from 'The War Budget' January 4th, 1917
'the Cellar House at Pervijse'


Thrilling Adventures with the Belgian Army

two portraits
for full story see : 'The Cellar House at Pervijse'


British Women in the Heat of Battle

If a .single person could find re-incarnation in two, then we should say that all the sweetness and sympathy of Florence Nightingale had re-awakened in these years of carnage — beside which the vicissitudes .of the Crimea are cast into shadow — in the persons of the Baroness T'Serclaes and Mairie Chisholm.

Those two names will stand out like beacons in the side of humanity in the history of Belgium's part in the war. The Baroness only married a, Belgian noble a few months ago. She was previously Mrs. Knocker. Miss Chisholm was a young Scottish girl who sold her motor-cycle in order to go to Belgium in the early days of the struggle of the nation's, and join Mrs. Knocker in the great work of succouring the wounded. The two lived for months in a cellar twelve feet by ten; they slept on straw, and of necessity used foul water from a ditch. In their harassing work with the Munro Field Ambulance there was, of course, no possibility of changing clothes. When they wanted sleep they lay down as they were, and were often called up in the middle of the night to attend to ghastly wounds. They had none of the appliances or conveniences of modern surgery; there was the greatest difficulty even in getting boiling water for sterilising their first-aid instruments. The air in the cellar was vitiated by the smell of antiseptics and decayed matter and worse. Day in day out, night after night the guns roared before and behind the Belgian's and the enemies. There was no minute night or day when swift death might not pounce upon them.


left : a portrait from 'the Illustrated War News'
right : the same photo in a hand-colored version from a French magazine


Angels of Healing

They sacrificed their hair, for it was impossible to retain long hair in such conditions. Their hands got engrained with coarse work. Their clothes were smeared with soup and cocoa, mud and blood. And through it all they appeared and still appear to the heroic Belgian soldiers as angels of light and healing.

Mrs. Knocker, whom Miss' Chisholm christened "Gipsy," was a trained nurse, and excellent mechanic and chauffeur when Dr. Munro appointed her to choose the members of the ambulance corps soon after the outbreak of the war. The party arrived in Ostend in September, 1914. No one believed that the Germans would ever get as far as this; but the shadow of the Hun was over the land, rising up ominously on the Eastern horizon.

Then, only the night before, the message had come from the Germans in the shape of a bomb dropped upon the principal hotel adjoining the railway station. The bomb had fallen in the garden and there made a great hole, and one of the first things that the party of English people did on arrival was to go out to look at it with awe and excitement — a. wonderful thing, a hole made by a bomb, the first any of them had ever seen. Most of them were to gain such knowledge of shell- holes that they were to become heartily sickened of them. "Shells, shells, shells !" wrote "Gipsy" in one of her letters later. "How I wish I could never see them again!"

German Savagery

The two were soon to become acquainted with a typical instance of German savagery. At Nazareth, not far from Zele, twenty-six military police holding an outpost had been surrounded by a body of Huns about three-hundred strong, who had acted according to their kind and passed on. The Belgians had resisted to the death, and the whole twenty-six lay there, pitched about in various attitudes.

They had been shot at by a ring of their foes at a range of from ten to fifteen yards; but that was not all. The Germans had deliberately set to work to mutilate and rob the dead. The surrounding grass was rusty with blood. Every face was smashed in except that of the Captain, who had been shot through the heart and left as he was, to be identified, possibly with the cool intention of showing that the leader had not escaped. From the others everything had been stolen — boots, purses, stockings, and other clothes — so that the dead were nearly naked, and even their identification discs had been removed.

Shelled by the Huns

In the hottest part of the fighting line, "Gipsy" and Mairie one day attempted to reach a field, where, among the turnips, were many curious humps. The two realised, with a sudden thrill, that here were the dead and dying whom they had come to seek. Some doctors in fact, were already at work crouching down, and, seeing them, called out to them to come and help. Most of the bodies were in that cold grey-green uniform the colour of which seemed somehow to have got into the air and the sky, and tinted them a cold grey-green, too — a colour which will for ever be associated in the mind of every Belgian with horrors unspeakable.

The very first man they saw lying by the hedge was stone dead, shot through the jaw. Another not far off lay on his back, his face a bloody mask upturned to the frowning sky he was still as marble, except for his right knee, which twitched regularly, ceaselessly, like a returning pulse, "Gipsy" hastened over to the help of the doctor who had called her, and at that moment, without warning or expectation, a salvo of German shells burst around them. They had been observed in their work of mercy and were being shot at. "Catch them ! Wipe them out! Good job too ! Why bother with the wounded — our own or the others? What use is a wounded man any more ! Let them die." Thus spoke the batteries, and the .shells fell faster. To be fired at by Germans while succouring Germans was rather too much, and the workers fled precipitately.


a portrait from 'the Illustrated War News'


Another Attempt at Succour

When dusk fell at last, "Gipsy" and Mairie made an urgent request to Dr. Munro that they might be allowed to go back to the turnip field, for they would have risked their lives indifferently for friend or foe, so long as they were wounded and helpless. He could not resist their pleading, and carried them along with him to the field.

