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Dr Frances Ivens inspecting a French patient at Royaumont. Painting by Norah Neilson Gray.

Scottish Women's Hospital at Royaumont was a medical hospital during World War I active from January 1915 to March 1919 operated by Scottish Women's Hospitals(SWH), under the direction of the French Red Cross and located at Royaumont Abbey. The Abbey is a former Cistercian abbey, located near Asnières-sur-Oise in Val-d'Oise, approximately 30 km north of Paris, France. The hospital was started by Dr Frances Ivens and founder of SWH, Dr Elsie Maud Inglis. It was especially noted for its performance treating soldiers involved in the Battle of the Somme.

The hospital was officially known as the Hôpital Auxiliaire 301 and was never affiliated with the British military or British Red Cross. The soldiers treated at Royaumont were mostly French with some Senegalese and North Africans from the French colonial troops.[1] It was not the only facility of its kind; other female hospital units in France include the Women's Hospital Corps established by Louisa Garrett Anderson and Flora Murray and the Women's Imperial Service League established by Florence Stoney in Paris and Boulogne, but SWH was the largest such group with other locations in Serbia, Greece, Romania, and Corsica.[1] Royaumont was the largest British voluntary hospital, one of the closest such hospital to the front line, and the only one to operate continuously from January 1915 to March 1919.[1]

Beginings[edit | edit source]

Dr Elsie Inglis

The SWH initially organized two units of 100 beds each to be entirely staffed by women partially funded by the affiliated National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies. The UK War Office and the British Red Cross turned down the offered units and the women turned to the French and Belgian Red Cross. Vicomtess de la Panouse, wife of the French military attaché to the French embassy in London helped the group identify Royaumont Abbey, the property of Edouard Goüin. Goüin was a rich industrialist and philanthropist whose poor health rendered him unable to fight and offering the use of the facility was to be part of his contribution to the war.[1]

The inside rather appalls one at first, it’s so very large and so many odd staircases; in fact it is very eerie, especially as there is no light anywhere at the moment and as you know a candle doesn’t give much...The room I had felt very musty and in the morning my dress felt so damp I was afraid to get into it...

Although the facility was not ready to be used as a hospital, Dr Ivens was very happy with the location, writing in 1817: "Although within sounds of the guns, its architectural beauty and the forest scenery in the neighborhood made it an ideal spot in which the wounded soldiers could forget for a time the horrors and discomfort of war,"[1] When overfilled, patients were occasionally carted outdoors between May and October. Noticing that patients so placed recovered more quickly, doctors later accommodated patients outside to increase exposure to sunlight.[1]

Facilities[edit | edit source]

The Western Front 1915–1916.

Hôpital Auxilaire 1918 by Norah Neilson Gray.[2]

Patients generally arrived from the Western Front by train to the evacuation station in Creil (12 km away). There was no possibility of transferring patients to other nearby hospitals and patient load was occasionally extreme. During the Battle of the Somme, the surgeons and doctors worked for eight days with a total of only 16 hours of sleep. Conditions at the facility were occasionally insufficient and the hospital failed an initial inspection before opening on January 13, 1915. Electricity was at time intermittent and in case of an outage surgeries were performed by candlelight.[1]

Research[edit | edit source]

Doctors at Royaumont also undertook cutting-edge research, focusing on the treatment of gas gangrene. The doctors found X-ray and bacteriology for diagnosis and surgical debridement of affected tissue and antiserum therapy to be especially effective. Doctors at the facility believed the collaboration of different specialties was important in fighting infection and avoiding excess amputations. The hospital had a mobile X-ray car manufactured by Austins and purchased for £300. Installation of the X-ray equipment was assisted by Marie Curie and included water and electrical sources independent of the rest of the facility. The X-ray car was highly coveted; other hospitals in the area occasionally utilized it and the British military attempted to impound and keep the car for itself. In spite of their work, Dr. Ivans was restricted in her ability to publish and present her results. In 1918 she had to obtain permission from General Célestin Sieur of the French military medical services to publish her results, and she was not allowed to present her work directly to the Société de Chirurgie de Paris, her work being instead presented by a third party.[1]

