Australians working with the Scottish Women’s Hospitals

SWH camp from NE-1

Scottish Women’s Hospital camp at Ostrovo from the NE – Photo courtesy of Nikiforos Sivenas

Since 2010 I have been fascinated with the Scottish Women’s Hospitals and the Australians involved with this organisation. I have discovered the amazing achievements of Olive Kelso King the hero of the Great Thessaloniki Fire of 1917; I have found out about the Ostrovo Unit in Serbia where Miles Franklin worked as an orderly and also, amazingly that two Australians Dr Agnes Bennett and Dr Mary de Garis were the Chief Medical Officers of the unit. Unfortunately they both had to retire for health reasons – malaria – which was rife on the Macedonian Front.

In creating the wikipedia page on the SWH (in September 2014) and this page on my blog, I worked with Alan Cumming who is as passionate as me about the SWH. I collaborated with him on biographies, particularly those of Australians who worked at the field hospitals, whether as nurses, orderlies or ambulance drivers. I also worked with Jennifer Baker and her very interesting website Looking for the Evidence. One of her posts is WWI Australian Women Doctors.

Here is a short movie on the SWH. Mac TV are the producers and STV in Glasgow are the owners. The link is courtesy of Alan Cumming.

The Women Who Went to War – A Great Adventure

Here is another movie. This one is directed by Alan Cumming. We follow Alan as he researches the work of the Scottish Womens Hospitals in France and Serbia during WW1.

Scottish Women’s Hospitals

Please contact me on half.moon.bay at if you have details of a relative you think may have worked at one of the fourteen field hospitals. I would love to hear from you.

A – Z of Personnel – All biographies are from Alan Cumming’s research unless otherwise stated.

A   B   C   D   E   F   G   H   I   J   K  L   M   N   O   P   Q   R   S   T   U   W   X   Y   Z

Millicent Sylvia Armstrong

Date of Birth: 1888
Place of Birth: Sydney

Millicent Sylvia Armstrong (1888-1973), playwright and farmer, was born on 1 May 1888 at Waverley, Sydney, fourth daughter of William Harvey Armstrong, a merchant from Ireland, and his Tasmanian-born wife Jeanie, née Williams. Millicent was educated at Shirley, Woollahra, matriculated in French and Latin in 1905, followed her sisters Ina Beatrice and Helen Daphne to the University of Sydney (B.A., 1910) and graduated with first-class honours in English. Helen had graduated with firsts in French, English and German in 1902 and was a librarian at the Public Library of New South Wales in 1911-21. Millicent’s interest in literature had been revealed when she wrote a story for Theatre magazine under the nom de plume, ‘Emily Brown’. She left Australia for London in August 1914 with the intention of finding a publisher for her first novel, but was almost immediately involved in war-work, probably in canteens.

From 1916 Millicent was attached as an orderly to a unit of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service and worked from March 1917 at the ancient Abbaye de Royaumont, Asnières-sur-Oise, France. She was sent to the advance hospital at Villers-Cotterets, Aisne, which was taken over by the French military and became Hôpital Auxiliaire d’Armées No.30. There she first experimented with drama. Written partly in English and partly in French, and solely as entertainment for the wounded, her pantomimes, melodramas and variety shows were performed by staff and some of the casualties, using makeshift props and costumes. In the face of the German advance in May 1918, the hospital was evacuated to Royaumont: Miss Armstrong was awarded the Croix de Guerre for her bravery in rescuing wounded soldiers while under fire.

Returning to Australia after the war, Millicent briefly owned and operated the Amber Tea Rooms at Goulburn. In 1921 she made an application under the Returned Soldiers Settlement Act and was granted title to 1028 acres (416 ha) with a capital value of over £2600 at Gunning on land previously owned by Ina’s husband Leo Watson of Wollogorang. Helen acquired an adjoining block. In producing vegetables, flowers, pigs and wool at Clear Hills, Millicent and Helen suffered from the same chronic indebtedness which characterized Australian closer-settlement schemes, despite the size of their holding and family financial support. During her early years in the country Millicent completed at least three one-act plays which were based on her experiences: Fire gained third place in the Sydney Daily Telegraph competition of 1923; Drought was awarded the 1923 Rupert Brooke prize of £25, was performed in London and won a prize in 1934 from the International One-Act Play Theatre; At Dusk appeared in 1937 in a collection of Australian one-act plays. Two other plays, Thomas and Penny Dreadful, both drawing-room dramas, were published with Drought in a selection of her work in 1958.

