Source and activity 3

Photo showing a first-aid post, Belgium, 1917

Nurses attending wounded solider at first-aid post
First-aid post photograph.
[NLS reference: Acc.8006 (3), 311]
View larger photo

This photograph shows Mairi Chisholm and Elsie Knocker, ambulance drivers and first-aiders.

They became famous for setting up a first-aid post on the front line between Nieuport and Ypres at Pervyse, Belgium.

They were the only women permitted to work on the front line on the entire Western Front.

At the time when this photo was taken, Mairi was just 21 years old.

Life on the front line

Mairi and Elsie worked for the Belgian authorities. They set up their first-aid post in a cellar, and later in a partially bombed-out house.

After collecting wounded soldiers from the front line, they gave basic first aid before the men were transported to military hospitals.

Photographs and scrapbooks

Mairi Chisholm's photograph albums and scrapbooks, which contain newspaper and magazine cuttings from her time on the front line, are in the National Library of Scotland collections. View inventory of Mairi Chisholm's papers (PDF: 2 pages; 52 KB).

The diaries of Mairi Chisholm and Else Knocker are in the collections at the Imperial War Museum.

Suggested activities

This photograph shows Mairi Chisholm and Elsie Knocker treating a wounded soldier from their first-aid post in Belgium. Do you think it appears staged or natural? Who might be the intended viewer or audience? 

What aspects of the women's work and personalities does this photograph highlight?

The 'Daily Mirror' newspaper captioned this photograph 'The New Ladies of the Lamp'. By comparing Mairi and Elsie to Florence Nightingale, what message is being conveyed about their work and contribution to the war effort?

Consider the physical conditions in which the women are working. What might be some of the challenges and dangers of working in this space?

Compare the conditions of this first-aid post with a modern hospital ward, or find an image of a modern field hospital. Think about factors like:

  • Hygiene
  • Heat
  • Space
  • Lighting
  • Cleanliness
  • Uniform.

Source and activity 4



Themes in focus — Women in the Great War


Find out more about women in the First World War in NLS collections

Search our catalogue for details of books about women's role in the First World War.


View list of material relating to Mairi Chisholm (PDF: 56 KB; 2 pages) in the military and naval papers collections at NLS.


Explore our web feature 'Experiences of War' web feature based on diaries and first-hand accounts.


View official photographs of the First World War .


Learn about the women's suffrage movement in Scotland in our online learning resource.


Visit Scotland on Screen to find film clips relating to the First World War and women at work.

NLS learning for you

If there's a topic you'd like more information about or if you have any suggestions for learning, email us.

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