Elsie Knocker & Mairi Chisholm
Mairi, almost twelve years younger than her friend Elsie, was raised in an upper class Scottish family. Like Elsie, she had a passion for technical things and motorcycling. The two women became inseparable.
Women’s Emergency Corps
In August 1914, war broke out. Elsie and Mairi wanted to do something and so they volunteered for the Women’s Emergency Corps. Dr. Munro, a Scottish neurologist, was immediately impressed by Mairi’s driving skills. He asked her if she would be willing to become a driver in his Flying Ambulance Corps, an unofficial ambulance service at the front. The aim? To transfer wounded soldiers from the front to hospitals behind the lines as quickly as possible. Mairi agreed and recommended Elsie as well. On 25 September 1914, Elsie and Mairi arrived in Ostend.
In Ghent, Elsie and Mairi picked up wounded soldiers including Germans. They took considerable risks and occasionally found themselves in dangerous situations. After the fall of Antwerp in October 1914, the Flying Ambulance was evacuated to Ostend, where it was incorporated into the Belgian Field Ambulance. Early in November 1914, the two nurses set up their own medical post in Pervijze, just behind the frontline.
Mobile aid post
After 15 months of danger, the brave nurses were finally forced to leave Pervijze. However, discussions with the military authorities quickly provided them with an alternative: a mobile aid post. But Pervijze acted like a magnet on both women and they returned to the village in July.
In March 1918, the madonnas themselves were taken to the L’Océan Hospital in De Panne for medical attention following a gas attack. Elsie was worst affected and was sent back to England for an extended period of convalescence. She was never allowed to return to Pervijze. On 22 June 1918, Elsie and Mairi were reunited for the last time in London. Later, their friendship came to an unexpected end - possibly because Mairi learnt that Elsie was not a widow, as she claimed.
Cycling in the footsteps of Mairie & Elsie
Ijzer 14-18 cycle route traces the old frontline and follows in the footsteps of the Angels of Pervijze. Also the revised Westtoer cycling junction network forms the basis for two themed cycling routes devoted to Her Side of the War. Discover these and other cycle and walking routes.