Alexander Murray Drennan – pioneer of Eusol


Alexander Murray Drennan – or Murray to his friends – was born in Glasgow on 4th January 1884, and grew up in Helensburgh before coming to Edinburgh in 1901 to study medicine. Murray was a keen letter writer, and his letters to his sweetheart ‘Nan’ (Marion Galbraith, who would later become his wife) give an insight into the life of a young aspiring medical student:

Our first class begins at 8am so we have to be up betimes in the morning. From 8 to 10 I have anatomy and then at 11 I go over to the Infirmary; nominally we leave there at 1pm but on Operation days, twice a week at least, it is often 3 before I get away as I have the pleasure of being the instrument clerk and as such have to see after the instruments.

– GD9/45

It wasn’t all hard work, though. Murray’s letters to Nan and his family recount evenings spent at enjoying Edinburgh’s cultural offerings (“I went to see Faust on Monday night. It is rather a ‘creepy’ sort of opera but the music is very fine”); attending dinners (“at night there was a complimentary dinner given to Professor Beattie in the Caledonian Hotel … Beattie was very popular when he was here and no wonder for he was an exceptionally nice man and knew his work thoroughly”) and afternoons spent playing tennis and golf with fellow students as well as professors (“Professor Schӓfer had the goodness to ask me down to North Berwick to golf with him … a most enjoyable day’s golf in the most delightful weather. We went back to the house and had tea and then I had just time to get the 6.43 train back”).

Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh Residents, Summer 1907. Drennan is seated front row, far right.

After graduating MB ChB in 1906, Murray took up a practical apprenticeship as a Resident of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. In between visiting patients and supervising the various nurses, clerks, dressers and medical students who attended the wards, the Residents made time to enjoy themselves (you can find out more about their antics over on the LHSA blog). In one letter to Nan, Murray related a night out for the ‘Mess’:

RIE Residents on a bus, ready for an outing.

Friday … evening at 9pm, the Mess having chartered a visitor bus (& driver) set out for Peebles. It created quite a sensation when at the appointed time one of these large buses labelled “Jeffery’s Lager” rolled up to the door & we all embarked. The inside was converted into smoking room, saloon bar, while the upper deck was occupied by the sightseers. It was very funny going out Dalkeith Rd, several people tried to get on board thinking it was a public conveyance, needless to say their attempts to mount our machine were not encouraged by word or deed. The run out was delightful as it was a clear warm evening & the road lies through pretty country. We got to Peebles shortly after 11pm & found supper all ready for us at the ‘Cross Keys’ inn. As usual the Mess meeting was constituted & we did full justice to the repast, reembarking again about 12.40am.”

– GD9/46

Following his residency Murray stayed close to home, working in the by-now familiar Pathology Department of the University of Edinburgh. When war broke out in 1914, he signed up as an official Pathologist with the Royal Army Medical Corps (R.A.M.C), and in 1915 he had to postpone an imminent appointment as the first full-time Professor of Pathology at the University of Otago in New Zealand and instead make his way to the R.A.M.C. Depot in Aldershot. In a letter home dated October 1915, he describes some of the men he will serving with and the set-up of their team:

The staff seem all very decent men, one or two are well over forty & must have been in practice. There are several Edinburgh graduates amongst them … on the whole I think we should work well together … There are two or three surgical specialists, one medical specialist, several radiologists, several anaesthetists and one bacteriologist … there is a little man Brown who has done a little in that way & I shall try & get him on to help, but he does not profess much technical knowledge!


In early November 1915 Murray’s unit was deployed to Mudros, on the island of Greece. He would later describe how this previously “bare, stony island” was overtaken by military personnel:

As the occupation spread the whole of the harbour side of the island was dotted with tents from Mudros East to Condia on the west. It was a shifting population, today 10000, next week perhaps 60000. The only permanent fixtures, so to speak, being the various H.Q.s, the Base depots and the Hospitals.

To the north a little outside Mudros East were several stationary hospitals situated on a sun-baked flat, and there they bore the burden of the day; blinded with dust and flies and crowded up with cases of dysentery, the staff often sick, they cheerily toiled along. In the neighbourhood also were numerous camps of combatant units; and one bright spot, facetiously known as the “dogs’ home”, where extra medical officers were kept on the chain and supplied as required to the Peninsula or to units on the island.

