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Angels of the battlefield

Amanda Campbell, Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Pictured are two lesser recognised but incredible heroes, Mairi Chisholm and Elsie Knocker, who became known as the ‘Women of Pervyse’ from their work in setting up and running a front line first aid post in Belgium during the First World War.


When war broke out 18 year-old Mairi Chisholm and 29 year-old divorcee Elsie Knocker were volunteers with a flying ambulance corps sent to help the hard-pressed Belgian army.


Despite their unit’s valuable work, they realised the importance of treating the wounded for shock immediately, so the two of them set up a front-line first aid post in the Belgian village of Pervyse, north of Ypres.


Elsie was a trained nurse and gave nearly all of the medical attention, while Mairi spent most of her time driving the wounded to hospital, often in terrible conditions and under fire. They had to raise their own funds as they were unconnected to any medical organisation.


text EK and MC attending to woun ded  belgian soldier in third advanced first aid post at pervystext e (1)



They were decorated by King Albert of Belgium in January 1915 and, in October 1917, they were each awarded the Military Medal. The duo carried on their life saving work throughout most of the war, until they were badly gassed in March 1918 and had to stop.


But there was ‘a fairy tale’ ending of sorts for Elsie. In 1916 she met and married an aristocratic Belgian pilot and became a baroness!

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