A reason to remember Tain in North East Scotland is Dr Elizabeth Ross. She wasn’t born there, as her banker father worked in London at the time of her birth, but the family came from the Ross- shire town, and returned after his death. But except for a small plaque in Tain’s St Duthus Church she is almost forgotten. Interestingly this is NOT the case in Serbia. Each year she is commemorated in a ceremony attended by Serbian high ranking dignitaries and many thousands of people. It is a huge celebration.
Her story is one that should be known more widely, not only in Tain, but in the wider world. It is one of terrific bravery and courage. She died in Kragujevac Serbia of Typhus while nursing victims of the epidemic which killed 300,000 in 1915 and were casualties too of the First World War. She is buried alongside nurses Mabel Dearmer and Lorna Ferriss. They were part of a larger scale operation of ‘The Scottish Women’s Hospitals’ which sent over one thousand nurses and doctors to assist the dying and injured in the early days of the war. Elizabeth knew that she risked her life, but then that is how she had always lived. At her funeral service these words were said;
‘Dr Ross, you came to help this country in which we bury you today. By your unstinting help, you have fulfilled your duty as a Christian, as a British woman, as a woman and a scholar. My country thanks you. Your memory will live in every Serbian heart, and your outstanding example of self denial arouses admiration and love for your British homeland, the Britain you belong to, the greatness of your English nation.’
She qualified as one of the first female graduates with a medical degree from Glasgow University and followed with further studies from Durham and Glasgow. She was a medical officer for the islands of Colonsay and Oronsay, but being extremely adventurous applied for a post in Persia in 1907. She wrote a memoir A Lady Doctor in Bakhtiari Land which is masterly in its understatement, underplaying the many difficulties of travelling to southern Persia and then working in the region, where the mountain folk reminded her of Scotland.
She had a spell as a ship’s surgeon and travelled to Japan via India and then back to Persia before being asked to go to Serbia.
Fellow students at Glasgow University paid tribute to her in their magazine of 1915;-
‘……..Her outstanding quality was courage in the face of any danger, and although possessed of a frail and delicate physique, she would enter where even a man might hesitate, in the enthusiasm for her work. It was the great power and influence of her mind which led to heights which others only dreamt of from afar…’
Written for Sheroes of History by Sue Crampton
Find out more…
Discover more about Dr Ross at the Tain Museum and on their website
Glasgow University also has some more information about her life and achievements.