THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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13 posts categorized "Modern history"

07 March 2016

A British Woman Soldier in First World War Serbia: Flora Sandes

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Among the many accounts written by foreigners who witnessed Serbia’s stoic retreat in 1915 were quite a number by women. Most of them were there in some medical capacity, including Cora Josephine “Jo” Gordon, who arrived in Serbia as an assistant to a Red Cross unit, along with her husband. In their “day jobs”, they were actually artists. Jo Gordon seems to have been tomboyish and highly resourceful. She learned Serbian quickly, outwitted exploitative inn owners during their hard journey to the coast, visited the frontline, and washed her adventures down with large shots of Rakiya.

Flora Sandes followed a course that was more unusual again. Having first served as a nurse, she joined the Serbian Army for her own safety during the retreat, and became the only British woman officially enlisted as a soldier in the First World War. (Russian, Serbian and [Austro-Hungarian] Ukrainian women also served, on different sides of the conflict). Flora’s own book is An English woman-sergeant in the Serbian Army, written in 1916 to rally support for the small country.

Flora_Sandes_in_uniform
Flora Sandes in Serbian Army Uniform (image from Wikimedia Commons)

When the retreat across the mountains began, Flora was as fussy as anyone from her well-heeled background, and must have been quite alarming. In her memoir, she recounts that she threw the furniture out of a scruffy hotel room and set about scrubbing the floor before erecting her own camp-bed. Later, she would distance herself from the male soldiers when they camped in the open air, relenting finally when she realised that her doing so constituted a security risk, as an ambush party might spot her.

Flora Sandes, wedding
Flora Sandes (top left), attending a traditional Serbian wedding. Photograph from her second book The Autobiography of a Woman Soldier (London, 1927) 9084.df.40

Following an injury incurred in combat in 1916, Sandes returned to medical work, but was not officially demobilised until 1922. She went on to marry a Russian émigré, Yuri Yudenitch, and the pair lived in France and then in Belgrade – where many White Russian exiles found sanctuary after the Revolution – until the Second World War. In German-occupied Belgrade, her husband died of a heart condition, and Flora spent almost three years living in poverty. After the liberation of the city, she returned to the UK, still a forceful character who chain-smoked and ploughed her own furrow.

Flora Sandes, Belgrade
Flora Sandes as a Lieutenant of the Serbian Army in Belgrade. Frontispiece from The Autobiography of a Woman Soldier

She spent her final years living near her family in Rhodesia and Surrey, and died in 1956 at the age of 82 after making a final visit to Serbia for a reunion of her old comrades of 1915. In addition to her two autobiographies (one now translated into Serbian), she is the subject of two full biographies and a Radio 4 documentary from 1971, which can be found and listened to among the Library’s sound recordings.

Flora Sandes stamp

In commemoration of the war’s centenary, Serbia Post and the British Embassy in Belgrade have recently issued a set of six  stamps featuring British women who worked in Serbia between 1914 and 1918. A set has been donated to the Library, as Milan Grba explained in a recent blog post. Flora Sandes (right) is among the women honoured, a redoubtable pioneer of equality alongside those whose medical and humanitarian work did so much to gain recognition for women in fields once reserved for men.

Janet Ashton, Western European Languages Cataloguing Team Manager

References/further reading

Jan and Cora Gordon, The Luck of Thirteen: wanderings and flight through Montenegro and Serbia (London, 1916) 9083.ff.3

Alan Burgess, The lovely sergeant: the life of Flora Sandes. (London, 1965). X.639/721

Louise Miller, A fine brother: the life of Captain Flora Sandes (Richmond, 2012) YC.2013.a.2462

Flora Sandes, An English woman-sergeant in the Serbian Army (London, 1916) 09082.aa.25. (Serbian translation by Spiro Radojčić, Engleskinja u srpskoj vojsci Flora Sandes (New York, 1995). YF.2005.a.27142)

 

25 February 2016

Strike!! Strike!! Strike!!

