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Scottish Women's Hospitals - A field hospital on the front line during the First World War

At the outbreak of the Great War one of the founders of the Scottish Women's Suffrage Federation, Doctor Elsie Inglis, helped set up the Scottish Women's Hospitals for the Foreign Service Committee to help support the war effort. This organisation, which was staffed almost entirely by women, set up fourteen field hospitals to treat the wounded in France, Serbia and Russia. This is one of the earliest documentaries to be made and shows daily life in a field hospital at Villers-Cotterets and in Salonika.

It is likely the operation featured in the film was 'staged' for the camera - it depicts the removal of shrapnel from the leg of a wounded soldier, which is then coated with 'German creosote' that was used as an antiseptic.

Dr Elsie Inglis contracted cancer in 1916 and died the day after she returned to the UK. As one of the first women surgeons trained in Scotland, Dr Inglis' funeral service was held at St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh on 29 November 1917. Dr Inglis' heroism is commemorated on the £50 bank note issued by the Clydesdale Bank.

Black and white, Silent

Length of clip: 6:57
Length of original film: 06:57

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  • How many nationalities of soldier do you think would have been treated here?
  • What kind of injuries do the men have?
  • How have operating theatre techniques changed since then?
  • Would they be treated in the same ward?
  • Do you think this film paints an accurate picture of the devastation of the First World War or was the film censored?
  • If you had been a young woman during the First World War would you have gone to France to work under these conditions?


There are many poems and artworks about the horrors of war. Use these texts, or the films from the National Library of Scotland Moving Image Archive, as inspiration for a story or film about a soldier recovering in hospital or a nurse treating a patient.

Research the life of Elsie Inglis and the role of women more generally during the First World War. Compare this with the experiences of women working in war zones today.

Research the medical conditions and prevalence of anaesthetic and rates of mortality in First World War field hospitals.

Add an appropriate soundtrack to the film.

Resource: For further study of the Suffragette Movement go to the National Library of Scotland learning resource A Guid Cause

Record details

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Record ID: 007-000-000-019-C
Resource Rights Holder: National Library of Scotland
Related Records:
Project Ref: 0035
Date: 1917
Genre: Documentary, sponsored
Subject: English, Citizenship, Art and Design, History, Health and Wellbeing, Drama (Curriculum for Excellence)
Creative Writing, Gender Studies, Medical History
Who: National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (sponsor)
Where: France (hospital)
Event: First World War, World War 1, WW1 (healthcare)
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