The Royaumont Newsletter Digitisation

INTRODUCTION

Panel on the Royaumont women in the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry

1918 marked the end of the First World War and the enfranchisement of some British women. As part of the Imperial War Museum’s #womenswork100 (link is external) initiative to discover more about the role and lives of women in the First World War, the RCPE has digitised its collection of post-war newsletters of the Scottish Women’s Hospital (SWH) at Royaumont. The SWH hospital at Royaumont was the largest British voluntary hospital, second nearest to the front line and the only one operated by women near the Western Front.  As such, it provides a microcosm for our understanding of the contribution of women doctors during that period. Included in the collection donated by Lady Eileen Crofton (who wrote a book about the hospital in 1997) were the newsletters of the Royaumont Association, formed to maintain the comradeship amongst the female staff post-war. The newsletters which date from 1928 until 1973 tell the story of the hospital, its staff and it patients though a narrative of war-work with pen-portraits of some of the key figures associated with the Hospital; not least Dr. Elsie Inglis and Dr. Frances Ivens.


WHAT WAS THE SCOTTISH WOMEN’S HOSPITAL (SWH)?

The SWH was conceived at a meeting of the Scottish Federation of Women’s Suffrage Societies just a few days after the outbreak of the First World War. It was the brainchild of Dr Elsie Inglis and Frances Iven, who saw the war as an opportunity to demonstrate what women could achieve in medicine unaided by men. Prior to the First World War, women doctors were limited to positions linked to women’s health, such as paediatrics, obstetrics and gynaecology, and few held consultant posts. The very first qualified Scottish female doctors played an active part during the First World War and with the exception of the work of Eileen Crofton there is little study of the association. The British War Office turned down the offer of association with the SWH and instead the SWH operated under the auspices of the French and Serbian Red Cross.

Frances Ivens at Royaumont, by Norah Neilson Gray, IWM

The Scottish Women’s Hospital at Royaumont was under the direction of the French Red Cross and located at Royaumont Abbey. The hospital, a formed Cistercian abbey, was started by Dr. Frances Ivens and Dr. Elsie Maud Inglis. The doctors at Royaumont dealt with patients from the Western Front and undertook pioneering research on the use of X-ray technology able to diagnose gas gangrene infections earlier than bacteriological reports and before the presentation of symptoms. The work by Dr. Ivens and Dr. Savill at Royaumont was not referred to in subsequent work on the use of x-ray for the diagnosis of gas gangrene.

There is no doubting the courage, skill and perseverance of the women who served at Royaumont. They retained a strong sisterly bond for decades afterwards, of which the newletters are evidence. Royaumont was the largest continuously-operating voluntary hospital in France at the end of the First World War.  Its mortality rates were lower than its army-run equivalents. No fewer than 30 of Royaumont workers were awarded the Croix de Guerre, including Sister Catherine O’Rorke, who had been arrested with Edith Cavell in Brussels in 1915. Nurse Cavell’s execution provoked an international outcry. More than 1,000 women and a few men worked for the SWHU. A list of the women who served can be found here: http://www.scarletfinders.co.uk/138.html

THE RESOURCE

Rich in detail, and balanced between narrative and personal testimony, the resources below provide a valuable insight into the nature of Female medical work during the First World War.

April 1928, No.1
November 1929, No.2
April 1930, No.3
May 1933, No.7
November 1934, No.9
March 1935, No.10
January 1936, No.1
January 1937, No.2
January 1938, No.3
January 1939, No.4
September 1941, No.5 part 1
September 1941, No.5 part 2
August 1943, No.7
February 1945, No.8
January 1947, No.10
January 1952, No.15
January 1954, No.17
January 1955, No.18
January 1953, No.16
January 1956, No.19
January 1957, No.30
January 1960, No.23
January 1961, No.24
January 1962, No.1
January 1963, No.2
January 1964, No.3
January 1965, No.4
January 1966, No.5
January 1967, No.6
January 1968, No.7
January 1969, No.8
January 1970, No.9
January 1972, No.11
January 1973, No.13