Elsie Knocker and Mairi Chisholm, volunteer ambulance drivers who set up their own first aid post and were known as the 'Angels of Pervijze' (Photo © Visitflanders)

'Her Side of the War' - Women at the front remembered in Flanders

Posted on centenarynews.com on 10 May 2016
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The stories of women who contributed to the Allied war effort are being highlighted in Flanders with a special programme of events entitled 'Her Side of the War.'

Among them are Elsie Knocker and Mairi Chisholm, two British women who'd already broken convention as early enthusiasts of motorcycling.

Together, they used their driving and nursing skills to help save lives on the Western Front, becoming known to soldiers as the 'Angels of Pervijze'.

Eventually came official recognition and 17 awards, including Belgium's highest honours from King Albert I.

Their story is told in an exhibition at the Yser Tower museum, Diksmuide (until January 2017), along with that of two Belgian women, Madame Tack and Mietje Boeuf, who stayed put in their front line homes to cook and care for the the troops.

Marie Curie

Her Side of the Story events elsewhere in West Flanders also remember Marie Curie, the pioneering physicist and medical scientist, artist Käthe Kollwitz, and Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians: "The Great War was not an exclusively male affair. Some women became icons for their generation and others had extraordinary lives which were unrecognised at the time," the programme notes. 

"During 2016, the lives of some of the women, who contributed to the war effort in Belgium, are being showcased through a series of events across Flanders Fields."

Elsie Knocker, a trained nurse, and Mairi Chisholm went to Belgium as volunteer ambulance drivers in the opening weeks of the First World War, declaring there was 'work to be done.'

With the help of a Belgian Army doctor, the pair then set up an advanced dressing station in the cellar of a house in the front line village of Pervijze. Heavy shelling forced them to move and rebuild twice more.

In the absence of official recognition, they initially relied on donations to fund their efforts. Allied military commanders eventually agreed to let them stay, recognising that the wounded from Pervijze arrived at hospital in much better condition.

Elsie Knocker and Mairi Chisholm were famed for their work, attracting visits from journalists, photographers and VIPs of the day. But in 1918, both were forced to return home for treatment following a gas attack.

Visit Her Side of the War for full details of events remembering Marie Curie, Käthe Kollwitz, Queen Elisabeth, Madame Tack & Mietje Boeuf, and Elsie Knocker & Mairi Chisholm.

Information and images: Visitflanders

Posted by: CN Editorial Team