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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 they would have 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?


English / Creative Writing: Vera Britten was a nurse during the First World War and wrote a book called 'Testament of Youth'. Earnest Hemingway was a soldier during the First World War and wrote about recovering in hospital in 'Farewell to Arms'. There are also many contemporary poems and artworks about the horrors of war, including John Singer Sergeant's painting 'Gassed' and Wilfred Owen's poem 'Dulce et Decorum Est'. Use these texts as a starting point to research and write a story about a soldier recovering in hospital or a nurse treating a patient. Think about the different conflicting emotions they might feel about being there, for instance relief and guilt at having survived.

Drama / Creative Writing: Have different groups write letters to and from the hospital and develop role play around the reading of those letters and the reactions they create.

Gender Studies / Social History: A great deal is known about the role of women in the Second World War but less is known about the role of women in the First World War. Research the life of Elsie Inglis and the role of women more generally during the First World War. How were these hospitals set up and where did the staff come from? How does this compare to modern army field hospitals and the role of women in the army today?

History / Health and Wellbeing: Research the medical conditions and prevalence of anaesthetic and rates of mortality in First World War field hospitals. Compare this film with medical films and photographs from the First World War depicting injuries or the clip in the film 'The Face of Scotland' showing the piper in the trenches. What does this tell you about the reasons a film like this was made.

History / Social History / Community Involvement: Research whether you have any family members who fought or served in the First World War, or see if you can trace the families of men mentioned on your local war memorial and prepare a group project on the subject.

English / Creative Writing: Write a letter home in reply to the letter you received at the end of this clip, writing as prisoner of war or wounded soldier or nurse.

Moving Image Education: Add an appropriate soundtrack to the film. Or show the film while reading First World War poetry aloud (one suggestion is work by German poet Tomas Stramm)

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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