Heroines of the Western Front

Elsie Knocker and Mairi Chisholm on the cover of Home Chat in 1918.

Elsie Knocker and Mairi Chisholm on the cover of Home Chat in 1918 wearing one of the many medals they were awarded. The ‘heroines’ or ‘Madonnas’ of Pervyse were world famous

Elsie Knocker and Mairi Chisholm were volunteer nurses who worked on the front line in Flanders with Belgian troops for most of the First World War – the only women working on the Western Front. Though their hospital was against British regulations, they carried on regardless, were lauded by the press and dubbed the ‘heroines of Pervyse’, hence their place on the cover of Home Chat, the best-selling women’s weekly of the time. Chisholm was just 18 when she volunteered with her motorcycling friend for the Flying Ambulance Corps. Once in Flanders, they set up their own, unofficial, first-aid station in the cellar of a collapsed house in the village of Pervyse. Their dug-out so close to the front was against regulations, but they carried on regardless, were lauded by the press and dubbed the ‘heroines of Pervyse’.

Knocker and Chisholm broke the rules to do their job, as did other pioneering women such as Edith Cavell, a nurse who was executed, and Flora Sandes – the only British woman soldier of WWI.

In 1915, Knocker and Chisholm were decorated twice by the Belgians. They were credited with saving thousands of lives and, as the only women working on the Western Front, were ‘les madones de Pervyse’ to the troops (the ‘madonnas’ nickname came from a shrine over the entrance to their dug-out). They toured Britain to raise funds for supplies and an ambulance.  The tragedy of their relationship was that … Read more

Magazines at war

Women in the First World War

London Opinion magazine and the Kitchener poster

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