Tall, slim and possessing unfeigned modesty, Miss Armstrong once described her life as being ‘too much like that of a great many other people of [her] generation’. After Helen’s death in 1939, Millicent became a grazier at Kirkdale, Yarra; by 1953 she was living at Goulburn. She died in a local hospital on 18 November 1973 and was cremated with Anglican rites. Unmarried, she bequeathed Clear Hills to her nephew John Edward Lightfoot.

by Kate Blackmore


Mary Josephine Bedford

Date of Bith: 1861
Place of Birth: London

Josephine Bedford arrived in Brisbane in 1891 with her longtime friend and companion Dr Lilian Cooper, with whom she shared accommodation during their student days in England. She helped Lilian establish herself as Queensland’s first female doctor while pursuing her own interest in improving the welfare of the state’s women and children. As the city’s population rapidly grew, Josephine noticed that the inner-suburbs, with their unpaved and unsewered streets, were unsafe for children to play. This realisation, along with the help of the local Reverend, led to the creation of the Crèche and Kindergarten Association (C & K) in 1907. By 1911, four centres were operating in Brisbane and a college for kindergarten teachers had been established. On an extended trip overseas, Josephine studied the concept of ‘supervised play’ and returned to Brisbane in 1918 to help open two supervised playgrounds (in Paddington and Spring Hill).

Miss Bedford was a committee member of the Queensland Society for the Prevention of Cruelty, first provisional secretary of the National Council of Women in 1906 as well as a member of the Queensland Women’s Electoral League. Another of her interests was the Women’s Auxiliary of the Hospital for Sick Children.

Dr Lilian Cooper died in 1947, leaving all her assets to Josephine. To commemorate the work of Queensland’s first female medical practitioner and her lifelong companion, Josephine Bedford donated their historic home, “Old St Mary’s”, at Kangaroo Point to the Sisters of Charity, on the proviso that it be used to build a hospice for the sick and dying. She was awarded the fifth class of the Order of St Sava by the King of Serbia.

Agnes Bennett

Date of Bith: 1872
Place of Birth: Sydney, Australia

She was born in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia on 24 June 1872, the sixth child of W. C. Bennett, and his first wife Agnes Amelia, ne Hays. Bennett attended Sydney Girls High School, as well as Cheltenham Ladies’ College, Dulwich Girls’ High School and Abbotsleigh. She won a scholarship in 1890 and studied science at the University of Sydney (B.Sc., 1894); she was secretary of and a night-school teacher for the Women’s Association (later University Women’s Settlement).

Initially unable to find a job as a medical practitioner, Bennett worked for a time as a teacher and governess, then left Australia in 1895 to study at the College of Medicine for Women, University of Edinburgh (M.B., Ch.M., 1899). She returned to Sydney in 1901 and set up in private practice in Darlinghurst Road but although she gave free medical advice she was forced to give up her practice because of the then common prejudices against female doctors. She briefly worked at Callan Park, the hospital for the Insane before leaving in 1905 to take over the practice of a woman doctor in Wellington, New Zealand. This time the practice thrived. She was chief medical officer at St Helen’s maternity hospital, and honorary physician to the children’s ward of Wellington Hospital from 1910. In 1911 she completed her M.D. at Edinburgh.

In 1915 Agnes Bennett became the first female commissioned officer in the British Army, when as a captain she worked as a medical officer in war hospitals in Cairo. When the work came to an end she sailed for England, uncertain what to do next. Almost immediately she met up with Elsie Inglis in London who asked her to work with the SWH. On the 2nd August 1916, the America Unit, in the command of Dr Bennett, reached Southampton preparatory to embarking on the hospital ship Dunluce Castle for Salonika. The ship arrived in Salonika on the 13th August and on the 17th of that month Dr Bennett travelled by car to visit the proposed camp site.

