Wendy Moore: A Tribute to Endell Street Military Hospital
Wendy Moore, the author of the magnificent Endell Street, pays tribute to the pioneering work and undying dedication of the female medics who, during the First World War, transformed a derelict old London workhouse into a state-of-the-art military hospital, operated by predominantly female staff.
In this exclusive essay, Moore talks about her experience of researching and writing the incredible story of two pioneering suffragette doctors – and lifelong companions – Flora Murray and Louisa Garrett Anderson, who operated on the frontline of their profession.
Writing about the women who worked at Endell Street Military Hospital, and the men and women who were treated there, has been the proudest moment of my writing career. When war broke out in 1914 thousands of women all over Britain volunteered their services. Flora Murray and Louisa Garrett Anderson, who were doctors and suffragettes, immediately rallied a unit of women to set up an emergency hospital in France. Their hospital, in a hotel in Paris, was so successful they were asked by the British Army to open a second hospital near Boulogne, close to the frontline. Then in early 1915 the War Office invited them to run a major military hospital in the heart of London.
Endell Street Military Hospital opened in a former workhouse in Covent Garden in May 1915. It was unique – the only army hospital run and staffed entirely (apart from a handful of men) by women. Over the next four years the women staff treated 26,000 wounded – the vast majority of them men. I wrote my book to pay tribute to all those women – doctors, nurses, cooks, cleaners, orderlies, stretcher-bearers – who sacrificed as much as four years of their lives to help and to heal the wounded of World War One. It’s a tribute too to the thousands of men who were patients at Endell Street, to the few who died and the many more who recovered and learned to live again. As I researched this book I was blessed to make contact with the families of those men and women. It was a delight and an honour to hear personal stories from people whose grandmothers and great-aunts worked at the hospital and those whose grandfathers and great-uncles were treated there. And Endell Street is a love story too. Proving they could run a military hospital as well as any man was a demonstration of the love between Endell Street’s two founders, Flora Murray and Louisa Garrett Anderson, life long partners. Flora died in 1923, worn out by her war service, and Louisa lived alone another 20 years. They are both commemorated on Flora’s grave with the words: ‘We have been gloriously happy'.
Endell Street stayed open for a year after the war ended – treating the victims of the 1918-19 influenza epidemic. Those were the darkest days. Several dozen men died in the hospital and at least four staff. But through it all the women showed the most remarkable courage, dedication and self-sacrifice. They are an example to us today of endurance in the face of overwhelming odds. I am honoured to tell their story.
- Wendy Moore
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