Remembrance Day

Remembrance Day 11 November 2022
Today we remember the WWI service of Dr Lilian Cooper and Josephine Bedford’s in Serbia.

On this Remembrance Day we think of all those who served in the Great War in various ways. As we saw in earlier posts, two of our most eminent pioneering women, Dr Lilian Cooper and her partner Mary Josephine Bedford made a great contribution to the war effort with their service in Serbia in challenging times.

When World War I broke out Lilian and Josephine were keen to help and offered their services to the Australian Army. However, they were turned down as only female nurses, not doctors or assistants, were accepted at that time! In fact Lilian was told “The army do not want women doctors. Dr Cooper would do much better to stay home and knit for the war effort.” The British Army also turned them down! Undeterred, they joined the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service (SWH) which had been founded in 1914 by Dr Elsie Inglis, a surgeon and leader in the Women’s Suffrage Movement in Scotland. She and her committee set up 14 field hospitals to treat the wounded in France, Serbia and Russia. They were funded by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage and staffed mainly by female nurses, doctors, ambulance drivers, cooks and orderlies.

In September 1916 Lilian and Josephine joined the SWH unit in Ostrovo, located near Lake Ostrovo, in Serbian Macedonia, not far from the front line. It was known as the American Unit (as most funds for its operation and equipment were raised in America) and consisted of a  field hospital and ambulance unit run by Dr Agnes Bennett of Sydney housed in about 200 tents. Conditions in the mountainous war zone were tough, especially during the winter, yet the women worked on tirelessly doing the best they could in the trying circumstances. Lilian worked as a surgeon at the hospital site while Josephine took charge of the Ambulance Division with all female drivers getting the patients to safety. As the battles intensified many wounded were dying on the way to the hospital so an advanced dressing station was set up closer to the front line to tend to the wounded more quickly. It was opened just before Christmas 1916 and Dr Lilian Cooper was put in charge.

The conditions were appalling by anyone’s standards: They make their own mess-house from petrol cans; the kitchen was made by piling stones up in the fashion of the dry-stone walls of Scotland, the roof being hammered out cartridge cases. The wards and staff quarters were tents; temperatures were sub-zero. Wood was brought by mules from a mountain some kilometers away – a 5-hour trip in each direction. One sister recorded that often her hands were too cold to write and the tea froze in the cup if they were slow at drinking. The wounded were transported to the dressing station by mules; usually two casualties seated in makeshift seats on either side. It was a rough journey, with no pain relief, each step jolting a fracture or jarring a chest injury.

Cooper and the other women were in constant danger, as well as grossly overworked. Located less than 6 miles from front line positions of the enemy, and within range of the guns, the only means of retreat was by foot – a walk of 14 miles down the mountain. Air raids were common as German bombers searched for Serbian infantry formations in the mountains. “

Dr Cooper performed operations day after day – a marvel of endurance in the harshest of conditions. Cooper saw this as the culmination of her life’s work – performing real surgery, and making a real difference. Despite the immense strain of long hours, she performed multiple amputations, removed shell fragments, bullets and other shrapnel. Conducting life and limb saving surgery, patients were stabilized and then transported by motor ambulance to the main hospital at Ostrovo. Countless lives were saved in this way.” 1

The conditions finally took their toll on Lilian when she fell ill in 1917 with bronchitis and had to leave. Both Lilian’s and Josephine’s dedication and compassionate humanitarian work was recognised when they were awarded the Serbian Order of St Sava by the King of Serbia.

We thank Dr Lilian Cooper, Josephine Bedford and all the other pioneering women from Australia and other parts of the world for their dedication, courage and unselfish service and contribution to the war effort. They overcame the professional and gender prejudices of the times and showed that there was nothing women could not do even in a war zone.
(sources: 1 Australia’s female military surgeons of World War I, Susan J. Neuhaus, 2013; Turnbull Library, New Zealand;  Wikipedia; SLQ)

Life at the Scottish Women’s Hospital in Ostrovo, Serbia. ((from a collection by A. Bennett, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand)
Remembrance Day 11 November 2019
This year we look at the Patriotic Carnivals in our districts.

Carnivals and fetes in aid of wounded soldiers and their dependents were held from 1914. Patriotic Day Parades in Brisbane started in the city and finished at the Exhibition Ground where a variety of afternoon events were held.

  1. Queensland Public Service Patriotic Carnival, Brisbane Cricket Ground, Woolloongabba, Brisbane, 1915

This photo shows the Public Service Patriotic Carnival in 1915 held at the Brisbane Cricket Ground on Saturday, 31 July 1915.

“People in 1915 liked to dress up and have fun for charity, just like the people today. This is particularly special because it shows how after a time of great sadness and struggle in World War I, people came together to raise money for injured soldiers.” (Queensland State Archives Image ID 25111).

2.  Patriotic Day Carnival at Mowbray Park 1915

At the Patriotic Day celebrations in Mowbray Park in 1915 there were river trips, boat races, side shows, variety stalls and fun for everyone. This photo from The Queenslander Pictorial Supplement of 6 March 1915 shows some of the day’s highlights.

Captions under the smaller pictures from left to right:
 The “Hospital Ship Grantala”
Finish of the naval reserve race
Along the embankment in Mowbray Park
Royal Life Saving Society’s yacht
The Cake Stall and Committee
Sweets Stall (Sandgate Yacht Club)
Soft drink stall (East Brisbane Cadets)
Tobacco stall (Brisbane Dingey Club)

3.  Patriotic Day Carnival at Mowbray Park 1915 : water activities

The Queenslander Pictorial Supplement of 6 March 1915.

Captions under the smaller pictures from left to right:

Hydroplane which caused some excitement.
The “Mysterious Five”
View of the sailing race
Some of the motor boats
Vibie, the Prize Decorated Boat.
The “Hemd-in”
“H.M.A.S. Sydney”
“H.M.A.S. Sydney” sinks the “Hemd-in”

4.  Patriotic Day Carnival at Davies Park, 19 September 1914
The Queenslander Pictorial Supplement , 19 September, 1914.

Captions, from left to right:

The procession crossing Victoria Bridge to South Brisbane.
“Boys of the bulldog breed”, a feature of the procession.
The Lieutenant-Governor hoisting the Union Jack.
The cadet guard-of-honour- at ease.
Entertaining Y.M.C.A soldiers. Send off to members leaving with the Queensland expeditionary force at the Association Rooms, Edward Street.

Patriotic Carnival Procession 1914. (The Queenslander, 19 September 1914)
5.  Patriotic Day Fete at Mowbray Park on 11 November 1916.

This article from The Week (Brisbane) of 17 November 1916 gives a clear overview of the day’s events.