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Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Elsie Bowerman

On the outbreak of the First World War, Bowerman supported the decision by Emmeline Pankhurst, to help Britain's war effort. In 1914 Eveline Haverfield founded the Women's Emergency Corps, an organisation which helped organize women to become doctors, nurses and motorcycle messengers. Christabel Marshall described Haverfield as looking "every inch a soldier in her khaki uniform, in spite of the short skirt which she had to wear over her well-cut riding-breeches in public." Appointed as Commandant in Chief of the Women's Reserve Ambulance Corps, Haverfield was instructed to organize the sending of the Scottish Women's Hospital Units to Serbia.

On 5th July, 1916, Elsie Bowerman wrote to her mother: "Mrs Haverfield has just asked me to go out to Serbia at the beginning of August, to drive a car - May I go? I know Miss Whitelaw would let me off Wycombe to go. It is what I've been dying to do & drive a car ever since the war started. I should have to spend the week after the procession learning to drive - the cars are Fords - if I went I would come home when I come back I would not have to go to W.A. It is really like a chance to go to the front. They want drivers so badly. So do say yes - It is too thrilling for words."

According to Elizabeth Crawford: "In September 1916 Elsie Bowerman sailed to Russia as an orderly with the Scottish women's hospital unit, at the request of the Hon. Evelina Haverfield, a fellow suffragette whom she had known for several years. With this unit she travelled via Archangel, Moscow, and Odessa to serve the Serbian and Russian armies in Romania. The women arrived as the allies were defeated, and were soon forced to join the retreat northwards to the Russian frontier."

While awaiting her passage home, in March 1917, Elsie Bowerman witnessed the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas II in St Petersburg. She wrote to her mother: "Throughout we have met with the utmost politeness & consideration from everyone. Revolutions carried out in such a peaceful manner really deserve to succeed. Today weapons only seem to be in the hands of responsible people - not as yesterday, carried in many cases by excited youths. Heard that the ministers have now surrendered. Some have been shot, or shot themselves."

In 1917 Elsie Bowerman became a member of the The Women's Party, an organisation established by Emmeline Pankhurst and Christabel Pankhurst. Its twelve-point programme included: (1) A fight to the finish with Germany. (2) More vigorous war measures to include drastic food rationing, more communal kitchens to reduce waste, and the closing down of nonessential industries to release labour for work on the land and in the factories. (3) A clean sweep of all officials of enemy blood or connections from Government departments. Stringent peace terms to include the dismemberment of the Hapsburg Empire." The party also supported: "equal pay for equal work, equal marriage and divorce laws, the same rights over children for both parents, equality of rights and opportunities in public service, and a system of maternity benefits." Christabel and Emmeline had now completely abandoned their earlier socialist beliefs and advocated policies such as the abolition of the trade unions.

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