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In the poem Razzia (‘Manhunt’) the narrator is awake at night. He listens to the sounds around him, thinking about his family lying asleep in the house. Suddenly he hears a lorry driving down the street and coming to a halt.  Listening intently, his heart racing, he tries to gauge where the lorry has stopped. Then, the lorry moves on and they are safe- for now.  We do not get to know the fate of a neighbour family who may not have been so lucky. The British Library’s copy of this poem is one of only 25 made, clandestinely printed by Fokke Timmermans and donated to the Library in 1969 by Mr. Timmermans himself.

FebStak01RazziaCup
Razzia
, anonymous poem. (The Hague, 1944). British Library Cup.406.d.9

Manhunts happened up and down occupied countries, as a way to arrest and deport Jewish citizens.

When, on 22 and 23 of February 1941 the German Ordnungspolizei  sealed off part of the Jewish quarter in Amsterdam and rounded up 425 Jewish men, aged between 20 and 35, in the first major manhunt on Dutch occupied territory during the war, the people of Amsterdam sprang into action.

FebStak02planjewishqrt
Plan, showing the sealed off area in the Jewish quarter in Amsterdam, with the Jonas Daniël

Meijerplein.  Reproduced in:  B. A. Sijes, De Februaristaking. (Amsterdam, 1978) X:702/3672


FebStak03menroundedup
Jewish men held by Ordnungspolizei on the Jonas Daniel Meijerplein. Photos taken by a German onlooker, of which the developer made extra copies. Reproduced in: Gerard Maas, Kroniek van de Februari-staking 1941. (Amsterdam, 1961) 9105.ee.47.

On Monday 24 February members of the clandestine Communist Party Netherlands held a public meeting at the Jonas Daniël Meijer Plein. This was where the Jewish men had been brought together to be transported to the camps Buchenwald and Mauthausen, via the oldest transit camp on Dutch soil, Schoorl. Most did not return. 

The Communists called all workers in Amsterdam to a general strike, to begin on the following day, 25 February.

FebStak04 1941
Pamphlet calling a strike. Reproduced in: Gerard Maas, 1941 bloeiden de rozen in februari. (Amsterdam, 1991) YA.1994.a.8919.

Tram drivers from the municipal transport company were the first to answer this call, so when no trams were running Amsterdam citizens knew the strike was on. Workers from the dockyards soon followed.

Civil servants were not allowed to strike, but at least 4,400 employees of the Amsterdam city council defied this rule.  Surrounding cities as far as Utrecht joined in.

Once the Germans had recovered from their surprise they declared that anyone who would continue to strike would face the death penalty. Still, the following day the strike went on. The Ordnungspolizei mercilessly struck down the strike. Nine people were shot dead, more than 40 were wounded and 200 people, some strikers, some not, were arrested and many mistreated whilst under arrest. By 27 February the strike was over.

Both individuals and institutions were severely punished for their actions. Amsterdam civil servants suffered a pay-cut and city councils were fined between 500,000 and 2,500,000 guilders.  Some paid the ultimate price, in particular the men commemorated in the most famous resistance poem of the war, De Achttien Dooden ( ‘The Eighteen Dead’), by Jan Campert, journalist and poet. These were the leaders and members of the resistance and the Communist Party who had called for the strike. They were arrested and executed by firing squad on 13 March 1941.


FebStak05Achttien
Jan Campert,  De Achttien Dooden, first published anonymously 1941/42. The British Library’s edition (Cup.406.d.28) dates from 1943 and has the illustration by Coen van Hart (‘Braveheart’), pseudonym of Fedde Weidema.

The February strike was the first, and some say only, open mass protest by non-Jewish people in Europe against the deportation of the Jews. 

In 1946 the first memorial for the victims of the February strike took place at the Jonas Daniël Meijer Plein, as it is still done.  In 1952 Queen Wilhelmina unveiled the memorial ‘The Dock worker’ by Mari Andriessen and tonight people will gather there for the 75th anniversary of the February strike. This will be broadcast live by the NPO. Lest we forget.

FebStak06dedokwerker
The Dock Worker (image from http://www.dedokwerker.nl/februaristaking.html

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections.


