The Story Of The Only British Woman To Fight On The Front Line In The Great War

Posted on September 29, 2018

Flora Sandes was 38 when war broke out, and she wanted to serve. She was highly educated, fluent in French and German, and independently wealthy. She loved the outdoors, hiking and camping in all weathers. She could ride and shoot. She volunteered as a nurse but was rejected by the British because she was insufficiently qualified. The War Office was dismissive of women who wanted to contribute to the war effort, though many did. Elsie Inglis, the Edinburgh-educated doctor who founded the Scottish Women’s Hospitals was told by the War Office to “go home and sit still”. Her biographer, Louise Miller, says she had long wanted to be a soldier. She’d been raised on the stories of Kipling and had read and re-read the Charge of the Light Brigade. “To be in the thick of battle was something that Flora had long dreamt of… and [she] had spent hours imagining herself as the central character in Kipling’s tales of heroism and adventure. She had high hopes for the climax of the Bulgarian attack. “By now there was little point pretending she could be useful as a nurse in such conditions. Desperate not to be sent back to Salonica, she rested all her hopes on being accepted into the ranks of the Serbian army as a soldier.” She expected rejection. Instead, Milos Vasic, the Serb commander whose men she had served, welcomed her. “If you remain with the army,” he told her, “you will have to go with them through Albania. The trip will be terrible, like nothing you have ever experienced.” Flora asked: “Will I be a burden?” “Quite the reverse,” Vasic said. “It will be better for us as your presence will encourage the soldiers. You represent the whole of England to them”. That night, Flora Sandes became a private in the Serbian Army.

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