Archiver > FARMBOROUGH > 2003-10 > 1066792466

From: "Christopher Edwards" <>
Subject: Florence FARMBOROUGH
Date: Wed, 22 Oct 2003 03:14:33 +0000

Florence Farmborough was born in 1887. Florence moved to Russia in 1908
where she found work as an English teacher. On the outbreak of the First
World War, Farmborough immediately offered her services as a nursing sister
at the hospital established by Princess Golitsin in Moscow. Later she
accompanied Russian troops in Poland, Austria and Rumania.

Forced to retreat with the Russian Army, Farmborough witnessed the Russian
Revolution in 1917. Farmborough fled to Siberia where with Maria Bochkareva,
the head of the Women's Death Battalion, she managed to get a ship to the
United States. All through the First World War, Farmborough kept a diary and
by 1918 it contained over 400,000 words.

In 1926 Farmborough became a university lecturer in Valencia and remained in
the country for the next ten years. A supporter of General Francisco Franco,
Farmborough moved to Salamanca after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.
During the war Farmbrough made radio propaganda broadcasts to English
speaking-countries. Her book, Life and People of Spain, was published in

Farmborough returned to Britain in 1940. Her book of war memoirs, based on
her war diaries, entitled Nurse at the Russian Front, was published in 1974.
Florence Farmborough died in 1980.

(1) In January, 1915, Florence Farmborough attended a special church service
in Moscow to mark her promotion to a qualified Red Cross nurse.

The golden-robed priest stood before me. "Your name?" "Florence," I
answered. The priest paused and whispered to his deacon-acolyte. A book was
brought and consulted, then he consulted me: "Of the Pravoslavny (Orthodox)
Church?" "No," I said, "of the Church of England." Again the whispered
consultation, again the book was referred to. I felt myself growing cold
with fear. But he was back again and resumed the prescribed ritual, the
tongue slightly twisting at the pronunciation of the foreign name.

"To thee, Florenz, child of God, servant of the Most High, is given this
token of faith, of hope, of charity. With faith shalt they follow Christ the
Master, with hope shalt thou look towards Christ for thy salvation, with
charity shalt thou fulfill thy duties. Thou shalt tend the sick, the
wounded, the needy: with words of comfort shalt thou cheer them." I held the
red cross to my breast and pressed my lips to the crucifix with a heart full
of gratitude to God, for he had accepted me.

One by one, we moved back to our appointed places. On our breasts the Red
Cross gleamed. I looked at my Russian sisters. We exchanged happy,
congratulatory smiles. As for me, I stood there with great contentment in
mind and spirit. A dream had been fulfilled: I was now an official member of
the great Sisterhood of the Red Cross. What the future held in store I could
not say, but, please God, my work must lie among those of our suffering
brothers who most needed medical aid and human sympathy - among those who
were dying for their country on the battlefields of war-stricken Russia.

(2) In 1916 Florence Farmborough witnessed an explosion on the Eastern Front
(28th May, 1916)

About a dozen men perished on the spot; others crawled out, but collapsed
and died soon afterwards. Only two of them were able to stand and they were
brought to us. They came, both of them, walking: two naked red figures!
Their clothes had been burnt off their bodies. They stood side by side in
the large barn which we had converted into a dressing-station, raw from head
to foot. Injections were immediately ordered, but we could find no skin and
had to put the needle straight into the flesh.

We laid them down upon straw in an adjoining shed. In an hour or two, the
cotton wool was completely saturated, but we could help them no further,
save with oft-repeated injections of morphia which, we prayed, would deaden
their sufferings. They died, both of them, before morning. And neither of
them had spoken a single word! I don't think that anything which I had ever
seen touched me so keenly.

(3) In the summer of 1916, Florence Farmborough accompanied the Russian Army
to Poland (31st July, 1916)

As we continued our journey, we passed more than one battlefield. The dead
were still lying around, in strange, unnatural postures - remaining where
they had fallen: crouching, doubled up, stretched out, prostrate, prone,
Austrians and Russians lying side by side. And there were lacerated, crushed
bodies lying on darkly stained patches of earth. There was one Austrian
without a leg and with a blackened, swollen face; another with a smashed
face, terrible to look at; a Russian soldier, with legs doubled under him,
leaning against the barbed wire. And on more than one open wound flies were
crawling and there were other moving, thread-like things.

I was glad Anna and Ekaterina were with me; they, too, were silent; they,
too, were sorely shaken. Those "heaps" were once human beings: men who were
young, strong and vigorous; now they lay lifeless and inert; shapeless forms
of what had been living flesh and bone. What a frail and fragile thing is
human life! A bullet passes through the living flesh and it ceases to live.

(4) In her diary, Florence Farmborough described the change of mood of the
Russian soldiers on the Eastern Front during the summer of 1917.