– GD9/38

Murray’s letters home to Nan and their children from this time paint rather a relaxed picture of life in war time. Reading them, one is left with the impression that he only wanted to recount activities that his wife would be familiar with, rather than the full realities of a life in an overseas field hospital. One letter, for example, describes how they spend their evenings: “After dinner we had our usual games at whist. It is quite an institution and we have played every evening after dinner, always Richards and Thuilliers against the Colonel and me, and so far the games have been very even”. In another letter, Murray talks of attending a garden party: “it was just quiet tea in the Fergusons’ little garden, a shady spot with palms, & bougainvillea, & such things growing about. … We had tea & chatted & then left in small batches”.

Alexander Murray Drennan in Cairo, 1915

By 1915 some of Murray correspondents had already been stationed abroad for some time, and his incoming letters give insights into some very different military experiences. Murray’s younger brother James Stewart Drennan (who had joined the Royal Horse and Field Artillery in 1912) described life in Salonika and a close encounter with a German zeppelin:

It has been beastly hot here again the last few days and we have now chucked working in the middle of the day, instead we lie on our beds in a more or less nude condition and curse the flies, luckily it is still nice and cool at night.

Salonica [sic] had another visit from a Zepp. three or four days ago, just before daylight. All the guns and searchlights in the place got on to it at once and it was brought down before it had a chance of dropping any bombs. It came down in the marshes at the mouth of the Vardar River and the men were captured, so were felt rather bucked at having bagged a Zepp in this corner of the world.

– GD9/10

A letter from Tom Graham Brown, physiologist and mountaineer, gives an insight into the life of medical personnel at home:

Write me a decent letter and tell me all your news. I wish I was out there with you. I am at present fixed in this hospital which is one for shock cases – mostly men who are pretty badly shaken or bad mentally after bombardments. Very many of them get well – tho’ we get a good many early G.P.I’s before they are diagnosed.

I wish all the same that I could get out. It isn’t any catch being in this country. However I must trust to luck.

– GD9/4

Yet another perspective was provided by Dr John Fraser (later Prof. Sir John Fraser, Principal of University of Edinburgh). Dr Fraser was stationed in Northern France, and his letters describe the long, difficult days the staff there endured:

Lately we have been deluged with work: you can probably imagine what Monday was like. I was in the theatre from 10am to 12 midnight, and in that time there were 6 craniotomies: an amputation and 2 gas gangrene: in addition to others. One doesn’t feel much inclined for reading or writing after such days.

– GD9/100

There were benefits to working in such tough conditions, however. War often brings about significant advances in technology and medicine: as well as the greater incentive to improve the health of fighting forces, the need to take risks and experiment can also increase.

Many of the battles of WW1 took place on muddy farmland, and it could sometimes be days before a soldier was transported to a clearing hospital for comprehensive treatment. This meant the risk of already-traumatic wounds becoming infected was high, with gangrene claiming many lives.

For some time prior to his deployment Murray had been working with colleagues in the Pathology Department at the University of Edinburgh “to find an antiseptic which could be applied as a first dressing in the field to prevent sepsis”[1], and in 1915 they published a paper in the British Medical Journal on their experiments with ‘Eusol’, or Edinburgh University Solution of Lime. This was a combination of bleaching powder and boric acid, and early experiments both in the wards and in the field showed great success at reducing infection and speeding up healing.

In gathering accounts of these experiments, Murray relied on other colleagues who were using the Eusol treatment. This letter from Dr Fraser sets out the dilemma faced by many front-line surgeons, and his experience using Eusol:

Since I last wrote you I have had a run of gas gangrene cases, all of them I have treated with Eusol and in each case I have been thoroughly satisfied with the result. With one case I was exceedingly impressed. Lt. Col. —- had been infected 5 days before admission to the Hospital – on admission there was most gangrene to the lower of the knee: from this knee to the groin there was the gas infection of the tissues which precedes the tissue necrosis. One was faced with three possibilities – 1. Leaving him alone to die 2. Doing a flapless amputation at the hip joint: a mutilating operation from which few recover 3. Amputation through the centre of the thigh, in other words, through the centre of the gas infected area, and risking it.

I chose the last: I did the operation under Special Anaesthesia and as I was doing the operation I remarked that it ought to satisfy the criteria as regards the use of Eusol. I amputated through the thigh and not only so but I made flaps and partly closed the wound, a thing one had never dared to attempt previously… The result was a complete success: no trace of gangrene appeared subsequently.


