With the revving of an engine and the shot of a starting pistol, it begins.
At long last I have chosen my eminent person, and so without further ado, let me get right down to it. I will add, that there is some reasoning as to why I took so very long to decide on who I will be studying for this project, and that with these circumstances in mind I have not been doing entirely nothing over the past few weeks, in fact, I have done quite a fair amount.
I started out by researching different people whom I might be interested in studying for the project. As I studied a basketball player last year, my idol as I am also a player, I thought this would be a good opportunity to change things up a bit. However, as I got into researching, I re-encountered my problem from last year, my indecisiveness. Sooo, after a lot of researching, I found someone, or should I say some people, that I was very passionate about studying. I remembered that last year I had thought during the project that it might be interesting to study someone related to the First World War, as I am very interested in the history of that global crisis and the project also falls over Remembrance Day. I came across two women who proved the female identity of the era wrong by starting up their own first aid post only hundreds of metres back from the Western Front in Belgium during the First World War.
So then, the next issue presented itself as which one of them to do. So after even more research, I came to the light conclusion that one of them, as she was significantly older, was more of the initiator of their contributions and actions. Unfortunately, after starting to write this post, I realized as I somewhat suspected and had earlier thought, that I was more personally and emotionally connected or attached to the younger one. So off I went yet again, rethinking. Finally, I can now finally tell you, that I will be doing this project on Mairi Chisholm. However(I know, uh oh), I will be mentioning Elsie significantly throughout the project for obvious reasons. They were a team, and every team-mate is valuable, no matter the position.
So given these circumstances, I have done almost all of my research on my person already, and quite a bit on her partner in crime.
Mairi Chisholm was born in the fishing town of Nairn, Scotland, on February 26th, 1896, but moved to Dorset, England when she was only four years old. Mairi had a very traditional upbringing, and became very close with her brother Uailean over the years as their parents were never large figures of close support to them. She had another sibling, Lucy Margaret, but Mairi and her brother were not as close with their younger sister as she came many years later and the two were away at school for her infant-hood. Mairi attended two different schools for her education, both of which appear to have been very supportive of Mairi throughout her youth and development as a young woman. It has been recorded that teachers from both of her schools contacted her whilst her later war efforts took place. One noted particular pride and love for the young student who was now making headlines in her homeland. I think I connect in a small sense to Mairi to these points as I like to get to know and try to stay in contact with my teachers following my time in their classes.
Her family was of high rank in society, and in 1910 the King of England, Edward VII and his wife came for a game of cards with the Chisholms. However, Mairi proved to be a unique case for this style of living and was certainly not a typical young lady her status. Mairi developed a passion for mechanics. Her brother rode motorbikes and together they entered races; she helped with maintaining the bike and he rode. Her mother disapproved of this thoroughly but her father proclaimed that she was a natural mechanic and must continue doing what she loved. I feel a personal connection to these characteristics of Mairi as I am not what one might call a “girly-girl” persay. I am very into sports and don’t like to dress up too fancy in general terms. So I feel that I connect well to Mairi in that way. Continuing, it was at these very motorcycling events that Mairi encountered who would become her longtime business partner, “Gypsy”, or Elsie Knocker.
Elsie had made a name for herself in the world of motorcycle racing as she was a pioneer of the women’s participation in the sport itself. She had her own women’s riding clothing line and was known for ripping down country roads in races beyond belief for a woman. Additionally, she was one of the few divorcees in England at the time. It was unusual for a woman to vouch for and succeed in a separation of her own will, but she had done it. As she too was from a wealthy background, she had purchased the assistance of her own lawyer and made it all the way through the process so she could escape with her young son from an abusive relationship.
After meeting each other, they became friends through motor-cycling, and later worked together in the Women’s Emergency Corps in London, England. Then, after some time working in the field with an independent ambulance corps led by Dr Hector Munro, the Flying Ambulance Corps, their adventures really began.
I won’t get into too much depth here as I want to save some of the juicy details for later on, but what they did was truly amazing.
It started out as a soup kitchen, only metres back from the front lines in the cellar of a well battered house. The ravaged town of Pervyse in Belgium it was, where they make their efforts that entitle them to infinite recognition for courage and bravery.
They would spend their days and nights ferrying pots and buckets of hot chocolate and broth out to the front lines. They went so far as sharing a warm cup with both a German and Belgian sentry in the dark of night in the middle of No Man’s Land. This small project grew into something bigger when they really got down to work. Elsie had been inspired when she saw how many men were dying in their ambulance on the bumpy drives back from the front to the hospitals. Elsie had suggested, and Mairi had agreed to leave the safety of their previous team and go it on their own. And so save more lives they did. Their small cellar house turned into a celebrated nursing station. They gave care where most it needed and then sent off their bandaged up patients for further care elsewhere if need be.
They managed this on an unimaginably low budget that forced them to leave their work for short periods of time to fundraise back home. They would return as fierce and prepared as they had been before, and leave no less wounded un-tended to. Braving the horrific sights of men physically destroyed by the combat, and risking their lives carrying men by hand and shoulders out from the midst of No Man’s Land to safety for treatment.
Oh, and unsurprisingly, they became the most photographed women of the first world war during their efforts. The both of them also received close to ten medals and recognitions for their unforgettable work.
But that’s what is important, it was “unforgettable” work that these two did during times of peril and fear. Even today, few know who these women were or what they did. They are often overshadowed by other wartime nurses and figures. This is why I feel it is important to share their contributions with everyone and one of the reasons I wanted to study them for this project. I also share a personal connection in that my great grandfather was a decorated British officer in the First World War. Further, I like to think, or hope, I would be the type of person who would try to do something like what these women did in times of trouble. I was inspired by Elsie and Mairi’s story and I am glad to pass it on to others. I look forward to understanding their work more and more with this project.