References and further reading:

L. de Jong, De Bezetting, Tekst en beeldmateriaal van de uitzendingen van de Nederlandse Televisie-Stichting over het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden in de Tweede Wereldoorlog. 1940-1945  (Amsterdam, 1966). X.702/378.

O.C. A. van Lidth de Jeude, Londense dagboeken van Jhr.ir. O.C.A. van Lidth de Jeude januari 1940 - mei 1945, bewerkt door A.E. Kersten, met medewerking van Eric Th. Mos. (the Hague, 2001). 9405.p [Kleine Ser No.95-96] (A digital edition is freely available at: http://resources.huygens.knaw.nl/retroboeken/lidt/#source=1&page=392&view=imagePane)

J. Presser, Ondergang (The Hague, 1965) W.P.2258/10. (English translation by Arnold Pomerans : Ashes in the Wind (London, 1968).  X.709/7096.

B.A. Sijes, De februari-staking (Amsterdam, 1978). X:702/3672 (With English summary)

A. Simoni, Publish and be free:  a catalogue of clandestine books printed in the Netherlands, 1940-1945, in the British Library (London, 1975. 2725.aa.1

On the web:

On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the February strike the National Institute for War-Holocaust and Genocide Studies ( NIOD ) is running a special website on the event: http://www.niod.knaw.nl/nl/nieuws/februaristaking-de-collecties-van-het-niod

The Amsterdam City Archives is calling for the general public to send in photographs of family members and friends who took part in the strike, to put faces to numbers: https://www.amsterdam.nl/stadsarchief/english/

Dutch Public Broadcasting Company (NPO) runs a feature on the strike and will broadcast the commemoration live tonight (25 February 2016): http://www.npo.nl/artikelen/75-jaar-na-de-februaristaking

The memorial De Dokwerker has its own website with a treasure trove of information (in Dutch only): http://www.dedokwerker.nl/februaristaking.html

14 February 2016

Serbia celebrates British heroines of the First World War

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The British Library has gratefully received a donation of a set of postage stamps which commemorate the role played by British female doctors, nurses and humanitarian aid volunteers in Serbia during the First World War.

British Heroines in WW1 Serbia
The Serbian Mail  issued the commemorative stamps last December in partnership with the British Embassy in Belgrade which donated a set to the British Library. BBC Scotland recently reported on this initiative, while the British Embassy in Belgrade dedicated a Facebook page  to the commemoration of the First World War events in Serbia.

British Heroines in WW1 Serbia_2
 The stamps tell the story of the British women who arrived to Serbia to assist the wounded and sick in war. They came individually or as part of two organisations which were set up in Britain at the beginning of the war to assist the allied countries in wartime. The Scottish Women’s Hospitals was founded by the Scottish Federation of Women’s Suffrage Societies in Edinburgh through the efforts of Elsie Inglis, and the Serbian Relief Fund was founded in London by the journalist Bertram Christian, among other British experts on the Balkans.

 British Heroines in WW1 Serbia_4Stamps showing Flora Sandes (left) and Katherine MacPhail (right). Sandes (1876-1956) was officially recruited to the Serbian Army in 1915 and promoted to Sergeant in 1916. She was the only British woman in active military service in the First World War and the only female officer in the Serbian Army. MacPhail (1997-1974) worked at the Military Hospital in Belgrade during the First World War. After the war she remained in Serbia where she founded the country’s first children’s hospital in 1921.

The collection of postage stamps is accompanied by biographical details of six British women, four of whom were members of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals, a voluntary organisation staffed entirely by women. The portraits of the women, together with the images, present instances of their work in Serbia and on the Salonika front.

British Heroines in WW1 Serbia_6
Stamps showing Isabel Hutton (left) and Elsie Inglis (right). Hutton (1887-1960) worked on the Salonika Front, transferring to Vranje in 1918 where she treated victims of the typhus and Spanish flu epidemics and, in 1919, helped to found a civilian hospital. Inglis (1860-1917) was the founder of Scottish Women’s Hospitals and established the first war hospital in Serbia. She refused to leave the hospital when the Serbian Army was forced to retreat, and was imprisoned and later repatriated.