A further hurdle to be overcome in wartime was the difficulty in communicating such advances. Recognising the delays to the mail that could occur, Murray devised a system for himself and Nan:

I sent off my last to you on Sunday afternoon, & I labelled it no.1 as I explained so that you would know by the number if a letter was missing, of course I have sent several to you before I began the numbering. This is a recapitulation in case you didn’t get my last letter.


Murray also kept a small diary in which he recorded letters sent and received – an absolute dream for archivists and researchers!

There are roughly 6 archive boxes of letters like this – thankfully Drennan had a system by which to organise them!

No such system was in place for the medical men, however, and correspondence over a number of weeks between Murray, J. Lorrain Smith and Fraser details the somewhat arduous process of getting an article published.

I am sorry to have been so lazy in getting this note away, but during the last week the pace of work has increased and although [things are quieter] at present, if I do not get these away now it may be a long while before I have another opportunity.

– Fraser to Drennan, 17 Sep 1915

For the past fortnight I have been cut off from all correspondence and your letter and the manuscript were awaiting me here on my return. I have handed the manuscript to the Colonel and he has approved of it: he forwards it to the DMS [Director of Medical Services] and who if he approves will forward to the War Office: the WO will notify the BMJ or Dr Fletcher to proceed with the publication. The ways of the army are wonderful but there they are!

– Fraser to Drennan, 5 Dec 1915

By 1916 Eusol was an established means for treating septic wounds, and even today[1] hypochlorus acid forms a backbone to attempts to accelerate wound healing.

After being discharged from service in 1916, Murray was finally able to take up his place in New Zealand, with his wife and children joining him shortly after. They remained there until 1929 when Professor Drennan took up the Chair of Pathology at Queen’s University in Belfast, and in 1932 he returned to his alma mater to take up the Chair at the University of Edinburgh, where he remained until his retirement in 1954. Professor Drennan died in 1984, a few weeks after his 100th birthday.

Alexander Murray Drennan and family on a picnic in Dunedin, New Zealand.



[1] 2 Smith JL, Drennan AM, Rettie T, Campbell W. Experimental observations on the antiseptic action of hypochlorous acid and its application to wound treatment. BMJ 1915;ii: 129-36.

Over the line – a German medic’s war


In this month’s edition, Louise, Archivist in Lothian Health Services Archive (LHSA), finds a different view of the First World War….

Ernst Levin (1887 – 1975) was a German-born neurologist who first came to Edinburgh in 1933 to work with neurosurgeon Norman Dott in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. Since Levin was Jewish, the Nazi rise to power meant that he could no longer work in his then-home of Munich, where he had just received a Chair in neurology at the city’s University.

ernstErnst Levin (1887 – 1975)

We knew about Levin’s medical work in hospitals across the city and for the German consulate in Scotland through his medical papers, donated to LHSA in the 1970s. However, although we had a record of Ernst’s career, we knew little of his time in Germany or his experiences as an émigré, leaving a lot of blanks when interested researchers asked to know more about the man behind the archive.

In 2015, I was given the opportunity to acquire Levin’s personal papers for LHSA – letters, photographs and mementos that added to the clinical profile we already held. This was a first for us in combining private and career records to give a more complete picture of a prominent personality in Edinburgh’s medical life.

Through this new collection, I learnt that Levin served during the First World War and later, along with his wife Anicuta Belau, had a wide circle of friends in the artistic movements of the decadent Weimar Republic. With the Nazi rise to power, Levin came to Edinburgh, subsequently joined by Anicuta and their daughter, Anna. Levin (like many other European exiles) was interred (in the Isle of Man) during the Second World War – but still returned to live the rest of his life in Edinburgh.

One of the first things that I noticed about our new donation was a group of photographs and mementos from the First World War, when Levin served as Assistant Surgeon of the Reserve of the Bavarian Infantry Regiment. These images from the German lines were extremely striking, and gave an immediate view of the trenches that are rare from British troops. Although smaller cameras were popularising photography as a hobby by the time of the First World War, the British Army had imposed restrictions on private camera use by 1916. In contrast, personal photography was tolerated more on the German side.  It appears that Levin was a keen photographer, and noted chemicals used in the development process on his photograph envelopes. There are a large number of First World War images in the collection, from photographs of the German lines:


… to soldiers relaxed and enjoying themselves:


As a first for us, LHSA has also acquired images of German field hospitals thanks to Levin’s collecting:


What really sticks out about Ernst’s First World War archive is the mixture of battlefield images and snatched moments of life for civilians under occupation – something that is reflected in his photography:


… but also by handmade postcards which were intermingled with his war memorabilia:


The postcards are signed, but we cannot be sure whether they were created under a pseudonym by Ernst himself or by an acquaintance. The word ‘Postkaart’ on their reverse may imply that they were drawn in Holland or Belgium, though:


We can guess where Ernst may have been stationed on account of the paper memorabilia he collected, from postcard books of places like Bruges and Tournai to maps of the front-lines:


As a medic, Levin far from escaped the dangers of the Front. In fact, he won a Military Medical Medal for his heroism in the Battle of the Somme. In August 1916, Levin was ordered to set up a dressing station in Cléry. Not only did he achieve this in an exposed area without artillery protection, but also showed bravery under fire when the station was shelled. The following is taken from Bavaria’s Golden Roll of Honour, compiled from the Bavarian War Archive:

“Whilst everyone took what shelter they could from the artillery fire, Dr Levin, hearing a wounded man cry out, immediately went to the aid of the casualty despite the firing and at the risk of his life. He bandaged the wounds and carried the man to the dug-out. Throughout the Battle of the Somme, Dr Levin distinguished himself by his spirit of sacrifice, his calmness and level-headed-ness and his strong sense of duty.”


Ernst Levin in uniform

It is lucky that a good proportion of this war archive is largely visual – most of Levin’s personal collection is written in German. There are, for example, bundles of letters like this one, sent home to Munich through the German military mail system, Feldpost:


And it is this language barrier that, at the moment, we are looking for ways to overcome, from involving academics to better understand the content of Levin’s archive to tracing the content of the collection through methods that do not involve deciphering the older-style German script in which manyof the letters are written. However, the visual clues I can decipher have already given me a privileged view behind the German lines.


All images from LHSA accession, Acc15/001.

II: 100th anniversary of ‘Zeppelin’ air attack on Edinburgh – Incendiary bombs and the Infirmary

Following on from Archibald Campbell’s account of the Zeppelin raid on Edinburgh and Leith one hundred years ago this weekend, minutes and images from Lothian Health Services Archive (LHSA) reveal its impact on the city’s hospital services.

As Archibald noted, the raid inflicted great damage on his school, George Watson’s College, just minutes away from the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh on its Lauriston Place site. The impact upon Scotland’s largest voluntary hospital was less than that suffered by the school, but still notable. Luckily, LHSA holds a comprehensive account of the effects of the bomb damage on the Infirmary in minutes of the hospital’s House Committee. The Committee met a week after the blast, on 10th April 1916 (LHB1/1/54). According to the account, the George Watson’s bomb caused windows in three wards to be broken, along with damage to side rooms and an operating theatre – miraculously, however, no staff or patients were killed.

Bomb damage to Infirmary buildings in Lauriston Place, 2 - 3 April 1916 (P/PL1/E/208).

Bomb damage to buildings near the Infirmary, 2 – 3 April 1916 (P/PL1/E/208).

In addition, an incendiary bomb was dropped on the Infirmary itself, on the boiler house, although this caused relatively little damage.

Incendiary bomb in situ at the Royal Infirmary , 1916 (P/PL1/E/021).

Incendiary bomb in situ at the Royal Infirmary , 1916 (P/PL1/E/021).

Like Archibald Campbell, Infirmary staff kept their own souvenir. Here at LHSA, we have this memento: a part of the actual incendiary bomb in a glass display case, which we store in our off-site store (because it is bulky rather than because it could go off!)

Incendiary bomb in glass display case at Lauriston Place site (LHSA object collection, O26).

Incendiary bomb in glass display case  (LHSA object collection, O26).

The Infirmary kept services going despite the raid, with the House Committee minutes praising medical, surgical and nursing staff, who carried out their duties ‘notwithstanding the immanence of personal danger … their individual efforts to reassure the patients did much to allay the alarm which naturally existed in the Hospital.’

The minutes record that 27 people were treated for bomb damage during the night, 12 of whom ‘were treated as in-patients, two of whom subsequently died and the remainder  were treated in the out-patient department.’ The Infirmary’s General Register, which records admissions to the hospital, reflects the casualties from the night. Although the injuries to some are not explicitly stated as caused by the bomb, it is possible to have a good guess at the identity of these twelve patients and to trace the individuals who were to die from their wounds. The House Committee states that two of these patients did not survive their injuries. The General Register suggests that these unfortunates were a 45 year old carter from Grassmarket who died from perforation of the liver with a shell and an arterio-sclerotic 74 year old mason who succumbed to shock after an operation for an injury to the knee caused by the bombing.