Originally intended as a base hospital at Salonika, the unit’s status was changed. As the only hospital for the use of the defeated Third Serbian Army, it would now be situated near the front, acting more or less as a casualty clearing station. Finally on the 7th September 1916 the first vehicles of her thirty-nine car convoy (Mrs Harley’s Unit included), left Salonika on the road to Ostrovo Lake. By the 11th September, Dr Bennett was able to record of the Ostrovo Unit. “The hospital is gradually getting into being-progress slow, partly on account of labour.” By the 28th September she as wring: “We have admitted 204 patients up to today; ten of the staff are ill which means 14 off work…”

While Chief Medical Office of the Ostrovo Unit, Dr Bennett was concerned with the difficulties the unit faced being so far from the front. Far too many men were losing their lives through the delay in getting them down to her hospital.

There was also the problem of malaria. Although, Ostrovo was up in the hills and the malaria threat was not as bad as in Salonika, it still claimed lives and would ultimately end her term as CMO when she fell victim to the disease as well. Gradually as the Serbian fighting line pushed the enemy back, the hospital work eased. In late October she wrote: “Our 400th patient admitted today.” By winter conditions became more severe. Fighting died down and the roads became impassable. The hospital was nearly isolated. Cases of scurvy were brought in occasionally, for food was short in the front line. In December a site was chosen for the outpost hospital at Dobraveni and the personnel sent off.

By the new year Dr Bennett was plagued by internal problems and worry over the outpost at Dobraveni. By late winter German air raids became more frequent and the outpost was moved in March with the help of 100 German prisoners. With summer came the threat of malaria again. Dr Bennett succumbed to the disease and was forced to resign because of ill health. She was replaced by another Australian Mary De Garis.

Dr Bennet became the first president of the Wellington branch of the International Federation of University Women in 1923, and represented New Zealand at its world conference at Cracow, Poland, in 1936. She had visited Australia often since 1905, and in 1938-39 was medical officer at the hospital at Burketown, North Queensland. She returned to Wellington and in 1939 helped to form the Women’s War Service Auxiliary.

Between 1940 and 1942 she worked in English hospitals and, on returning to New Zealand, lectured to the women’s services on venereal disease and birth control. Dr Bennett was appointed O.B.E. in 1948; she died in Wellington on 27 November 1960 and was cremated with Presbyterian rites. She contributed largely to the improvement of maternal and infant medical care in New Zealand, and through example, argument and organization, did much to advance women’s status.


Lillian Cooper

Date of Birth: 1861
Place of Birth: Kent, England

Lilian Violet Cooper (1861-1947), medical practitioner, was born on 11 August 1861 at Chatham, Kent, England, daughter of Henry Fallowfield Cooper, captain of Royal Marines, and his wife Elizabeth, née Shewell. Educated privately, she dedicated herself to medicine when young. Despite parental opposition, she entered the London School of Medicine for Women in 1886, completed the course in October 1890 and, after passing the conjoint examinations of the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh, the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh, and the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons, Glasgow, received a licentiate from Edinburgh.

Cooper worked briefly and unhappily for a practitioner in Halstead, Essex, then came to Brisbane in May 1891 with her lifelong friend Josephine Bedford, and in June became the first female doctor registered in Queensland. Induced to work for an alcoholic doctor, she finally secured a cancellation of her contract and was boycotted professionally for two years. She was allowed to join the Medical Society of Queensland in 1893, and later became an honorary in the Hospital for Sick Children and the Lady Lamington Hospital for Women. In 1905 she became associated with the Mater Misericordiae Hospital and stayed with it for the rest of her life.

In June 1911 Cooper returned to England. Travelling through the United States of America, she visited the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland; she then went on to win a doctorate of medicine from the University of Durham in June 1912. With Miss Bedford she joined the Scottish Women’s Hospitals in 1915, served for twelve months, including a time in Macedonia, and was awarded the Serbian Order of St Sava, fourth-class.

Cooper settled again in Brisbane after the war and, despite an unsuccessful action for damages against her in 1923, won a large and successful practice. A tall, angular, brusque, energetic woman, prone to bad language, she travelled first by bicycle but became an early motorist and did most of her own running repairs. In 1926 she bought a house called Old St Mary’s in Main Street, Kangaroo Point, and settled there in semi-retirement, becoming a foundation fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in 1928. She retired in 1941 and died in her home on 18 August 1947. She was buried in Toowong cemetery with Anglican rites; her estate, sworn for probate at £12,315 in Queensland and £2896 in New South Wales, was left mainly to members of her family.