The Serbian Mail issued the commemorative postage stamps in Serbian Cyrillic and Latin scripts in parallel English translation with captions in German and French.

The Serbian army and civilians suffered terribly from the war, cold, hunger and infectious diseases. The Scottish Women’s Hospitals and the Serbian Relief Fund medical units were among the first to arrive to Serbia to attend and nurse the sick and wounded. They also, together with their Serbian colleagues, doctors and hospital orderlies, gave their lives in the service of others and were among the early victims of war and disease in Serbia.

British Heroines in WW1 Serbia_8
Stamps showing Evelina Haverfield (left) and Elizabeth Ross (right). Haverfield (1867-1920) came to Serbia in 1915. Like Elsie Inglis, she was imprisoned and repatriated after the retreat of the Serbian Army but continued to work organising the Serbian Relief fund and later helped to establish soup kitchens on the Salonika Front. After the war she opened a home for war orphans in Bajina Bašta. (On Elizabeth Ross, see below.)

Elizabeth Ross, who came to Serbia from Persia where she had been working as a doctor, died in the Serbian typhus epidemic of February 1915. Dimitrije Antić, the director of the hospital where Dr Ross worked, left this account of her:

It is my duty, and the place is right, to mention with great respect the name of a foreign colleague from Scotland, Miss Elizabeth Ross, who came to help as a volunteer in the most difficult moments for my hospital. She tirelessly treated soldiers sick with typhus, fearless for her life, day and night. Everyone around her was falling down with typhus; she saw that very well and she was aware that the same destiny awaited her; but, despite my appeals and warnings to look after herself, she heroically performed her grave and noble duty till the end. Unfortunately, the inevitable came quickly: Miss Ross contracted typhus. She was even more courageous in sickness: severely ill, she lay quietly in her bed in a very modest hospital ward. Her only complaint was that she couldn’t provide medical assistance any longer to our sick soldiers! Indeed, one of the rare shining examples of medical sacrifice. She is buried in Kragujevac town cemetery.

Upon hearing the news of her death in Serbia, the residents of her home town of Tain in Scotland raised funds for the memorial ‘Dr Elizabeth Ross Bed’ at the Kragujevac Military Hospital where she served, and for surgical and medical needs in Serbia. The Serbian daily Samouprava informed its readers how Dr Ross managed six wards in the hospital without nurses, relying solely on the help of hospital orderlies. “There was no wood for cooking or for heating, something was always missing; one day there was no bread,another there were no eggs or milk and so on.” On the day of her funeral service all local stores were closed and large numbers of the people of Kragujevac came out to pay their respects.

The tradition of respect has been kept alive to the present day. Each year on 14 February at noon Kragujevac remembers Dr Elizabeth Ross.

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South Eastern European Collections

References/further reading:

A History of the Scottish Women's Hospitals. Edited by Eva Shaw McLaren. (London, 1919). 9082.bbb.32.

Elisabeth Macbean Ross, A Lady Doctor in Bakhtiari Land. Edited by Janet N. MacBean Ross. (London, 1921). 010076.de.28

D. Antić, ‘Pegavi tifus u kragujevačkoj i rezervnoj vojnoj bolnici 1914-15’. In Vladimir Stanojević, ed., Istorija srpskog vojnog saniteta (Belgrade, 1925). YF.2011.a.22007.

Želimir Dj. Mikić, Ever yours sincerely: the life and work of Dr Katherine S. MacPhail. (Cambridge, 2007). YK.2008.b.4740. Serbian original: Uvek vaša: život i delo dr Ketrin Makfejl. (Novi Sad, 1998). YF.2015.a.24057.

Louise Miller, A fine brother: the life of Captain Flora Sandes. (Richmond, 2012). YC.2013.a.2462.

Ž. Mikić, A. Lešić, ‘Dr Elizabeta Ros – heroina i žrtva Prvog svetskog rata u Srbiji’. Srpski arhiv za celokupno lekarstvo, 2012, vol. 140, 7/8, pp. 537-542. Available via SCIndeks