Stobart, Mabel (Medical Service)


Set up hospitals for Bulgaria during the Balkan wars and on the western and Balkan fronts during World War I. Mabel Stobart was a supporter of female suffrage. She believed that in order to gain the right to vote women needed to demonstrate their active patriotism. She founded the Women’s Sick and Wounded Convoy Troops (WSWCT) to provide help to soldiers at the front. The WSWCT sent women to Bulgaria in 1912 to assist Bulgarian soldiers in the First Balkan War. Stobart had approached Sir Frederick Treves, chairman of the British Red Cross Society, to allow the WSWCT to send women to Bulgaria. He had responded that there "was no work fitted for women in the Balkans" (Stobart 1935, 87). Lord Noel Buxton, however, agreed to have her accompany him to Bulgaria. Despite newspaper advertisements placed by the British Red Cross society advising women not to engage in the Bulgarian project, Stobart recruited fifteen British women volunteers—three doctors, six trained nurses, and six assistants. She and her volunteers were able, after a seven-day wagon trek over the Rhadope Mountains, to establish a hospital across the Turkish frontier at Kirk-Kilisse close to the fighting to aid wounded soldiers. Their effort was welcomed by the Bulgarian queen, Eleonora, a trained nurse who had tended to wounded soldiers during the Russo-Japanese War. Following the end of the First Balkan War, Stobart decided to disband her unit’s operation. The three doctors, however, stayed behind and continued to work with the ill and, with the resumption of hostilities, with the wounded.

Although Stobart had spoken publicly against the impending war in August 1914, once Britain entered it she and Lady Muir McKenzie established the Women’s National Service League (WNSL). Stobart argued, "Women are capable of taking a share, a serviceable share, in warfare, without inexpediency to any concerned, and even with direct benefit to all concerned" (Stobart 1913, 212). The WNSL recruited volunteers to provide all of the skills necessary for the establishment of a military hospital operated entirely by women. On August 18 she headed for Brussels with her husband to prepare for the arrival of a WNSL unit. The rapid advance of the Germans preempted the operation. When Sto-bart attempted to reach Venlo in the Netherlands, having been given a pass by the German commandant in Brussels, she, her husband, and the unit chaplain were arrested as spies and almost summarily executed before being sent to Aachen, Germany, for trial. There a sympathetic military judge believed their story and sent them on to the Netherlands. After returning to England, Stobart led a WNSL unit to Antwerp, where they set up a hospital for wounded soldiers. After just ten days of operation, the Germans overwhelmed the city’s defenses, and the hospital had to be evacuated. Stobart, who was undaunted, set up another WNSL hospital near Cherbourg, France, in November. This unit consisted of forty-five women, including six doctors, fifteen nurses, and ten orderlies as well as ambulance drivers and support personnel.

In February 1915 Stobart, feeling that her organizational work had been done, was drawn by news from Serbia to offer her services to the Serbian Relief Fund. In April she sailed to Salonika, Greece, with seven female doctors and eighteen trained nurses (Stobart 1935, 183). They set up their hospital at Kragujevatz and seven satellite dispensaries. The women had been in Serbia only three months when an orderly and a nurse died of typhus. In September Stobart was asked by the Serbians to command the First Serbian-English Field Hospital; the staff consisted of women from her WNSL unit and Serbians. Toward the end of October Sto-bart and the unit she commanded were forced to withdraw with the Serbian army and tend to the wounded during a three-month fighting retreat through Serbia, Montenegro, and Albania to the coast. She and the convoy she commanded reached Scutari on December 10, and from there she and her British personnel made their way home. In London Stobart was censured by the Serbian Relief Fund for, in her words, "having exceeded my instructions, and having led my Unit to unnecessary risks in accompanying the Army to the front" (Stobart 1935, 340).

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