The remarkable story of the hospital and those who staffed it … fully equipped and staffed entirely by women … was set up at Royaumont, north of Paris, by the formidable and indefatigable surgeon, Miss Frances Ivens.
The story of Dr Elsie Inglis and her service in Serbia during the first world war is well known; but few know of a hospital at Royaumont which was set up by the same voluntary organization which she created in Edinburgh. Elsie Inglis raised funds in August 1914 to help the war effort and offered a hospital, fully equipped and staffed entirely by women, to the War Office and to the Red Cross. Both spurned the offer but if was accepted by both the French and Serbian governments. Dr Inglis went to Serbia but another hospital was set up at Royaumont, north of Paris, by the formidable and indefatigable surgeon, Miss Frances Ivens.
The hospital which was in continuous service from January 1915 until March 1919 was situated not far from the front line. For a time, it had an advance unit so near the lines that it was overrun and had to be hurriedly evacuated. Throughout the war, nearly 10,000 badly wounded troops, mainly French, were treated.
The remarkable story of the hospital and those who staffed it is told, to be a large extent in the words of the participants in The Women of Royaumont, A Scottish Women’s Hospital on the Western Front by Dr Eileen Crofton. It is a tale of great courage, endurance, skill and humanity—courage in plenty with surgeons operating by candlelight while German bombers were flying low overhead; lady ‘chauffeurs’ ferrying the wounded to the hospital along shell-holed roads, sometimes under fire and in darkness; endurance as they had to cope with
cruel weather, bitter cold, poor sanitation and, perhaps above all, lack of sleep. In the month of June 1918, there were 1240 admissions and 891 operations and the surgeons had no more than 3 hours sleep our of 24 for much of that time. Skill was evident since the overall mortality in these mangled patients torn apart by shells and bombs, wounds contaminated by clothing and mud and gas gangrene, was under 2% in days before blood transfusion or antibiotics; and humanity, mingled with humour, as the ladies devotedly tended wounded French, Senegalese, Arab, nor to mention a few British and German, soldiers and French civilians when there was a lull in the fighting. They also provided parties with fancy dress, singing, games and small gifts for all at Halloween and Christmas.
One is left with a feeling of respect and admiration for all involved and perhaps especially for Miss Ivens who not only coped with the major part of the surgical work load but also had to deal with the many organizational and bureaucratic problems which beset them from time to time.
Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh