation between our chiefs and other officials, we were allowed to go to Romania, and there on the plains, close to the small town of Medgidia, we were given an empty barracks which, with much hard work, was soon converted into a hospital, and when all was ready and the doors opened for admission, dazed, weary, pitiful Russian troops came pouring in. Many of them just had a shower bath with plenty of hot water and soap, had their clothes deloused by fumigation, a good meal, and a good night’s sleep and were sent on their way, but quite a number became bed patients and were with us until we got orders to evacuate. These orders came within three weeks of our arrival in Medgidia. For several days we had been hearing a perpetual roar of cannons, and at nights we could see the flare of burning hamlets and villages as the Bulgarians came ruthlessly on their way.”

They left Medgidia on 22 October 1916. “This evacuation is a story in itself so I must pass it by. Eventually a small section of us landed in Galatz. Here for a short time we were billeted in an interned Austrian’s house. As food was very scarce there, as it was elsewhere, arrangements were made for us to go to a small Greek restaurant every afternoon and have at least one good meal a day. Here they served delicious food, and I soon discovered that my favourite order was pea soup, with plenty of crisp croutons, placed in a bowl on the table, and schnitzel, in other words, breaded veal cutlets with potato and vegetable.”

“One day we went along. I put in my usual order, but we were all aware of a tension everywhere. We had to wait an unusually long time before our meal was served. At long last our soup was being placed upon the table when who should step into the restaurant but our Chief in Command, Dr. Elsie Inglis, a small, sweet, kindly little Scottish woman, who had a will that could move mountains to do what she had set out to do. She said to us, ‘Sisters, I want you all to come with me. There is a truck at the door, and a barge waiting at the docks. You are going to Braila where there are 11,000 wounded soldiers waiting for you to care for.’ We were all very willing to go down the Danube to Braila, but we all seemed to think that would be after we had finished our meal, so most of us started eating again, but after a moment’s silence we heard a command, ‘Sisters,’ said the doctor, ‘is it more important to finish your meal, or to get on to that waiting barge?’ and with three claps of her hands she said, ‘Come at once.’ We had, once more, to forget our hunger and do our duty. We scrambled into the truck, were rushed to the docks, and just caught the barge before it set sail. Off we went down the Danube to Braila, and judging by the number of wounded and sick men we were assigned to care for, in an improvised hospital, I would say, at the least, 11,000 wounded had landed in Braila that day.” It was the end of October.

“We had a short stay in Braila. Very soon we had to move on again with the populace of Romania.” The unit went on to Tecuci where they “had a little hospital. We stayed here a little longer than at most places. It was pretty nice here while it lasted, but once more we had to move on – this time to Odessa in Russia” in early 1917.

While working there she witnessed “early demonstrations of the Revolution in Odessa. Mild demonstrations to what there was in Petrograd at the same time, but when we were on our way home several weeks later things were fairly quiet there. The Winter Palace was empty, we were shown the spot where Rasputin’s dead body was thrown into the River Neva. We visited at the small palace where the royal family was interned.”

“At long last we were on our way home – through Finland, Sweden, Norway. From there we crossed the North Sea and our boat landed in, of all places, Aberdeen” on 29 August 1917.

In November 1917 Margaret went to work at the Edinburgh War Hospital. “I was the night Sister of Ward 2 for quite awhile. Around 100 patients in the ward, and sometimes a tent for convalescent patients.”

In early 1920 Margaret traveled with her brother Jim to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, to marry Frank Copland, another native of Aberdeen. She died in Burnaby, British Columbia, on 4 October 1969.

Judy Gibson

Many thanks to Judy for sending us this. All the more valuable as Judy was Margaret’ s granddaughter.

Anna George Kreil

Date of Bith: 1891
Place of Birth: Kilwinning Ayrshire

Anna, joined the Scottish Women’s Hospitals as an Orderly. She volunteered to work at Royaumont Abbey in France between 27th of July 1918-January 1919 The orderly’s were known as “the white caps” They were very much the backbone of the hospital carrying out heavy work including moving the stretchers from place to place. The mopping up of blood stained floors and beds. All the unpleasant tasks. And for no wage. Only travel, uniform and board and lodging were provided for. An impressive contribution and often overlooked.Some women joined because it was one of the few opportunities open to women to help the war effort; others saw it as a rare chance for adventure in a world that up to then offered women very few chances; and all shared, with varying degrees, the desire to improve the lot of women. Over half a million pounds was raised by every manner possible to fund the organisation and during the war years its estimated that at Royaumont eleven thousand patients lives were saved, nursed and helped by these extraordinary, courageous and talented women.

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