After Cooper’s death Miss Bedford gave the site for the Mount Olivet Hospital of the Sisters of Charity, part of which was entitled ‘the Lilian Cooper Nursing Home’. St Mary’s Church of England in Kangaroo Point has memorial windows and an altar on the frontal of which is embroidered Dr Cooper’s medal of St Sava.

By C. A. C. Leggett


Elsie Jean Dalyell

Date of Birth: 1881
Place of Birth: Sydney, Australia

Elsie was born in Sydney, Australia in 1881, her father James was a mining engineer. She went on to study medicine at Sydney’s University and received her Bachelor in Medicine in 1909 and becoming one of the first women in the faculty to graduate with first class honours and completed a Master of Surgery in 1910.

Elsie joined the Scottish Women’s Hospitals in May 1916, she was one of the most distinguished Doctors at Royaumont Abbey in France. Elsie on the outbreak of war had offered her services to the war office, simply refused because she a women. Elsie’s involvement in the war began in 1915, working with the Serbian Relief Fund in Skopje. Employed as a bacteriologist in Serbia and France she was well known to turn her hand to all sorts of work when required. At Royaumont she excelled in her work with the complicated gas gangrene and other infectious wounds of war. Elsie joined the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1917,together, these commitments took her to France, Greece, Malta and Turkey.In 1919 she was appointed an Officer of Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.) and was decorated by the Government of Serbia.
After various posts, Elsie return home to Australia and settled down.Working for the New South Wales Department of Public Health as a microbiologist in 1924 and was a committee member of the Rachel Forster Hospital for Women and Children during 1925–35. Elsie died in 1948. Elsie was a really favourite with the staff at the Abbey, described as calm, fair, always available and utterly efficient.

Mary De Garis

Date of Birth: 1881
Place of Birth: Charlton, Victoria

Mary Clementina De Garis was born in Charlton, Victoria in 1881. She was the daughter of a Mildura clergyman and irrigation pioneer Elisha Clement De Garis known as Elizee De Garis and Elizabeth Buncle, a midwife. There were six children in the family: Mary and Elizabeth (twins), Clement,(known as Jack) Lilian,Alfred and Lucas (known as George). In 1898 Mary De Garis was dux of her year at the Methodist Ladies College in Melbourne.In 1900 she enrolled in Medicine at the University of Melbourne.

Mary De Garis was the thirty-first woman to enrol in medicine from the University of Melbourne, awarded a Bachelor of Medicine (M.B.) in 1904 and Bachelor of Surgery (B.S.) in 1905. She was then appointed to two resident positions, at the Melbourne Hospital in 1905–06, and the Women’s Hospital from 1906–07.

In 1907 she became the second woman in Victoria to be awarded the Doctorate of Medicine. She then travelled to the Australian outback to take up her first full-time position in Muttaburra, north-west Queensland. Subsequently in 1908–09 she travelled to the United Kingdom and to the United States of America for fourteen months to further her professional development. Returning to Melbourne, she worked at the Queen Victoria Hospital and conducted a private practice in central Melbourne. In 1911 Mary De Garis travelled to the outback town of Tibooburra, western New South Wales to work at the hospital until 1915.

Wishing to be closer to her fiancé, Colin Thomson, who had enlisted for the Australian Imperial Forces, in 1916 she sailed back to London and worked at the Manor Hospital for five months. After Colin Thomson’s death at the battle of Pozieres in August 1916, she joined the Scottish Women’s Hospitals organisation and was posted to the America Unit in Ostrovo, Macedonia, close to the Balkan Front, from February 1917 to October 1918. Mary De Garis was the Chief Medical Officer for 14 months.

After the war, in May 1919, De Garis settled in Geelong, Victoria. Here she pushed for women to be members of the hospital general committee as well as for the first maternity ward to be included in the hospital. She was also responsible for antenatal and postnatal care being implemented at the hospital. In 1931 she was appointed as the Honorary Medical Officer to the Maternity Ward at the Geelong Hospital until 1941 and then she became an Honorary Consultant to the Maternity Ward until 1959. She was the first and only female medical doctor in Geelong from 1919 to 1941. Conducting research into the causes of pain in labour and other obstetric matters, she published over 40 articles and letters in the British/Australian Medical Association journals as well as 5 books. Practising until 1960, she died in Geelong in 1963.



