Saturday, 25 June 2016

Mabel St. Clair Stobart (1862 - 1954) - founder of the Women's Sick and Wounded Convoy Corps

Mabel Annie Boulton was born on 3rd February 1862 in Woolwich, the daughter of Sir Samuel Bagster Boulton and Sophia Louisa, nee Cooper.

Mabel married St. Clair Kelburn Stobart, a granite merchant, on 16th July 1884. The couple lived in Cornwall and had two children.  The family then moved to London. After spending time in Africa, Mabel’s husband died on 9th April 1908 while returning from Africa.

Mabel Annie joined the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry Corps – so called because its members were on horseback and provided a link providing initial treatment for wounded front-line troops before they went on to Field Hospitals.   When she returned to England from South Africa in 1907, Mrs Stobart founded the Women’s Sick and Wounded Convoy Corps. After the death of her first husband, Mabel married John Herbert Greenhalgh at Westminster in 1911, but she kept her former married name.

During the Second Balkan War, Mabel’s Convoy Corps served in Bulgaria.  The experiences of that unit demonstrated that women could not only be efficient war-time nurses but also surgeons, doctors, orderlies, administrators, drivers and interpreters. Mabel’s book “Women and War”, published by G. Bell & Sons, London, 1913, told the world of the unit’s experiences in Bulgaria. In his “Prefatory Note” to the book, Viscount Esher says “… it is impossible to resist Mrs Stobart’s plea for the reconsideration of the place assigned to women in the scheme of National Defence.”

Mrs Stobart was rather scathing in her criticism of the Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment scheme, which she felt “played with women” and did not given them either the tasks or the recognition they deserved.  Both Mrs Stobart and Viscount Esher resigned their membership of the Red Cross for that reason. 

When the First World War broke out, Mrs Stobart offered the services of a women’s medical unit to the Belgian Red Cross and travelled to Brussels to set up a hospital in the University buildings.  The following day, the Germans entered the city, took over the Belgian Croix Rouge and commandeered the hospital for their own use.   Mrs Stobart escaped to Tongres where she was arrested and condemned to death as a spy. When she remonstrated with the Major in charge, he replied “You are English and this is a War of annihilation”. (page 8 “The Flaming Sword.)

Mabel managed to escape and returned to England where she re-organised the unit and offered their services to the French who asked her to set up a hospital in Cherbourg.  After four months of treating wounded soliders, Mrs Stobart heard that a typhus epidemic in Serbia meant they needed urgent medical care so she offered her services to the Serbian Relief Fund and organized a hospital in Serbia.   After the war, Mabel published an account of her war-time adventures under the title “The Flaming Sword in Serbia and Elsewhere”.

By her own account, Mabel must have been a prolific writer because she refers to one of her plays being performed at a First World War fund-raising charity event in Cherbourg.  

Mabel died in Bournemouth, on 7th December 1954 aged 93.


“The Flaming Sword in Serbia and elsewhere” published by Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1916

“War and Women”, published by G. Bell & Sons, Ltd., London, 1913.