Monday, July 2, 2012

Elsie and Mairi Go to War

Elsie Knocker was 30 years old in 1914, a divorced single mother (though such was the stigma of divorce at the time that she told people she was a widow). When war was declared, she called on a friend from her motorcycle club, 18-year-old Mairi Gooden-Chisholm, and suggested they should volunteer as dispatch riders; after going to Belgium as part of Hector Munro's Flying Ambulance Corps, they ended up running their own independent first aid post at Pervyse, bare yards from the front lines, where they remained for nearly the whole course of the war.

Elsie and Mairi, it turns out, were the most photographed women of World War I, and were huge celebrities at the time.  The Madonnas of Pervyse, as they were called, were specifically exempted from a directive that no women could serve at the front lines, and received some 17 medals apiece.  Fascinating story!  And I'd never heard of them before this book by Diane Atkinson, so I learned some stuff too: bonus.  It could be a little tough to keep track of the cast of characters, especially once various soldiers starting coming and going at the front, but otherwise this was great.

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