Laura Magaret Fowler

Date of Birth: 1868
Place of Birth: Mitcham, South Australia

Laura Margaret Fowler was born at Mitcham, SA, daughter of grocer George Swan Fowler and his wife Janet Lamb. She was the first woman to enrol in medicine in South Australia. After graduating she completed her residency at the Adelaide Children’s Hospital, and in 1892 became the first woman to be elected to the SA Branch of the BMA. In 1893 she married Cr Charles Standish Hope, and the couple left for Bengal as medical missionaries. During the course of the next 20 years they practised at various mission hospitals throughout India.

In 1915, while in England, the Hopes joined the SWH and were sent to Serbia. They were captured by Austrians in November 1915 and deported to Hungary. They found their way to England and returned to mission work in India. They came back to Adelaide in 1934. Charles Hope died in 1942 and Laura in 1952. She is buried in the Mitcham Cemetery. There were no children. Source: Australian Doctors on the Western Front by Robert Likeman

Stella Miles Franklin

Date of Birth: 1879
Place of Birth: Talbingo, New South Wales

Stella Miles Franklin (1879-1954) was born at Talbingo, New South Wales in Australia.
Miles Franklin was an orderly in the Scottish Women’s Hospital, “America Unit”, from July 1917 to February 1918. The hospital was located on the shores of Lake Ostrovo (now Vegoritis), and at the foot of Mt. Kaimakchalan, about three miles north of the railway station in the village of Ostrovo (now Arnissa), and about halfway between Edessa and Florina. The Unit was under the command of Dr. Agnes Bennett (1872-1960), an Australian physician, who completed her medical studies at the College of Medicine for Women, University of Edinburgh (M.B., Ch.M., 1899). The SWH Field Hospital in Ostrovo followed the Third Serbian Army, was completely staffed by women, and included the first graduate women doctors, trained nurses, hospital orderlies, and even women ambulance drivers, who came from different countries. The field hospital with 200 beds, consisted of twenty rows of tents, arrived at the Salonika Front in August 1916. It soon started its operation with the intention to be a surgical hospital (160 beds for surgery and 40 beds for recuperation), but with an increase in cases of malaria, they also accepted the malaria patients. It contained: a surgery, hospital wards, x-ray, bacteriological laboratory, out-patient department, reception, with all accompanying services such as a storage for medical supplies, kitchen and laundry.

Out of 60 women on the staff there were five women doctors – Dr. Agnes Bennett, Dr. Lilian Cooper, Dr. Anna Leila Muncaster, Dr. Sybil Lonie Lewis, Dr. Jessie Ann Scott, and one Serbian doctor Dr. Chedomir Djurdjevich, a medical student, Uros Ruzitchich, 20 qualified nurses, women nursing aides, and Serbian male orderlies. Miss Maud Ellen Tate was the Head Nurse (Matron), while Miss Florence Jack was the Hospital Administrator. The hospital staff came from Scotland, England, Ireland, Wales, and as far as from Australia and New Zealand.

Among the many women’s associations Stella Miles Franklin chose: “the famous Scottish Women’s Hospitals, appeared to me the most, engineered by evolved women and occupied with intensely human service among different nations”. Despite terrific heat, numerous insects, mosquitos, and even snakes, the amity in the camp created a friendly atmosphere during the wartime, and encouraged Stella to write:
“The little camp was pretty as a picture, its white tents sheltering a community of over three hundred souls, nestled among the near hills in a sheltered basin, under aged and shady trees. The trees gave a sense of benediction and princely wealth in that improvident old land, denuded of its trees” (Gilchrist, Hugh – Australians and Greeks, Australia, 1997.)
“There was a delightful spirit of sisterhood in our camp. We were not called upon to flap our wings in salutes not to act in any irritating way in the presence of our chiefs… Our field hospital was a national and international combination, which might have been assembled especially for my happiness… We had most amiable Administrators, the most capable of Matrons, the most distinguished of COs, the most versatile of Secretaries, and by and large, the best of units.” (Franklin, Stella Miles, It Matters Nothing, the Mitchell Library, Sydney)

Stella Miles Franklin wrote a piece “Somewhere in the Balkans” and two manuscripts dedicated to the Serbs: “By Far Kaimakchalan” and “It Matters Nothing – Six months with the Serbs”. The manuscripts have never been published, but are well kept with large collections of books and personal correspondence that Franklin left to the Mitchell Library, of the State Library of NSW, in Sydney.

