Feature Articles - The Life of Evelina Haverfield - Austrian Invasion of Serbia

Evelina Haverfield In September, the enemy began amassing their forces along their borders with Serbia; the Austrians bolstered by German divisions in the north, and the Bulgarians along the eastern border.

Sometime, while all this activity was going on, Evelina received a letter from a cousin in London, who was attending to her mail there, advising her that her eldest son, John, had been killed in action, fighting with the Allied
forces in Mesopotamia.  She had to deal with this personal blow in an already difficult and dangerous situation.

In early October, the enemy unleashed their attack by first bombing Belgrade, then invading Serbia all along the northern and eastern borders.  The Serbs fought courageously, but they were greatly outnumbered and outclassed militarily.

As the Serbian Army fell back, all along the front, a growing wave of refugees moved south and west ahead of it, in their attempt to escape an enemy occupation.  As soon as Belgrade fell to the enemy, it was necessary to evacuate the S.W.H. frontier units.  They were ordered to move south to Krushevatz, a town in central Serbia where there was a large military hospital. Dr. Hollway's unit, consisting of 22 Scottish Women and a few Serbian employees, became part of the exodus south.

Evelina and the support staff threw together bundles of blankets, bedding, bandages, and other necessary materials for the move, and the medical personnel packed essential surgical instruments and their valuable supply of medications.  The whole unit piled into a corner of a cattle truck on a crowded train headed south.

Soon after Dr. Hollway's unit arrived in Krushevatz, Dr. Inglis and her unit, joined them.  With the very limited supply of materials they had brought with them, and some basic equipment supplied by the Serbian Hospital, they established a hospital unit in an abandoned storage building.

It had two storeys, both dark and dirty; the lower level had a dirt floor on which the patients' mattresses had to be placed.  There was space and primitive facilities for about 150 patients, but because of the large number of wounded soldiers which continued to arrive with the retreating Serbian Army, the Scottish Women had to try and accommodate four times that many, even before they were ready to admit any.

Because of the imminent collapse of the Serbian defences and the likelihood of an enemy occupation of the entire country, most of the Scottish Women chose to join the retreat and get out of the country while they could.  But some thirty-four women, in the two units headed by Dr. Inglis and Dr. Hollway, chose to stay and ride out the occupation because they felt that the Serbs badly needed the care that they were providing.

In spite of the recent loss of her son, John, and the prospects of her own precarious situation, Evelina chose to stay.

The invasion from the north, by the forces of Germany and Austria, had commenced in early October, but because of the primitive state of transportation and the mountainous terrain of Serbia, it was early November by the time a German regiment reached Krushevatz.

As the fighting got nearer and the sound of artillery could be heard in the town, a sense of panic seized the population as desperate crowds besieged the bakers' shops and looted any unguarded food in town, and on arrival at the railway station.

In the midst of this chaotic situation, Evelina took possession of the Serbian Red Cross stores, to protect them from looters.  And she struggled daily to deal with the precarious food situation for the S.W.H. patients, and the remaining women.

In early November, after a bombardment of the town which killed and wounded a number of the townspeople, and set fire to an ammunition train located near the hospitals, a German regiment entered Krushevatz and imposed military rule.  With them they brought a number of Serbian prisoners, among which were some wounded soldiers.

The wounded were taken in by the S.W.H. units and the Serbian hospital, but the other prisoners were left to survive outdoors, in winter weather, with only one meagre meal daily provided by the enemy.

During cold winter nights the Serbian prisoners, who were camped close to the hospitals, suffered terribly.  Some were ill, and their coughing could be heard by the Scottish Women.  Evelina's concern for their suffering frequently prompted her to get up in the night, and with one of the other women, go out into the wet and cold and bring in a sick prisoner.  Sometimes her efforts were thwarted by the Serbian hospital director who considered the prisoner to be a malingerer.

To get enough milk, eggs, and sometimes a chicken, for their patients, Evelina had to outwit the enemy when buying food from local shops or nearby farms.  Because the Serbian people knew that the Scottish Women were caring for their wounded soldiers, they would hide the food from the Germans and smuggle it to Evelina who then would trudge back to the hospital laden with heavy loads of milk and whatever else she was able to obtain.  The Scottish Women often went hungry in order to ensure that their sickest patients received the best food.

As the patients recovered from their wounds, they were either sent home or interned by the enemy.  Soon the Scottish Women found that they could finish their hospital work in the morning, and then one of the doctors,
with Evelina, would visit homes where there were sick civilians and attend to their needs.

Evelina would include a search for food with these house visits, but often she became involved with helping some of the Serbs deal with other urgent problems.  During the winter months she became known to hundreds of Serbian soldiers because of her hospital work, and numerous civilians through her home visits.

Because of the diminishing demand for their work, at the end of December twenty of the women left for England, probably through the assistance of the International Red Cross.  Only fourteen remained.

Next - England - and Service on the Eastern Front

"Monkey meat" was U.S. slang for the canned beef and carrot ration.

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Evelina Haverfield