THERE were nurses, of course, and doctors, surgeons and radiographers, chauffeurs and cooks.

Some had medical backgrounds, many did not – there were artists, actors, teachers and sportswomen among the ranks.

They came, more than 1500 of them, to join the Scottish Women’s Hospital for Foreign Service, set up by Dr Elsie Inglis upon the outbreak of the First World War.

Famously told to ‘go home and sit still’ when she offered her services to the war office, Dr Inglis instead set up a series of independent hospital units staffed by women. The first two were set up in France and Serbia and eventually, there were 14, across Europe and Russia.

Conditions were often very difficult as the women battled outbreaks of disease and inclement weather. Initially, women were recruited from Scotland but were later drawn from countries around the globe. As early as 1915, the service included personnel from America, South Africa and New Zealand.

Glasgow City Archives, in the Mitchell Library, holds some records from the Scottish Women’s Hospitals, including one Nurse Louisa Jessie Jordan, who was born in Maryhill in 1878.

Glasgow Times:

The field hospital set up in Glasgow’s SEC to cope with patients suffering from COVID-19 was named in her honour earlier this year.

Archivist Lynsey Green explains: “Louisa began her nursing career in Quarrier’s Homes and joined the first Serbian unit at the start of the war.

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“She passed from typhus herself in March 1915 after treating many typhus patients. We hold her personnel file, which includes a letter between administrator Mrs Laurie and insurer James Partson & Co dealing with the settlement of Jordan’s salary.”

While libraries remain closed, Lynsey and her colleagues – Michael Gallagher, Barbara Neilson, senior archivist Irene O’Brien and Nerys Tunnicliffe, are running Ask the Archivist, which gives people the chance to ask questions about the city collections.

Glasgow Times:

It’s part of #glasgowlifegoeson which highlights the fantastic resources available online until museums and libraries re-open. More details are available on the Glasgow City Archives Facebook page.

Lynsey adds: “We hold many personnel files for the Scottish Women’s Hospitals, but not all survive.”

Funding the units was a hard task.

“The annual cost to maintain a unit bed was £50 while a motor ambulance required £350,” says Lynsey.

Glasgow Times:

“Public appeals and talks were an important source of funds. On return visits to the UK, personnel such as Vera L Holme, a driver for the transport units in Serbia, gave lectures to help raise money. The SWH also employed two women to undertake fundraising tours around the world.”

Some men did serve in the units, often as chauffeurs or orderlies, although no role was exclusively for men – the women did everything.

Glasgow Times:

Lynsey says: “Many of the woman who served had varied backgrounds including artists and some undertook non-medical roles.”

After the First World War the units disbanded. Their affairs were wound up in 1922 and the remaining funds used to build the Elsie Inglis Memorial Maternity Hospital in Edinburgh.

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