While the first manuscript dealt with the absurdities of war, which takes away so many young lives, the second is in a form of a theatrical script that was to be performed at the hospital theatre at the Salonika Front. As Hugh Gilchrist said: “Her interest and sympathy were largely reserved for the Serbs, whose national miseries saddened her and whose physical beauty and gracious dignity captivated her completely.” (Gilchrist, Hugh, Miles Franklin in Macedonia, ‘Quadrant’, 1982). She appreciated the life of the Serbian women, who stayed in the occupied country with their children and old parents, not knowing for their husbands and brothers for more that three years. So she wrote “the Serbian women must be great to produce such sensitive, affectionate, men”.

In a large number of Franklin’s stories there is one about her experience with a dentist at the Salonika Front. “A Dentist in Macedonia”, was inspired by her visit to a Serbian dental surgery in Vodena. She was pleased with the Serbian dentist, Dr. Milan Petrovich, who was working at the dental station that was operating within the Serbian Rehabilitation Centre in Vodena (now Edessa), near Ostrovo.

Slavica P. Filipovich,
8 May 2014



Laura Margaret Hope

Date of Birth:  1868
Place of Birth:  Adelaide, South Australia

Laura Margaret Fowler was born in the Adelaide suburb of Mitcham, South Australia to Scottish born parents George Swan Fowler and Catherine Janet Lamb. As a child, she helped her father, a successful wholesale grocer, to breed leeches for sale to pharmacists on the family’s estate in Glen Osmond.

Fowler was educated privately, initially attending Madame Marval’s private school in Adelaide as well as schools in England while her brother attended Cambridge University. The family returned to Adelaide in 1884 and Fowler matriculated in 1886. In 1887 Fowler became the first woman to enroll in medicine at the University of Adelaide. She was awarded the Elder Prize and graduated in Medicine and Surgery in 1891.

Fowler was appointed the House Surgeon at the Adelaide Children’s Hospital where she worked until her marriage in 1893 to fellow doctor Charles Henry Standish Hope. Following their marriage, Laura and Charles Hope spent many years working on missions in India, particularly in Bengal where they would spend 30 years providing medical assistance to the local community.[1] The couple frequently treated cases of typhoid, cholera and malaria and Charles became well known for his expertise in performing eye surgery.

In 1915 the Hopes served in World War I as doctors in the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service (as the Australian Army would not enlist female doctors, only female nurses). The Hopes treated wounded soldiers in Serbia where they were captured and imprisoned in Hungary for two months. Following a period of respite in England, they returned to India and their mission efforts in 1916. Both were awarded the Serbian Samaritan Cross in 1918.

Prior to moving back to Adelaide with her husband for retirement, Laura Hope received the Kaisar-i-Hind medal for her missionary work. The Hopes did mission work at the Australian Baptist Mission at Pubna, the New Zealand Baptist Misson Hospital, Chandpur, India, and the Bengal Baptist Mission at Kalimpong. Hope died on 14 September 1952 and had no children. Her husband predeceased her in 1942.

Source: Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service, Wikipedia.




Agnes Dorothy Kerr

Date of Birth: 1870
Place of Birth: United Kingdom

Not much is known about Kerr but she is mentioned briefly in the writings of Miles Franklin. She was a dressing station sister with the Ostrovo Field Hospital and later Matron at Burketown Hospital, Queensland. She died in 1951.

Olive Kelso King

Date of Birth: 1885
Place of Birth: Croydon, Sydney

Olive King was the daughter of the Sydney company director Sir Kelso King. Educated at home, at Sydney Church of England Girls Grammar School and later in Germany, she led an adventurous life that included climbing Mexico’s Mount Popocatepetl with three male companions.