Trench foot as seen on an unidentified soldier during World War I

Doctors at the Scottish Hospital at Royaumont made numerous important discoveries, although their contribution was not always acknowledged and their work required rediscovery. Dr Savill presented to the Royal Society of Medicine in 1916 her work in the use of X-rays to diagnose the presence of gas gangrene infection before the bacteriological reports could and before the advent of symptoms. This work was not widely accepted and in 1917 she expressed a desire that other radiologists consider this work to confirm her conclusions. Dr Ivens presented on a similar topic and both Dr Ivens and Dr Savill's presentations were reviewed in the British Medical Journal. In related work, Dr EJ Dalyell published in the British Medical Journal in 1917 about the presence of B. oedematiens in gas gangrene. Subsequent work on the use of X-ray for the diagnosis of gas gangrene do not refer to the work of SMH doctors. Among other work, Dr Henry wrote a MD thesis on the treatment of wounds that she presented in 1920.[1]

Reception[edit | edit source]

Raymond Poincaré as President.

Accounts vary as to the reception of women doctors, but before the war, French Red Cross organization, the Société de Secours Aux Blessés Militaires, claimed that Germany was victorious in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 in part through the use of ‘feminine hands’.[1] Mme Marie-Christine Daudy, daughter of Henri Goüin, stated that while her father admired the female doctors, French politicians and military personalities who visited the hospital were initially less enthusiastic about their work. Among official recognition, Maréchal Joffre visited the hospital and twice sent a representative, Lt Colonel Rampsont, on his behalf. French president, Raymond Poincaré, and his wife visited on 20 September 1916. In 1918, General Henri Jean Descoings wrote: "We will never be able to express adequately to the Scottish ladies at Royaumont and Villers Cotterêt our gratitude for their devotion to the French wounded’. Villers Cotterêt was a field ambulance established by the Royaumont doctors in 1917. Comtesse de Courson, in her review of efforts during the war, also believed there was initially French resistance to female doctors, but that the doctors were very qualified and respected.[1]

Louisa Garrett Anderson

Female medical students in the UK raised money for the SWH and positions in the organization were desired. The group was also supported by, for instance, Dr Louisa Garrett Anderson (daughter of Elizabeth, pioneer of medical education for women, a suffragette and Chief Surgeon of the Women’s Hospital Corps).[1]

Legacy[edit | edit source]

Contemporary view of the abbey

After the war the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Frances Ivens CBE MS(Lond) ChM(Liverp) FRGOG (1870–1944), was awarded membership of the Légion d'honneur.[3]

In spite of this support, Dr Ivens could not obtain a commission as a doctor in the British Army. While by the end of the war she gained a formal appointment within the French military and along with her own, and six other Royaumont doctors were awarded the Croix de Guerre, there is no mention of the hospital in the British Official Medical History of the War and no British medals were given to the staff. Winston Churchill praised their work in a letter to MP AF Whyte: "The record of their work in Russia and Rumania lit up by the fame of Elsie Inglis will shine in history. Their achievements in France and Serbia and Greece and other theatres were no less valuable, and no body of women has won higher reputation for organizing power and for efficacy in works of mercy."[1]

Many of the doctors left general practice after the war. An exception was Dr Aldrich-Blake who worked in obstetrics and gynecology. The women established the Royaumont Association after the unit disbanded in 1919 and there was an attempt to establish another SWH unit at Royaumont at the onset of World War II, but this failed.[1]

List of hospital staff[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 1.20 1.21 Weiner, M-F. "The Scottish Women’s Hospital at Royaumont", J R Coll Physicians Edinb 2014; 44: 328–36
  2. Norah Neilson Gray: Glasgow Girl, Mary Jane Selwood, Helensburgh Heritage, accessed July 2010
  3. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Crofton
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 4.14 4.15 4.16 4.17 4.18 4.19 4.20 4.21 4.22 4.23 4.24 4.25 4.26 4.27 4.28 4.29 4.30 4.31 4.32 4.33 4.34 4.35 4.36 4.37 4.38 4.39 4.40 4.41 4.42 4.43 4.44 4.45 4.46 4.47 4.48 4.49 4.50 4.51 4.52 4.53 4.54 4.55 4.56 4.57 4.58 4.59 4.60 4.61 4.62 4.63 "Scottish Women's Hospitals, A-Z of Personnel" accessed on 13 October 2015: http://scottishwomenshospitals.co.uk/women/
  5. "Scarletfinders: Scottish Women's Hospitals Index of Names"; http://www.scarletfinders.co.uk/138.html; accessed October 13, 2015
  6. "Photographs of Royaumong" http://www.rcpe.ac.uk/library-archives/photographs-royaumont-ref-chm1; Accessed October 13, 2015

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