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Scottish Women's Hospital (1917)


Main image of Scottish Women's Hospital (1917)
35mm, black and white, silent, 435 feet

Glimpses of the work of the Scottish Women's Hospital at Villers Cotterets, France, including details of a shrapnel-removing operation.

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The full title of this short documentary is Scottish Womens Hospital (N.U.W.S.S) Work at First Line Hospital at Villers Cotterets France, which neatly sets both the subject and the scene. The initials stand for National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, which provided financial support for a series of initiatives put forward by Dr Elsie Inglis (1864-1917) of the Scottish Women's Suffrage Federation.

Dr Inglis strongly believed that women should be allowed to work in mobile hospital units tending soldiers on the Western Front. The Scottish War Office was initially opposed, but she had a warmer reception from the French government, which invited her to send a team to France just three months after the war started in 1914. By the end of the year, she had set up a permanent hospital at the Abbaye de Royaumont. The following year she led a medical delegation to the Balkans, a visit recorded by the Topical Budget newsreel 'British Nurses in Serbia' (222-1, 24/11/1915), and conducted many similar trips to Salonika, Romania, Malta, Corsica and Russia, where she was based at the time that she contracted a fatal illness towards the end of 1917.

This film, whose production company is not known, records the work of her second hospital, which opened earlier that year. It offers a series of glimpses of the staff of the hospital in action, starting with establishing shots of the buildings, and continuing with the arrival and unloading of an ambulance, patients admitted to the ward and taken to the mobile X-ray car, and nurses feeding their charges, an operation, patients receiving letters from home, and a group portrait of the hospital staff.

The most informative part of the film shows the extraction of shrapnel from a soldier's leg, and although the camera keeps a tactful distance (presumably to avoid getting in the way), the extraction, stitching and bandaging processes are clearly depicted before the patient is wheeled back to the ward.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
Complete film (9:39)
Topical Budget 222-1: British Nurses in Serbia (1915)