In honour of National Dog Day, which is taking twitter by storm (at least among ‘twitterstorians’ who have been posting nice pictures of historical dogs all day), here’s my favourite WWI Balkan dog story from the IWM archives:
In his 1970 memoir, C R Hennessey recalled how he and his regiment had acquired a mascot, a small black and white terrier trotting along side their march, “so we dubbed him “Mick” and took him on the strength of the Platoon for rations and billeting.”
There is no doubt that one can cope with things under very adverse conditions when one has the old familiar faces about him. Which thought reminded me that we hadn’t seen anything of our terrier “Mick” since the pervious afternoon. It seemed to us that he couldn’t have survived the cold and wet, but to our great surprise and delight he suddenly appeared with his tail erect, and looking the perkiest member of “C” Company. We learned that Will’s groom, one Cpl. Parker, had taken pity on him and carried him on his saddle under cover of his ground sheet… we thought that Mick, being only a civilian as you might say, was entitled to more comfortable quarters than the Army could provide at this time. So we hunted around and managed to find him a very good home at the neighbouring base camp where, in a Q.M.Stores, his future comfort would be assured.
C R Hennessey, “Papers,” IWM 03/31/1, 132,141.
I’m sitting at home finishing up an upcoming presentation and social media reminds me that it is St Patrick’s Day.
I recalled a passage I read recently in Patrick McGill’s The Red Horizon:
St Patrick’s day was an event. We had a half holiday, and at night, with the aid of beer, we made merry as men can on St Patrick’s Day. …for to all St. Patrick was an admirable excuse for having a good and rousing time. (page 36)
An important excuse for many the world over to drink to excess, but not, tonight, for me. Instead I’ll celebrate by remembering some St Patrick’s Day celebrations (or lack thereof) in Salonika during the First World War.
For many soldiers, particularly among the Irish divisions, St Patrick’s day was a day for celebration with concerts, sporting matches, and yes, drinking. In 1917, while recuperating from malaria at St Patrick’s hospital in Malta, Private Brooks celebrated with a “St Patrick’s Day concert in Y.M.C.A.”
William Knott, a stretcher bearer with a field Ambulance in the 10th (Irish) Division, noted that the entire division was given a holiday for St Patrick’s Day in 1916, and he marked the holiday by attending a football match. The following year, Knott (a member of the Salvation army and a strong disapprover of strong drink) was visiting a friend.
We recalled the happy time we spent by the Shannon two year ago and proposed the writing of a book ‘From the Shannon to Struma’, it is true many and varied experiences we have had in the time in between these two St Patrick’s days. Unfortunately the night was a time of drinking for the majority and before 8 o’clock I do not think there was a dozen sober men in the camp. It is events like this that prolong this terrible war; it is a disgrace to the British nation!
On that note, I think I’ll have a glass of wine…
So infamously said a war office official to Dr Elsie Inglis, who did not go home and sit still, but instead founded the Scottish Women’s Hospitals.
I love the attention that historical figures get on International Women’s Day. I love the appreciation that women involved in the First World War now receive — so different from thirty, twenty, even ten years ago (when the wikipedia articles I’m linking to didn’t even exist. And no, I didn’t write them). I read with interest this article on Huffington Post about women rockin’ the boat during WWI, now making the rounds on twitter. No going home. No sitting still. I’m really glad of the well-served attention Elsie Inglis is finally receiving, including a residence in Belgrade being names after her. But it made me wonder, is that the most commonly used quote regarding women and the First World War?
Asked to name women who contributed to the war effort and you get the same list of names. Vera Brittain. Edith Cavell. Elsie Inglis. Flora Sandes. Marie Chisholm and Elsie Knocker. The same people over and over again. It’s in danger of becoming a cliche.
Don’t get me wrong. I think these women are kick-ass. And I do find it slightly ironic that many of them are part of a story of the war far removed from the usual tale of mud and blood in the trenches of the Western Front. Elsie Inglis and Flora Sandes have become canonized as part of the women’s roles in wartime story, yet the Balkan front is so far from being recognized as part of the great war that most people have never even heard of Salonika. How can these women be IN Britian’s war story, but not OF it?
Let’s widen the story. Let’s include everyone! Everywhere! And let’s talk about some new women. There were a lot of women making waves during the first world war. These articles do include a few others as well as the usual suspects. Here are some of my favourites:
Isabel Emslie Hutton
Another woman doctor who received a similar response to her initial offer of her services to the war office. Dr Hutton (Emslie was her maiden name) joined the SWH, served in France, Greece, and Serbia, made advances in the treatment of malaria on top of running a surgical word and later, and entire hospital. After the war she went on aid missions to the war-torn Crimea and malarial Albania, and when she returned home she fought for the right of women doctors to continue practicing after marriage, pioneered developments in modern psychiatry, and wrote a sex manual that went through ten editions and was in print for over forty years.
An Australian adventurer and poet Olive King was accidentally arrested in Belgium as a spy before joining the SWH where she made friends with Hutton and drove an ambulance before enlisting as a driver in the Serbian Army. She was made Sergeant, awarded for her bravery during the great fire of Salonika, and founded a canteen organisation to aid the Serbian army and the starving population at tail end of the war.
A socialite through-and-through, during the First World War Corbett did her socialising on the Balkan front. Being too young to volunteer for France, Corbett joined a hospital in Serbia because both she and her father enjoyed how the prospect scandalised their more conventional friends. She worked as a VAD until she was taken prisoner by the invading Austro-Hungarian army. After repatriation, she and her partner Kathleen Dillion joined the SWH as drivers where they caused no small amount of scandal with everything from their inability to cook to their inability to be follow discipline. After their triumphant advance on Belgrade, Corbett and Dillion retired to a life of leisure, travelling to visit their wartime friends who scattered around the world, and establishing a donkey sanctuary and abolishing the pub (hey, no one’s perfect) in Dillion’s native village in Oxfordshire.
Revered and reviled in turns by all who worked with her (including the three women mentioned above), Harley was a formidable lady. When she found she couldn’t keep the SWH transport unit under her thumb, she went to Monastir (which was still being heavily shelled) to do relief work, where she was killed by shrapnel in March 1917. Her death cause a huge stir in Britain and especially among the community in Salonika, where her funeral because a spectacle of officials and royalty. A Serbian minister gave a speech including the words: “Noble daughter of a great nation, though not a sister of ours by birth, still dear to us as a true sister…” There’s a memorial to her in the military cemetery at Salonika to this day.
I could go on. There’s more interesting women where they came from. There’s also more interesting women from every front. Let’s not stop there!