Thursday 28 May 2015

New pot from 2014: A memorial to WW1 1915, Ararat to Albania

Detail showing The Great Serbian Retreat, 1915-16
Detail showing the Albanian Mountains
Detail: Flora Sandes
Detail: Mabel St. Clair Stobart
Detail: Dr. Elsie Maud Inglis

The WW1 pot remembers a tiny splinter of that vast sprawling war. 1915 was the year of the Armenian genocide, (, still denied by the Turkish government and still an open wound for many Armenians. The scars on the land where once the Armenian villages stood and people lived, can easily be seen in Eastern Turkey, particularly around Mr. Ararat, shown on the pot surrounded by fields of wild-flowers  - stripes of yellow, pink and purple. The image was taken from a photograph I took of Mt. Ararat as I explored the ruins of one such village.

Dr. Elsie Maud Inglis, (1864-1917), shown on the pot at the base, in front of the largest tent, founded the Scottish Women’s Hospitals, (SWH), at the start of WW1,  They were staffed by women and operated independently of the War Office. Inglis had offered her services as an experienced doctor in support of the war effort but was brushed off with: ‘My good lady, go home and sit still.’ The SWH set up field hospitals throughout the conflict zones in Europe and Russia and, in 1915, the hospital units were in Serbia to support both soldiers wounded in action on the Balkan front, and the civilian population, which was suffering an epidemic of typhoid.

Above the field hospital is a bullock train bringing supplies to set up one of the field hospitals in Serbia. Mabel St. Clair Stobart, (, (1864-1952), pictured further round the pot, at the base, with two horses, founded the Women’s Sick and Wounded Convoy Corps, (1912), and the National Women’s Service League, (1914). She commanded the Serbian Relief Fund's Front Line Field Hospital in Serbia and, during the bitter winter of 1915/16, joined the Great Serbian Retreat, leading her staff through the Albanian mountains to the Adriatic coast, without any loss of life.

At the top of the pot, just beneath the rim, is Mr. Ararat. Moving down and around, a part of the Great Retreat becomes visible, as it moves towards the high mountain passes towards Albania. When Serbia was invaded by German, Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian forces in late 1915, retreat was ordered by the Serbian general as the only viable way to survive. It was an exodus of some 355,000 people: men, women, and children, with donkeys, cattle, carts, and whatever they could carry. Approximately 200,000 people died in the mountains, with 155,000 reaching the Albanian coast, and eventually crossing the Adriatic to Corfu and Salonika.

Joining the retreat was Flora Sandes, (1876-1956), who was working with the St. John’s Ambulance unit at the time. She had always wanted to be a soldier and resented the limitations of life as a girl and as a woman. She had to join the retreat when enemy forces invaded and, initially, joined the Serbian Red Cross but then enrolled in the Serbian army and fought on the allied side, with the Serbs. She was awarded the Order of the Karadorde’s Star, Serbia’s highest military honour, for bravery in active service, ‘under fire,’ and was promoted to Sergeant major. She lived most of the rest of her life in Serbia, returning to England only after the death of her husband in 1941. She is pictured at the base of the pot, lit up by fire, during the battle of Monastir, where she was wounded in 1916.