Section from the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh General Register of Patients (LHB1/126/61) showing how bomb injuries were described.

Section from the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh General Register of Patients (LHB1/126/61) showing how bomb injuries were described.

One thing that those injured by the bomb had in common was their locality. Patients were centred around the old town, from the Grassmarket to St Leonards and the area of the present University of Edinburgh, making injuries such as ‘scratches to face and ear’ to people from these areas more likely than not to have been caused by effects of the raid. Others suffered injuries to the arms, legs, abdomen and head, or had eye injuries through flying glass. We can also match their addresses to bomb sites named on contemporary police and fire brigade reports.

For example, two of these patients were from 16 Marshall Street: a male tailor, who underwent surgery for a serious perforation wound to the eye; and a dressmaker, whose face had to be stitched. Both were discharged (the dressmaker on the same day and the tailor after almost four weeks). Nonetheless, they were the lucky ones in this four-storey building, housing shops, domestic dwellings, a dispensary and a school. A police report cites that six people were killed in total from the address. Three people standing in the building’s doorway and a man standing across the street were amongst the fatalities, according to the fire brigade account of the night.

However, although no staff were injured in the explosion, the House Committee minutes point to its possible psychological effects. The Lady Superintendent of Nurses, Miss Annie Warren Gill, was worried that, if another raid should occur, members of her staff could be ‘rendered unsuitable for duty through nervousness – some of them having suffered considerably that way on the recent occasion.’

Annie Warren Gill, Lady Superintendent of Nurses, 1907 - 1925 (LHSA photography collection).

Annie Warren Gill, Lady Superintendent of Nurses, 1907 – 1925 (LHSA photography collection).

Committee members also showed concern at the lack of warning given for the attack to Infirmary officials, beyond the regular lowering of lights. In preparation for an increase in casualties following another attack, proposals were made for emergency staffing from existing medical and surgical teams.

The main part of the meeting was signed off with approbation for the enemy’s conduct, ‘the recklessness of which while dooming it to military failure endangered the lives of the inmates of an Institution whose doors have at all times been open to the suffering sick of all nations.’

Louise Williams, Archivist, LHSA

An earlier story about the attack can be read here: I: A School student walks among the wreckage


Second General Military Hospital, Craigleith

In this edition of Untold Stories, Louise (Archivist at Lothian Health Services Archive) looks at the history of one of the many military hospitals in our region:

During the current centenary of the First World War, LHSA has received a number of requests for records of patients in the many military hospitals in and around Edinburgh: from Red Cross auxiliary hospitals to specialist units and existing medical facilities that were requisitioned by the authorities. Due to the fact that medical records of service patients were returned to the custody of the Public Record Office in London (many of which were subsequently destroyed in a Second World War bombing raid), we are unable to help with these enquiries, even if we have custody of patient records generated by requisitioned local hospitals in peacetime. If you are researching the individual records of a forces’ patient or member of military medical staff, there are some resources that may help you at the end of the blog. However, LHSA holds a number of privately donated resources that uncover the realities of hospital life for First World War patients and medical staff alike, supplementing the ‘official’ military record.

One of Edinburgh’s military hospitals was the Second General Military Hospital, Craigleith. The hospital was run by a Territorial Unit, who requisitioned the hospital wing of the Craigleith Hospital and Poorhouse. The first patient was received as early as August 1914, and the hospital was handed back to Edinburgh Town Council in Spring 1919. When the Local Government (Scotland) Act (1929) came into force, control of poorhouses and poorlaw hospitals transferred to the municipal authorities. The poorhouse at Craigleith became an institution that is still very much alive today – the Western General Hospital (WGH).

Craigleith c1914

Exterior of the Second General Military Hospital, Craigleith (GD28)

LHSA is lucky enough to hold a number of items that bring the days of the Second General Military Hospital more sharply into focus for researchers. In addition to his specialism of gastroenterology, WGH Consultant Dr Martin Eastwood was also a hospital historian – in 1995, a book on the development of the WGH was published, written by Eastwood and his secretary, Anne Jenkinson. The sources used by Dr Eastwood were donated to us in 2009, and form a largely visual collection on the history of the hospital, starting from its opening as a poorhouse in 1867.

Among Dr Eastwood’s donation was a photograph album from the Second General Military Hospital. We do not know who gave the album to Dr Eastwood, but its images give a unique insight into hospital life.