On a visit to England, war broke out. Olive served briefly as an ambulance driver in Belgium, supplying her own vehicle (ALDA), a lorry which she had converted into a 16 seater ambulance and christened ‘Ella the elephant’. In 1915 Olive joined the Scottish Women’s Hospitals (Girton and Newnham Unit) and was sent to the Sainte-Savine field hospital, near Troyes, in France. Conditions at the field hospital were tough. Wounded men were housed in canvas tents connected by long lines of duckboards in muddy fields adjacent to the Château de Chanteloup.

In November 1915 the unit was sent to the Macedonian front, landing at Salonika, Greece and moving up to Gevgelija on the Greco-Serbian border. Six weeks later the Bulgarian forces were advancing rapidly and the hospital had to be evacuated in twenty four hours, a seemingly impossible task for 30 women but luckily they were helped by 40 Royal Engineers. By midnight the whole staff had got away except for the three female chauffeurs. It was Kelso King’s decision to head for the nearest railway station. They managed to get themselves and their ambulances on the last train before the station was bombed. Thirteen French ambulance drivers, who tried to make their way to Salonika via a rough track by Doiran, were ambushed by the Bulgarians their cars taken and all killed or taken prisoner.

By the end of July 1916 Olive had left the Scottish Women’s Hospital and joined the Serbian army as a driver attached to the Headquarters of the Medical Service at Salonika. By this time the Serbs had lost most of their transport and ‘Ella’ was one of only three cars attached to the Medical Headquarters.

On 18 August 1917, the day of the Great Thessaloniki Fire of 1917, Olive Kelso King transported people and records to safety, driving for twenty four hours at a stretch. For this effort, Olive was awarded the Serbian silver medal for bravery.

After the war Olive set up seventeen canteens in Serbia to provide necessities at cost price or below. The last canteen closed in 1920. She was awarded the Order of St Sava for her post-war efforts. Back in Australia, Olive was active in the Girl Guides Australia and gave talks about her wartime experiences. During World War II she was an examiner at de Havilland Aircraft Pty Ltd. She moved to Melbourne in 1956 and died there in November 1958.



Edith Mackay

Date of Birth: 1873
Place of Birth: Australia

MATRON, EDITH JANE MACKAY decorated for her services in the war but who never
discussed that part of her life. Goomeri and district were extremely fortunate to have had the services of such a highly qualified, outstanding nurse for so many years. She will always be fondly remembered by the townsfolk.

Edith Jane Mackay was born in 1873 and passed away in 1959 in Byron Bay. Edith’s vocation in life was to care for others. She did this by taking on a nursing career. Edith found herself in Great Britain at the time when World War 1 hostilities broke out. In 1915, she joined the Scottish Women’s Hospital Association and was sent to Lourdes France to work for the French Red Cross. In 1917, Edith was sent to Corsica to nurse war veterans.
She became the Matron of a military hospital in Ajaccio Corsica from 2nd October 1917 to 27th September 1918.

Whilst she was in Corsica Edith became a very much-loved member of their community and was given a beautiful brooch by the town’s people. This gold brooch was a small stiletto with a coral handle which fits in its own engraved gold sheath. Many years later, this brooch would be passed onto a person who had become very special in Edith’s life during her time at Goomeri. Edith would forever be considered a second Mother to that little girl.

Edith then moved on to the Balkans and she was in Serbia in 1919 where she received the Serbian Medal for Zeal and later performed relief work during the Russian famine. Edith also nursed in England and Belgium during her time over there.

Below is an extract written by Sister Edith Mackay from a book that was published about Serbia and the atrocious conditions for its people and its devoted nursing staff during and after the end of World War 1. This time was extremely difficult and a strong sense of compassion and the need to help others was the driving force for this extraordinary woman.

Australian Nurse Edith Mackay described the sad situation she witnessed at a Serbian Hospital. “all day long sick, illfed and scantily clad Serbs flock around the little dispensary. Tottering old men, weather worn pale and harassed looking women, sick children in their arms. The day’s work commenced at sunrise and ended sometimes long after sunset. People came long distances mostly on foot for treating and medicine and dressings
for malaria, typhus, typhoid, influenza, diseases, accidents, dog bite etc.”