It was almost dark when they worked softly into position as near to the scene of action as possible, and then stepped gently down, and thrusting aside the osier bushes that line the road, crept holding their breath, out to the awfully still humped grey forms. They reached the man that the doctor and "Gipsy" "had begun to bandage that day, but he was already dead, killed by the brutality of his own comrades when he might have had a chance of life. Then they instinctively drew nearer to each other as they glanced toward that other silent form, and there, regularly as the second-hand of a clock, that awful galvanic movement, went on, as it had done for hour after hour; the twitching of the right knee. up and down, up and down.

They picked up the poor wretch, who seemed quite unconscious, on a stretcher and carried him back to the ambulance; but he died the same night.

In Charge of Prisoners

One day, while the two were out with the ambulance, they were accosted by some Belgian officers, who asked if the ladies would taken back to Furnes some German prisoners. "Gipsy" rose to the occasion at once. "I think it was the proudest moment of my life," she afterwards said.

The five Germans, well set-up, fair, hard-eyed striplings, were transferred to the ambulance without delay, and as they were installed and the order given to start the two friends saw, with a .sort of terrified glee that the Belgian officers did not think it necessary to provide an escort. They scorned to take the abnormal proceeding as a matter of course, and stood in a. row and saluted while the two women drove off with the strangest car-load it had ever been woman's part to convoy.

Eight miles lay between them and safety and at any moment, if those unemotional, ruthless young brutes inside had taken it into their heads, they could have got out and knocked the amateur chauffeurs on the head, and escaped with the car. As they went cautiously along, this aspect of it was naturally very much to the fore in the .minds, of the two on the front seat and they spoke of it in whispers; but possibly the Germans themselves were glad enough to get safely out of that hell of shot and shell, for they made no attempt to escape.


a view of the aid-post - the famous cellar house of Pervijse


A Country in Flames and Ruins

The night work was perhaps the greatest strain, for there could, of course, be no lights, and the way was lit up grimly by the sudden flare of the exploding shells, or the dim light of distant buildings which they had set on fire. It was a curious sight to see the roof of one of these huge torches collapse suddenly, apparently in absolute silence, for the ceaseless cannonade drowned all other sounds; then the flames would shoot up like a great cascade of fireworks, brightening everything for hundreds of yards around, and illuminating the great holes cut in the road until they appeared like an irregular procession of monstrous tortoises.

Sometimes ,so many of these devil fires were alight at once that they brought back reminiscences of Coronation night. "Farmhouses burning, trees burning, everything burning. It was a grand sight and one I shall never forget," wrote Mairie

The Warrior's Revolver

The grimness and tragedy of the life upon which these two delicately-nurtured ladles had, embarked of their own free will was occasionally enlivened by episodes of a lighter nature. One night, for instance, the two returned to rest, worn out by the fatigue .of many hours work with the wounded. They tumbled into bed dead-beat.

The next morning they were still in bed when they heard a knock at the door, and when Mairie opened it she was confronted by a burly French soldier, who looked uncommonly sheepish. He explained hurriedly and with his eyes anywhere but on her face that he wanted his revolver. "But I have not got your revolver," said the surprised Mairie.

"'Gipsy,' here's a man who wants his revolver, at least, I think that's what he wants, unless there's some other French word which sounds exactly like it."

But it was his revolver that he inquired for steadily, and when they pressed him to say where he left it, and why he thought they had got it, his eyes roved more wildly than before; as he blurted out, "It is in your bed, ladies."

Soldiers in the Bed

Hastily they turned back the bed, but the man .slipped past them, and, pushing his grimy hand beneath the pillow, drew forth a heavy revolver. "Gipsy" snatched it from him. "You shan't have it until you tell us how it came there," she exclaimed, in mingled amusement and indignation.

So he confessed that he and the other soldiers who were about the place, and had no regular quarters, used to come and sleep in the bed in the day-time, because they knew the ladies were always out until a late hour. . "It is. very comfortable," he ended, gripping the revolver and grinning as he rushed, out.

Soldiers sleeping in the bed in the daytime! Only those who have been among soldier's will know what it means. It explained so many things.

German Kultur

"The two" have gained intimate, knowledge of the German soldiers, and a little incident which they relate reveals how thin is the veneer of Kultur which the Huns boast that they possess.

A German prisoner, white-faced and terrified, fully expected to be put to the torture on his capture; wild-eyed, he refused even a cigarette — lest it should be poisoned. Of such are the troops of the Fatherland.

"Gipsy" and Mairie kept a record of their experiences, which has been put into literary form by Mr. G. E. Mitton, and published by Messrs, A. & C. Black, under the title of. "The Cellar House at Pervijse" It is a monument to their courage and endurance of two fearless Englishwomen.


from a Belgian magazine - 'the Madonnas of Pervijse'

left and right - the two ladies of pervijse. Taken from a French illustrated newspaper

from 'the War Budget'