GD28_8_1 001

The Craigleith photograph album (GD28/8/1)

For example, we can see the operating theatre that was built for the new military patients, and used by the WGH up to 1950 (though hopefully conditions had moved on a bit by then!):

GD28_8_1 004

New operating theatre in action, c. 1914 (GD28/8/1)

The hospital was headed by Colonel Sir Joseph Fayrer and its clinical staff made up of Edinburgh doctors, many of whom had (or were to have) distinguished medical careers (such as neurologist Edwin Bramwell and pioneer of modern dentistry William Guy). Nurses were for the most part untrained – local women who were members of Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs):

GD28_8_1 003GD28_8_1 002




Nurses and male medical staff at Craigleith in the Eastwood album (GD28/8/1)

Recuperation was not always solely medical – the hospital laid on various activities in order to make the soldier patients’ time more pleasurable. We have evidence of this in surviving copies of the hospital magazine, the Craigleith Hospital Chronicle. You can see a complete edition on the LHSA website, here. The Chronicle was a monthly publication started in 1914 by Craigleith nurse Annie Paulin. The copies that LHSA hold show images of hospital life, patients and staff, publish informational pieces on Scottish regiments, tell of social occasions at the hospital, showcase story serials and commemorate major events in the war, such as the rail disaster at Quintinshill (Gretna), which claimed the lives of 216 Royal Scots soldiers and 12 civilians:

GD28_6_5_gretnaPoem to the victims at Gretna, June 1915 edition (GD28/6/1)

The Chronicle also had a regular feature (cue plug for my last blog!) titled A Nurse’s Notes from Serbia written by ‘M.T.F’ (one of the infuriating things about trying to trace authors in this magazine is that many contributions were only signed by initials!). M.T.F wrote about life at the front as a Scottish Women’s Hospital nurse:

Page 46Craigleith Hospital Chronicle, December 1915 (GD1/82/11)

If you’d like to guess the identity of M.T.F, the excellent nursing history website Scarlet Finders lists all Scottish Women’s Hospital nurses.

However, not all Chronicle articles took such a serious note. For example, comic poems and occasionally cartoons took a turn to supplement more ‘educative’ material:

Page 41Page 45
Lighter material from the same December 1915 edition (GD1/82/11)




Unless patients signed articles or poems in the Chronicle, we have little idea of who they actually were from the material that we hold at LHSA. Fortunately, we do hold another piece of evidence in an autograph book created by Craigleith nurse Sister Ethel Miller from 1916 to 1919.

Rather than the celebrity signatures that fill autograph books of the modern day, these small volumes were passed from nurses to soldier patients on the wards, who contributed sketches, cartoons, anecdotes and poetry. Keeping these books appears to have been common practice for nurses, and many survive in archive collections across the United Kingdom (including this one in the National Museum of Scotland).

Born in 1888 in Edinburgh, Ethel was a professional nurse before the war, qualifying from the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh School of Nursing and from the wartime Territorial Nursing Service in 1916. Along with photographs, printed material and nursing certificates, Ethel’s scrapbook was generously bequeathed to LHSA in 2012 by her son.

Ethel Sister Ethel Miller (Acc12/025)

Sister Miller issued instructions to her potential contributors: according to a poem in the volume, she wanted ‘not just a name’, but ‘something else besides’, a more personal contribution from her charges in the form of a verse, a joke or a drawing. The result of her instructions is a fascinating insight into the often battle-scarred and weary ordinary ‘Tommy’ – we know that most contributors in the book were from the rank of private by the signatures after each drawing, poem or anecdote

Although not all of the completed pages are signed, there were at least 43 different contributors. The soldiers (for the contributors were largely from the army) wrote poems, limericks, drew original cartoons, traced published images with blotting papers and sketched regimental badges and front-line experience. Some praised the bravery of their regiment, as did Private A. Lane of the Kings Own Scottish Borderers in October 1916, which was ‘a credit to his friends and a terror to his foes’. However, the main themes of the book do not concentrate on heroism on the field of battle, but on war’s drudgery and the after effects of conflict, whether that was the domestic regimes of hospital life, reaction from civilians at home to returning war wounded (as new technologies of battle left maimed soldiers as physical reminders of the effects of war) and the misery of life in the trenches.


