Miles Franklin, as I have written before (here, for instance) wrote quite a bit for Australian newspapers during WWI, and none of it has been collected and republished, but sits largely unknown and/or ignored in her collected documents in the Mitchell (State Library of NSW). The two most substantial pieces that I know of are How the Londoner Takes his War (1916) by Dissenting Diarist, 20,000 words in 43 sketches – which no search of Trove which I can devise will bring up – and Nemari ništa: Six Months with the Serbs (1918).
Roy Duncan in his Introduction to On Dearborn Street (1915/1981) mentions a third unpublished ms, which Jill Roe does not,“Red Cross Nurse” (1914). ‘Digressing savagely on male responsibility for the War, it speaks of “this half-tamed yahoo, this ninety percent criminal which is known as civilized man”’.
Somehow, the last time I did a search, and I have been trying off and on for all the time I have been a blogger, I came up with both an academic paper on Nemari ništa and the text itself, all 108 pp, for which I had to pay good money. But, no worries, or as MF herself might have said, “nemari ništa”, it matters nothing.
Briefly, at the beginning of the War, Franklin was in Chicago with the National Women’s Trade Union League, as secretary/treasurer and as editor of its newspaper Life and Labor. In 1915 she came to London to assist in the war effort, working with the breakaway, anti-war wing of the suffragists, the Women’s Freedom League.
How she got from there to the pro-Empire position she espouses in Nemari ništa, I’m not sure, but in 1917, after unsuccessfully seeking to become an ambulance driver (you had to supply your own ambulance), she signed up as a cook with Scottish Women’s Hospitals, serving behind the Serbian lines in Macedonia from summer 1917 through the following winter, working mostly as a hospital orderly and ending up as personal assistant to the matron.
Franklin landed at Salonika (Thessaloniki) in July after a pleasant jaunt across France and Italy by train, and then by ship – escorted by Japanese destroyers – around the Peloponnese and back up to Salonika . Her hospital was 120 km west, at Lake Ostrovo (now L. Vegoritida) overlooked by Mount Kajmakčalan to the north on what is now the Greece/Republic of North Macedonia border (map). She was picked up personally at the wharf by the CO, Agnes Bennett, and driven directly to Ostrovo in Bennett’s ‘Tin Lizzie’. “The little camp was pretty as a picture. Its white tents, sheltering a community of over three hundred souls, nestled among the near hills in a sheltered basin under some aged and shady elms.”
Here she wakes to her first day:
My breakfast was brought to me at 7 a.m. I rashly took a draught of the natural looking milk. Bah! I hastily spat out something tasting like raw mutton suet – my first experience of Nannie as a foster mother. Goat’s milk is an acquired taste. I acquired it judging it to be more nourishing than diluted tin.
At 8 a.m. I sallied forth to go on duty, having learned that the first staff cook was in what was called the “Sick Tent” with malaria, and her coadjutor incapacitated by a badly scalded leg, the result of a misunderstanding with that mettlesome instrument of peace and warfare, the kettle.
Our field hospital was a national and international combination which might have been assembled specially for my happiness, representative as it was of nations which through birth or residence were dearest to me on earth.
The Balkans had become free of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire in the 1912,13 Balkan Wars, after which Macedonia was ruled by the Serbs. But by mid 1917 the Serbian Army had been forced out of Serbia by Bulgaria, back down into Macedonia. The actual lines were somewhere to the north of Kajmakčalan, though not so far that Franklin couldn’t hear the guns.
I was thinking of reviewing Roger McDonald’s 1915 (1979) this ANZAC day, but it will have to wait another year. Over at AWWC I have set up a four part series on Franklin’s war work, which may well be my pièce de résistance.
Scottish Women’s Hospitals and its Australian volunteers, Debbie Robson (here)
An extract from Nemari ništa, Sketch III – The Plight of the Serb (here)
My review of Nemari ništa (here)
Another short piece by Franklin, ‘Active Service Socks’ (here)
Since writing this, early in April, I have received a paper – I must have left my details with a history site – by Paraskevas Savvaidis & Alexandros Garyfellos, The Cartography of Memory: Scottish Women’s Hospitals around Thessaloniki (Salonika) during the First World War, which includes this photo which the authors say is Ostrovo, though the caption indicates it is probably another SWH unit, located at Mikra, a little way south of Salonika. Still, it gives us an idea of how Ostrovo’s cluster of white tents looked.