Sunday, 25 January 2015

Sara Macnaughtan - writer from Scotland - and Matilda Emily Clark - a nurse from England

Two very inspirational women of the First World War are Sarah Macnaughtan, a Scottish writer, and Matilda Emily Clark, an English nurse.  Their stories are amazing - please try to find time to read them as they are available as free downloads on the Internet.

Sarah B. Macnaughtan was born in Scotland on 26th October 1864. She was the daughter of Peter Macnaughtan and his wife Julia nee Blackman who had a large family.   According to her niece, Betty Salmon (nee Keays-Young) who was married to Lionel Salmon and who edited her war diaries after her death, Sarah was generous, witty, energetic, vivacious, charming and very religious.  Sarah had many interests from music, literature, art, shooting, big game hunting, riding, travel - she went to Canada, South America, South Africa, the Middle East and India - and 'adventure of every kind'. "As a girl she was unpunctual."  She was ambitious and clever but devoted to her family.  Her father, elder brother and a sister are mentioned in the summing up by Sarah's niece. 

Sarah was a writer, her first work being published in 1898.  When her parents died, Sarah left Scotland and moved to Kent.  She joined the Suffragettes, worked with the poor in London's East End, was a Red Cross volunteer during the Second Boer War and helped those who were suffering during the Balkan War.

At the age of 50, Sarah Macnaughtan volunteered with the Red Cross and went to Belgium on 20th September 1914 with Mabel St. Clair Stobart's Group, arriving in Antwerp on 22nd September.

On 10th October as the Germans drew ever closer after the fall of Antwerp, Mrs Stobart took her group back to England and Sarah joined Dr. Hector Monro's Flying Ambulance Unit.

"This evening Dr. Hector Munro came in from Ghent with his oddly-dressed ladies, and at first one was inclined to call them masqueraders in their knickerbockers and puttees and caps, but I believe they have done excellent work. It is a queer side of war to see young, pretty English girls in khaki and thick boots, coming in from the trenches, where they have been picking up wounded men within a hundred yards of the enemy's lines, and carrying them away on stretchers. Wonderful little Walk├╝res in knickerbockers, I lift my hat to you!

Dr. Munro asked me to come on to his convoy, and I gladly did so: he sent home a lady whose nerves were gone, and I was put in her place."   We know that May Sinclair was sent back to England suffering from Shell Shock after six weeks in Belgium as Dr. Munro's Personal Assistant.

A few days later, Monro's Ambulance Unit reached Furnes and Sarah Macnaughtan was mentioned in British nurse Matilda Emily Clark's  "A War Nurse's Diary Sketches from A Belgian Field Hospital".  In October 1914 in a makeshift hospital in a Roman Catholic College in Furnes:  "In our ward there was a little elderly lady who quietly offered her services, and as she looked capable I sent her to clear away the evening meal and wipe down the tables.  She never bothered me again but quietly busied herself setting things in order.  Soon two big oil-lamps relieved the darkness and some large scissors that we had longer for lay to hand to rip the men's clothes off them.  The unassuming little helper had been out to buy them.  A few days after, when we had time to breathe, we were introduced.  It was Miss McNaughton, the writer of "A Lame Dog's Diary" and other books.

She was a delicate little woman, highly strung and nervous."  After helping the nurses out in the ward for several days, Miss McNaughton "procured a tiny room at the station and ran a soup-kitchen for the wounded.   Now, this sounds a homely and commonplace sort of occupation, but when you realise the circumstances you will know what courage it required." (pp. 31 - 33) 

The story of the English nurse's experiences as a nurse during the early days of the war is absolutely amazing.  She was at the fall of Antwerp and travelled in buses with some of the wounded British Martines. At one stage, she was obliged to return to London as it was felt unsafe for British civilians to remain in Belgium.  However, she was soon back in Belgium then France to continue nursing the wounded - both military and civilian.

Sarah died in London on 24th June 1916 exhausted after working as a volunteer orderly with the Red Cross in Belgium and Russia from the early days of the war. She was buried in Chart Sutton, a small village south of Maidstone in Kent.  Sarah's war diary was dedicated to all who fought in the conflict and in particular her own nephews - Captain Lionel Salmon, 1st Bn. the Welch Regiment, Captain Helier Percival, M.C., 9th Bn. the Welch Regiment, Captain Alan Young, 2nd Bn. the Welch Regiment,
Captain Colin Macnaughtan, 2nd Dragoon Guards and Lieutenant Richard Young, 9th Bn. the Welch Regiment.

Sarah McNaughton's "My War Experiences in Two Continents" is available as a download free on

Matilda Emily Clark's "A War Nurse's Diary Sketches from a Belgian Field Hospital" is available as a download free on

Sarah Macnaughtan's and the war nurse's books via the Internet.
and on Wikipedia

The photo is of Miss Sarah Macnaughton during WW1 from "A War Nurse's Diary" page 32

If anyone has any information about the nurse who wrote !A War Nurse's Diary Sketches from a Belgian Field Hospital" I would love to hear from them.