Cartoons from Ethel’s autograph book (Acc12/025)

In 2013, LHSA Research Intern Kirstin Cunningham saw the potential of Ethel Miller’s book for use in education, as an object that could bring the war directly to students through ordinary soldiers’ experiences. As a photography and film graduate, Kirstin painstakingly re-created the scrapbook page by page through digital imaging, fixing each image into a modern, similar sized book that she distressed to resemble its original. Soldiers’ stories can now be literally taken out of the archive, even if we will never know all of their names.

GD28_8_1 006Craigleith soldier patients at a concert in the recreation room (GD28/8/1)




Further resources on tracing military records from the First World War:



‘Doing their bit’: the remarkable life of nurse Yvonne FitzRoy

Today’s blog is by Louise, archivist at Lothian Health Services Archive (LHSA), as she looks into a very singular wartime life:

On the surface, Yvonne FitzRoy (1891 – 1971) seemed an unlikely nurse. A privileged socialite (daughter of Sir Almeric FitzRoy and Katherine Farquhar), progressive and actress, she was in fact to serve on the battlefields of Russia and Romania as a nursing orderly to Elsie Inglis between 1916 and 1917 with the Scottish Women’s Hospitals (SWH).

The Scottish Women’s Hospitals were set up as soon as war broke out by Edinburgh clinician and suffragist Dr Elsie Inglis, with the financial support of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS).

LHB8A-9 Elsie Inglis

Dr Elsie Inglis (LHB8A/9)

The all-female SWH units were formed in order to offer medical support to front-line troops, and by the end of the war there had been units based in France, Corsica, Salonika, Serbia, Russia, Romania and Malta. Although rejected by the War Office in Scotland (the famous rebuke to Dr Inglis was that, as a woman, she should ‘go home and sit still’), the aid of the SWH was accepted first by the French Red Cross, and a hospital was set up in Calais to treat Belgian troops. A hospital in the abbey of Royaumant soon followed.

The SWH are perhaps best known through their units in Serbia (work that still links Scotland to the area today). However, the Serbian army’s defeat by Austrian troops forced their withdrawal – Dr Inglis was captured and was returned to Britain; others who could escape chose to retreat in treacherous conditions with the Serbian army. However, in 1916, the London Suffrage Society financed another SWH unit of 80 women to support the Serbian army in Russia and Romania, of which Yvonne FitzRoy was one. LHSA is lucky enough to hold two letter books (LHB8/12/6 and 7) and one scrapbook (LHB8/12/8) that trace Yvonne’s work on this eastern front.


Yvonne’s appointment letter to the SWH (LHB8/12/8)


Luggage label from Yvonne’s journey to serve with the SWH on a captured Austrian ship (LHB8/12/8). According to her memoirs, her luggage consisted of ‘one kit-bag, one haversack, and a rug.’

Although SWH archives are held by Glasgow City Archives  and The Women’s Library, the pivotal role played by Elsie Inglis means that we have some intriguing material across LHSA collections (of which more as the weeks go on!): SWH work is reflected in archives from the Bruntsfield Hospital (where Dr Inglis was a surgeon), in the papers of the Elsie Inglis Memorial Maternity Hospital (opened as a memorial to Dr Inglis in 1925 with the remainder of the SWH funds) and in the personal collections of campaigners who fought to keep the memory of Dr Inglis alive. The letters and scrapbook created by Yvonne FitzRoy can be found in LHSA’s Bruntsfield Hospital collection.

Although not solely covering her time at the front, Yvonne’s scrapbook is dominated by the War and its aftermath. Reflecting her artistic and social life as well as her military one, the book is pasted with typed quotations, theatre scripts, postcards and programmes, indicating a love of words, the London stage and the idiosyncratic:


Memorabilia in Yvonne’s scrapbook (LHB8/12/8)

However, the levity of costume design, exhibitions and drama is soon punctuated by newspaper clippings of events in the theatre of war as European tensions grew in 1914.


A typical ‘text heavy’ page in Yvonne’s scrapbook (LHB8/12/8).

As a result of her services to the Russian sick and wounded, Yvonne FitzRoy was awarded a Russian medal for meritorious conduct, the ‘Order of Service’, which she was given government permission to wear:


Certificate of Yvonne FitzRoy’s ‘Order of Service’ medal (LHB8/12/8).

Her service throughout the war was also recognised by the British Red Cross and Order of St John organisations, which worked together during the war after forming a Joint War Committee:


Yvonne’s certificate for wartime services with the British Red Cross Society and the Order of St John of Jerusalem in England (LHB8/12/8).

