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The Flaming Sword in Serbia (1916) | Mrs Stobart's Field Hospital

The Flaming Sword in Serbia (1916)

Price £75.00 Sale


By Mrs St. Clair Stobart

Hodder and Stoughton Ltd, London, 1916

A very rare 1st edition of this classic WW1 memoir of wartime Nursing in Serbia. It tells the epic story of Mrs St. Clair Stobart’s Field Hospital, its frontline work in Serbia, and the harrowing 12 week retreat of the Serbian Army and civilians through the Albanian mountains. Around 100,000 people are belieived to have died along the way before they finally reached safety at Scutari in Decenber 1915. The column led by Mrs Stobart was the only one to get through without casualties. The book opens with an account of her narrow escape from being shot as a spy in Belgium at the start of the war:

‘The Major said “You are spies, and the fate of spies is to be shot within twenty four hours. Now you know your fate.” I answered cheerily, as though it were quite a common occurence to hear little fates like that, “But Mein Herr Major, I am sure you would not wish to do such an injustice. Won’t you at least look at our papers, and see that what we have told you is true; we were engaged in Hospital work when” etc. He then replied, and his voice rasped and barked like that of a mad dog, “You are English, and, whether you are right or wrong, this is a war of annihilation.”'

Mrs Mabel St. Clair Stobart (1862-1954) was the founder of the Women's Sick and Wounded Convoy Corps (1912) and the Women's National Service League (1914). She was also a supporter of women's suffrage before the First World War. When WW1 broke out, she set up a field hospital in Belgium, risking capture by the advancing German forces. Subsequently, with a commissioned rank of Major, she served on the Balkan Front where she commanded the Serbian Relief Fund's Front Line Field Hospital. She and her medical staff accompanied the Serbian Army's retreat through the Albanian mountains. Although little known now in Britain, Mrs Stobart is still renowned as a war hero in Serbia.

The Stobart Field Hospital in Serbia: Under the auspices of the Serbian Relief Fund, the members of the Field Hospital had set out from England in April 1915. When they reached Salonica they discovered that their final destination was to be Kragujevatz, about 60 miles from Belgrade. Less than three weeks after they had left Liverpool, they had reached Kragujevatz, found a suitable site for their tented hospital, pitched the tents and installed the equipment. The staff were virtually all women, aided by a number of Austrian P.O.Ws. to do the heavy work.

Within days it was realised that they were not only needed to treat sick and wounded soldiers but that there was also a desperate need for a Dispensary for the civilian population. As Mrs Stobart wrote, 'we immediately pitched a bell tent at the outer edge of the hospital encampment on the roadside, improvised a notice board from an old packing case and, with the help of an interpreter, wrote, in Serbian, words to the effect, that if folks would bring their own bottles, medicine and medical advice would be given gratis. A doctor, a nurse, and an interpreter took charge of the tent dispensary and we waited with eager curiosity to see what happened. The result was that within a few weeks 12,000 people, men, women, and children, came to this roadside dispensary either in ox-wagons or walking, from distances of fifty, sixty, even seventy miles, ill with typhus, diphtheria, typhoid, smallpox, tuberculosis and every conceivable and inconceivable form of disease.'

So successful was this initiative that it was decided to establish a ring of the dispensaries within a 30 mile radius of the hospital. The necessary funds were raised by the Serbian Relief Fund and extra staff and equipment were sent out. A total of six dispensaries were set up, but their existence was to be short-lived. In September Bulgarian troops were massing to the east and Austrian and German forces to the north, preparatory to invading Serbia. As the Serbian Army mobilised, Mrs. Stobart was asked to organise a Flying Field Ambulance (Hospital) to accompany the army to the front. The remainder of the hospital staff and doctors would remain at Kragujevatz, but the Dispensaries would have to close. Their equipment, tents and stores were packed into 30 wagons and these, in turn, were loaded onto railway wagons and all left for Pirot, and the front.

In early October the hospital tents had only just been set up as the first of the wounded Serbian soldiers started to arrive and news came that enemy forces were advancing. The Serbian Army, and the Stobart Field Hospital, were forced to retreat. The next three months would see not only the army retreating but also the refugee civilian population, as they abandoned their homes in the path of the oncoming enemy. They were constantly on the move, along roads that were barely passable; over high mountain passes. As winter set in food was almost impossible to find. In spite of all the difficulties and hardships, the hospital unit still managed to look after the sick and wounded. Even when they reached the coast there were problems in finding a boat to take them but, eventually, they found one to take them to Scutari. From there it was on to Brindisi and then by train through Italy to Paris and finally London.


In acceptable condition, ex-library. The illustrated boards are quite worn and faded, with general signs of wear, marks, and fading. The binding and hinges are very good and secure. The text is in fair condition, with some marks and scattered foxing throughout. There are library markings to the front endpapers, and small ink stamps in several places in the text. The plates are in fair to good condition, with some marks and small library ink stamps at the top corner. The folding map that should be present near the end of the book is missing.

Published: 1916
Khaki llustrated boards
illustrated with photographic plates and 1 map
Dimensions: 130mm x 190mm
Pages: 325