Serbia honours life of war doctor Elsie Inglis

Elsie Inglis and, below, the plaque in her honour. Picture: comp
Elsie Inglis and, below, the plaque in her honour. Picture: comp
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THE British Residence in Belgrade has been named Elsie Inglis House in honour of the pioneering Edinburgh doctor and her work in Serbia during the First World War.

Dr Inglis is regarded as a heroine in Serbia for her role in setting up much-needed hospital units at the height of the conflict and helping to save the lives of thousands of patients.

She was one of more than 600 British women who went to the country as part of the Allied medical missions.

British ambassador Denis Keefe and Serbian president Tomislav Nikolic unveiled a memorial plaque to mark both the 100th anniversary of the war and International Women’s Day.

Dr Inglis (1864-1917), who studied medicine at Edinburgh University when it was still unusual for women to do so, had set up a women’s hospital in the Capital before the outbreak of war.

She defied advice from the British government and went over to the continent to set up female-staffed field hospitals close to the front line. Tens of thousands were helped by the hospitals she set up in Serbia, Ukraine and Romania, acting with the support of the French and Serbian governments.

She was also a strong advocate of women’s rights, and a leading member of the suffragette movement in Scotland.

At the unveiling ceremony, Ambassador Keefe said: “Elsie Inglis was one of the first women in Scotland who had finished higher education and was a pioneer of medicine.

“She fought energetically against prejudice, for social and political emancipation of women. She was also a tireless volunteer, courageous 
organiser of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals and a dedicated humanitarian.

“Unfortunately Elsie Inglis didn’t live long enough to see the triumph of some of her ideas, but she has had a tremendous influence on social trends in our country.

“In Scotland she became a doctor, in Serbia she became a saint.”

Edinburgh West Liberal Democrat MP Mike Crockart said it was “excellent” to see Dr Inglis getting the recognition she deserved.

He said: “Dr Inglis helped to save the lives of tens of thousands of people during the First World War and this is a fitting tribute to her vital work.

“In Serbia, Dr Inglis and her colleagues are regarded as heroes and saints and I have repeatedly called for the UK to properly recognise Dr Inglis and the other unacknowledged British heroines who set up the Scottish Women’s Hospitals during the First World War.

“Whilst Dr Inglis’ contribution is widely recognised in Serbia, and by the Edinburgh and Lothians Health Foundation through a grants scheme in her name, I still believe there is a need for the service and sacrifice of Dr Inglis and the Scottish Women’s Hospitals to be recognised more widely in the UK.”

In December 2013, restoration of Elsie Inglis’s gravestone in the grounds of Dean Cemetery was carried out after an Evening News campaign highlighted the shocking state of the tombstone.