Like others who served with SWH, Yvonne FitzRoy seemed to have been involved with the Voluntary Aid Detachments, women (who came to be known as VADs) who volunteered in county Red Cross hospitals. Yvonne seems to have used her literary skills in work for a hospital magazine, the Egginton Howl, the magazine of Egginton Hall Red Cross Hospital near Derby.

The Egginton Howl was even praised in this December 1916 article by The Spectator: The letter by Rudyard Kipling mentioned in the article is in fact pasted into Yvonne’s scrapbook, indicating that at this time she must have been closely involved in the magazine’s production:


Letter from Rudyard Kipling to Yvonne FitzRoy (LHB12/8/8).

Not content with one literary autograph, Yvonne managed to collect another trophy, in the shape of a questionable pun and endearing sketch from author HG Wells:


HG Wells caricature (LHB8/12/8).

Following the war, Yvonne (like other SWH medical staff) chose to write a memoir of their experiences working on the front line. Her memoir, With the Scottish Nurses in Roumania, was published in 1918, giving an account of her life at the front – it was dedicated to Dr Inglis, who died from cancer on 26th November 1917 just as she had returned to Britain. Yvonne’s adventures did not end with peacetime, however. In 1921, she was appointed as Private Secretary to Alice, Marchioness of Reading, wife of the British Viceroy in India, a post that she occupied until 1926. Yvonne’s life in India can be pieced together through another memoir, Courts and Camps in India: Impressions of Viceregal Tours 1921 – 1924, or through her personal papers from this time held at the British Library. The cuttings and correspondence in her scrapbook also reflect this period of her life:


Greetings card sent from the Viceroy’s Camp, c. 1924 (LHB8/12/8).

Yvonne’s letters home to her parents are more directly focused upon her SWH period, covering September 1916 to January 1917, when she travelled between Russia and Romania with ‘Hospital A’, headed by Dr Inglis. From her journey east to life treating patients at the front and retreating and advancing in the wake of Allied campaigns, Yvonne’s collected letters cover her friendships, leisure time, daily life and the business of staying warm, including frequent mentions of ‘Swedish drill… all of us flat on our backs… waving our grey legs in the air’ (6th September 1916). Frequent references to the ‘Russian censor’ preclude any detailed references to military manoeuvres, victories or defeats, but on some occasions working conditions are mentioned in more detail:

‘Now we are about 10 miles from the firing line, and Hospital B has gone off to act as our clearing station. I am really glad to be in A. B won’t probably see more of the fighting than we shall, and from the medical point of view our work will be the most interesting as they simply dress the wounds and send the men straight on. Here they only stay a day or two if they are well enough but anyway that give us enough time to cope with things a little. Also I am with Dr Inglis and have got the pick of the sisters in my Ward headed by a Bart’s nurse – my word what a difference a big hospital training makes! We arrive just in time for the biggest rush of wounded they’ve yet had and got 100 in before we were half ready. Every soul worked like bricks but the first few days were just terrific. Now, in all the confusion, we are beginning to see daylight and in a day or two shall have our next two Wards open.’ (10th October 1916)

As the extract above hints, Yvonne’s letters also give her personal insight into Elsie Inglis. In a 1919 letter to Eva Shaw McLaren, who was to publish a history of the SWH and a biography of Elsie Inglis, Yvonne wrote:

‘You know it wasn’t at least an easy job to win the best kind of service from a mixed lot of women – the trained members of which had never worked under a woman before – and were ready with their very narrow outlook to seize on any and every opportunity for criticism. There was a tremendous amount of opposition, more or less grumblingly expressed at first. No-one hesitated to do what they were told – you wouldn’t with Dr Inglis as a chief, would you – but it was grudgingly done. In the end it was all for the best. If she had been the kind of person who took trouble to rouse an easy personal enthusiasm the whole thing would have fallen to pieces at the first stress of work – equally if she had never inspired more than respect she would never have won the quality of service she succeeded in doing.’ (9th November 1919)

Weighing up Dr Inglis’ ‘loveable personality that lay at the root of her leadership’ with her ‘strength and singleness of purpose’ (which did not always endear her to those around her at first sight), Yvonne provides a counter to the ‘fanatics’ (as she describes them) whose awe at the work of the SWH coloured their perceptions – also revealing Yvonne’s own individuality and strength, which must have carried her through a particularly harsh Russian winter.


Yvonne in her SWH uniform (LHB8/12/8).

Louise Williams, Archivist, Lothian Health Services Archive