New play brings to life story of hospital pioneer Elsie Inglis

Elsie Inglis, medical pioneer, suffragist and Serbian war hero, is the subject of a play this weekend.
Elsie Inglis, medical pioneer, suffragist and Serbian war hero, is the subject of a play this weekend.
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A NEW play this weekend will tell the story of Edinburgh hospital pioneer and suffragist Elsie Inglis.

A NEW play this weekend will tell the story of Edinburgh hospital pioneer and suffragist Elsie Inglis.

Charting her life from birth to death, the play explores how she battled discrimination in her medical career, defied government advice to “go home and sit still” after she offered her services at the front in the First World War and campaigned for women’s right to vote but disapproved of using violence in the cause.

The play, entitled Elsie Inglis The Woman Who Would Not Sit Still, is thought to be the first dramatisation of the story of the surgeon who established Scotland’s first maternity hospital staffed by women and went on to set up field hospitals during the First World War in Belgium, France, Russia and Serbia.

Playwright Dave Dewar had never heard of Elsie Inglis until he was driving home one day and happened to hear a radio interview about her.

He said: “The interview was with Alan Cumming, a Scottish football supporter who went to Serbia for a Scotland-Serbia football match. He came across a plaque to Elsie Inglis and it said she was a great Scottish heroine. He was intrigued – he didn’t know anything about her but he came back and spent five years researching and now he’s an expert – an ordinary guy who saw a plaque in Serbia.”

He said Mr Cumming had been a great help in putting the play together.

“If I had not switched the radio on that day, none of this might ever have happened. The play is a recognition of an incredible woman.

“Dr Inglis ministered to many of Edinburgh’s poor women and children in her practice and small maternity hospital in the years before the Great War. If the poor could not pay, she often waived the fee.

“As well as her medical career, she was an active suffragist, becoming Honorary Secretary of Edinburgh’s National Society for Women’s Suffrage. She opposed the violence of the Suffragettes.”

After war broke out in 1914, Elsie Inglis approached the War Office, offering to provide a unique all-women medical service for the war front. Her proposal was turned down and she was famously told “My good lady go home and sit still”.

But instead she approached the other Allied nations, who welcomed her offer and so the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service was established, with its headquarters in Edinburgh’s New Town.

Sadly, Elsie Inglis developed cancer and died in 1917 just a day after returning home from the front.

The play includes music, some of it specially written for the show, from a group of eight folk musicians.

Mr Dewar said relatives of some of the women who served with Elsie Inglis in the First World War are due to be in the audience for the performance. The play is at Augustine United Church, George IV Bridge, on Sunday at 7.30pm.

Tickets are available from 01563-852067 or http://www.cultural-connections.co.uk/events.html.