Black and white photograph from the Berry Mission to Serbia

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Black and white picture of four nurses from the 'Berry Mission', who are smoking while seated in a garden or similar open setting. The picture is dated between 1914 and 1918.

Although after the first year of the First World War, Serbia came out as undefeated, it suffered from huge human losses and the destruction of its most important areas. Additionally, difficulties were multiplied by an outbreak of epidemic typhus, transmitted by Austrian troops, which rapidly spread throughout the country. The epidemic was suppressed in the spring of 1915, mostly due to the presence of medical missions from the Allied and neutral countries.

One of these missions was the Anglo-Serbian Hospital Unit, organised by Doctors James Berry and his wife, Frances Berry. It was established in January 1915 by the British Red Cross and referred to commonly as the ‘Berry Mission’.

This hospital consisted of 12 men and 42 women and it also controlled and assisted a total of six facilities. At the time, it became the main hospital for surgical intervention in the region and it was crucial to successfully master the typhus epidemic.

Both as a woman and coming from a Croatian family on my mother’s side, I cannot help but feel admiration for these women, who bravely put their lives at risk to aid people they did not know in a distant country. As they seem to be taking a short break from their arduous routine, the way they defiantly look at the camera speaks volumes of their determination and pride. While their individual stories may be lost to us, the memory of their work and sacrifice should be maintained and serve as inspiration for women all over the world.

Audio recording by Valeria Miranda (Volunteer), Edinburgh.
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