She defied instruction from the War Office to return from the frontline, was lauded by Churchill as a heroine that “will shine in history”, was a staunch advocate of women’s rights and now a memorial to Elsie Inglis will be unveiled in her home city on the 100th anniversary of her death.
Dr Inglis, who set up a medical college in Edinburgh for women after becoming one of the country’s first female doctors, was instrumental in setting up the Scottish Women’s Hospitals during the First World War, staffed solely by women to help the Allied war effort on the frontline.
She died on November 26, 1917, the day after arriving back into Britain from Russia where she had been working with a Scottish Women’s Hospital unit.
Now her extraordinary achievements – as well as the 15 names of the women who died as a result of their duty to the Scottish Women’s Hospitals – will be celebrated in the memorial at Edinburgh Central Library, which has been organised by the Scotland’s War project.
Yvonne McEwen, the director of the project, said the plaque was long overdue. “I think people take her for granted. Everyone assumes there is a memorial.
“What is even more galling is that they name streets after her in Serbia. The Serbians love her but her own home country has not remembered her. It’s shameful.”
But she said the memorial, which will stand on the first floor landing, will go some way to redressing the balance. “It will be there for people to read and learn about her,” she said.
The memorial, which will be unveiled on November 23, has been designed and sponsored by Black Box Productions and is inscribed with a quote from Winston Churchill about Dr Inglis, which reads: “She will shine forever in history”.
The names of the 15 women who died due to their service in the Scottish Women’s Hospital include Dr Sybil Leonie Lewis, a female surgeon who is the only woman on the war memorial in Old St Paul’s Church in Edinburgh, and Kingussie-born Evelina Haverfield who served in Romania and Serbia, where she founded a children’s health centre.
The funeral held at St Giles’ Cathedral for Dr Inglis was described as an “occasion of an impressive public tribute” according to a local paper.
She was memorialised by lending her name to the maternity hospital in the Capital, the Elsie Inglis Memorial Hospital, which bore her name until it closed in 1988.
Dr McEwen added: “This was a very formidable woman. She knew what she and women like her could offer despite all the obstacles in her way. More than anything else, I love her sheer determination and the fact that she wouldn’t take no for an answer. She was an inspiration to other doctors and a great humanitarian.”