Eventually Edith returned to Australia and ended her nursing career in Goomeri. She opened up a private hospital around 1926 on the outskirts of town on the Murgon Road. This was called ‘Stirling Hospital. In 1930 she moved into another house in Hodge Street.
She died in 1961. For the complete profile


Harriet Christina Newcombe

Date of Birth: 1854
Place of Birth:  Bow, London, United Kingdom

Margaret Emily Hodge (1858-1938), and Harriet Christina Newcomb (1854-1942), feminists and educators, were friends and business partners.

Harriet was born on 20 May 1854 at Bow, London, elder daughter of William Newcomb, accountant, and his wife Harriet Sandell, née Walker. Educated at home, where she studied for the Cambridge teachers’ certificate, she lectured at Maria Grey College in 1887-97.

Encouraged by a Hodge relation Walter Scott, the two women came to Sydney in September 1897 intending to work among the poor. They joined the Teachers’ Association of New South Wales; in 1898 Hodge was one of two women elected to the association’s council and Newcomb became a committee-member of the Kindergarten Union of New South Wales. Together, they drew up training courses for primary and secondary teachers.

In 1903 Newcomb was a founding vice-president of the Society for Child Study. She also lectured on the principles and practice of kindergarten work. Both left for Britain in October 1908, visiting educational institutions in Japan and the United States of America en route. In London they settled in a flat at Maida Vale. In June 1910 they organized an Australian contingent to march in the suffrage procession of 10,000 women. Newcomb worked a banner with a map of Australia and the message ‘Women vote throughout Australia’.

At the outbreak of World War I Newcomb was occupied with relief work, in particular the distribution of clothing sent from Sydney by Dr Mary Booth’s Babies’ Kit Society for the Allies’ Babies. In 1916-18 she was on the London committee of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service. Following the outbreak of World War II Newcomb moved to Watford, where she died on 15 April 1942.

Source: Australian Dictionary of Biography






Alice Mary Stirling

Date of Birth: 1885
Place of Birth: South Australia

Miss Alice Mary Stirling was the fourth daughter of the late Sir Edward Stirling and of Lady Stirling, of Mount Lofty. For the past two years Miss Stirling had been travelling abroad in company with the Misses Russell. She was an indefatigable war worker, and took part in many movements in aid of wounded soldiers. She began an active career in that respect soon after the outbreak of hostilities, travelling from London to Rouen (France), where she was engaged in canteen work. On returning to London she joined up with the staff in St. Dunstan’s Hostel for blinded soldiers and sailors. After having spent some time at that work, Miss Stirling joined the Scottish Women’s Hospital, and she acted as an orderly in the hospital near Salonika. Among her other duties there was the driving of motor vehicles. After a period there she returned to England, and took up work in Dartford. She came back to Australia about the time the war ended. She died in 1925. Source: Obituaries Australia









11 thoughts on “Australians working with the Scottish Women’s Hospitals

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  5. Hello Debbie.
    My relative was EDITH JANE MACKAY. She was my Mother’s Aunt. Mum spoke fondly of her – referring to her as Aunt Ede. My husband and I visited the Australian War Museum a number of years ago and she has quite a lot of documents which were donated by a family member (?) which we were able to look thru. My daughter took up the Family Research after I got “burn out” and she is concentrating on my husbands side, while I concentrated on my family line, (Wade) hence the limited research on this line. One of the items at the Museum which was fascinating was Aunt Ede’s time in Russia and her letter back home describing same. They arrived (a Dr. and another nurse) in heavy snow and they had to get out as the horse pulling their sled kept wanting to swing sideways, slipping downhill. She describes how the snow was thigh deep and drew little pictures in the letter of the horses plight! I must get the documents from my Daughter and restart my search as we have recently retired and it would be perfect to involve a little travel (C19 permitting) as well as research. I just wish I had sat down with Mum to discuss Aunt Ede as what she did tell me was truly fascinating. But then again, you only need to look at where life took her to realise what an astounding life she lead.

    Kind regards,

    Ps. Not sure if first post went thru. Having solar connected and power just turned back on and WIFI hadn’t refreshed.


    • Thanks so much for your reply Janette. They lead amazing lives these women who served with the Scottish Women’s Hospital. If she was in Russia you might find I. Emslie Hutton’s book With a Woman’s Unit in Serbia, Salonika and Sebastopol useful. Let me know if you find any more information on her and I will adjust my listing. Happy researching.


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