11th May: Today we left Strusuv for Podgaytsy. Our division is back at the
front and two of its regiments are already in the trenches. Now and then
unexpected skirmishes take place - the initiative always with the Austrians
- and a few wounded are brought to us. We notice a strange apathy about
them; they lack the spark of loyalty, of devotion to God and their
mother-country which has so distinguished the fighting-men in the previous
two years. It worries us; we do not need to be told that the Russian soldier
has changed; we see the change with our own eyes.

(5) In May 1917 Florence Farmborough met Dr. Elsie Inglis and her nurses at
a hospital in Podgaytsy.

There is an English hospital in Podgaytsy, run by a group of English nurses,
under the leadership of an English lady-doctor (Dr. Elsie Inglis). I was
very glad to chat with them in my mother-tongue and above all to learn the
latest news of the allied front in France.

They are very nice women, those English and Scottish nurses. They all have
several years of training behind them. I feel distinctly raw in comparison,
knowing that a mere six-months' course as a VAD in a military hospital
would, in England, never have been considered sufficient to graduate to a
Front Line Red Cross Unit. They could not believe that I had experienced all
those nightmare months of the Great Retreat of 1915, as well as the
Offensive of 1916. "You don't look strong enough to have gone through all
that, said the lady-doctor, "and too young," she added, "I don't think I
should have chosen you for my team." I secretly rejoiced that I had my
training in Russia!"

(6) Florence Farmborough disapproved of some methods used by the VAD nurses
in Russia.

I was surprised and not a little perturbed when I saw that tiny bags,
containing pure salt, are sometimes deposited into the open wound and
bandaged tightly into place. It is probably a new method; I wonder if it has
been tried out on the Allied Front.

These bags of salt - small though they are - must inflict excruciating pain;
no wonder the soldiers kick and yell; the salt must burn fiercely into the
lacerated flesh. It is certainly a purifier, but surely a very harsh one!

At an operation, performed by the lady-doctor, at which I was called upon to
help, the man had a large open wound in his left thigh. All went well until
two tiny bags of salt was placed within it, and then the uproar began. I
thought the man's cries would lift the roof off; even the lady doctor looked
discomforted. "Silly fellow," she ejaculated. "It's only a momentary pain.
Foolish fellow! He doesn't know what is good for him."

(7) In her diary, Florence Farmborough records hearing about Yasha
Bachkarova, the founder of the Women's Death Battalion.

26th July, 1917: Yasha Bachkarova, a Siberian woman soldier had served in
the Russian Army since 1915 side by side with her husband; when he had been
killed, she continued to fight. She had been wounded twice and three times
decorated for valour. When she knew the soldiers were deserting in large
numbers, she made her way to Moscow and Petrograd to start recruiting for a
Woman's Battalion. It is reported that she had said, "If the men refuse to
fight for their country, we will show them what the women can do!" So this
woman warrior, Yasha Bachkarova, began her campaign; it was said that it had
met with singular success. Young women, some of aristocratic families,
rallied to her side; they were given rifles and uniforms and drilled and
marched vigorously. We Sisters were of course thrilled to the core.

9th August, 1917: Last Monday, an ambulance-van drove up with three wounded
women soldiers. We were told that they belonged to the Bachkarova Women's
Death Battalion. We had not heard the full name before, but we instantly
guessed that it was the small army of women recruited in Russia by the
Siberian women soldier, Yasha Bachkarova. Naturally we were all very
impatient to have news of this remarkable battalion, but the women were
sadly shocked and we refrained from questioning them until they had rested.
The van driver was not very helpful but he did know that the battalion had
been cut up by the enemy and had retreated.

13th August, 1917: At dinner we heard more of the Women's Death Battalion.
It was true; Bachkarova had brought her small battalion down south of the
Austrian Front, and they had manned part of the trenches which had been
abandoned by the Russian Infantry. The size of the Battalion had
considerably decreased since the first weeks of recruitment, when some 2000
women and girls had rallied to the call of their leader. Many of them,
painted and powdered, had joined the Battalion as an exciting and romantic
adventure; she loudly condemned their behaviour and demanded iron
discipline. Gradually the patriotic enthusiasm had spent itself; the 2000
slowly dwindled to 250. In honour to those women volunteers, it was recorded
that they did go into the attack; they did go "over the top". But not all of
them. Some remained in the trenches, fainting and hysterical; others ran or
crawled back to the rear.

(8) Florence Farmborough, Life and People of Spain (1938)

The youth of Spain turn towards their Leader, Generalissimo Franco, as
towards a shining light; he is the beacon that guides them to their highest
goal. In all people this great faith in the Caudillo is to be found; in the
highest and lowest, in the richest and poorest, in the oldest and youngest,
for even the very small children are taught to play their role of loyal
subject to National Spain. And that reminds me of an incident which I
witnessed the other day, an incident which amused me and yet seemed to touch
a deeper chord. I was walking through the Arcade of the Plaza Mayor in this
city of Salamanca (one of the most beautiful old squares in Europe,
surrounded by a columned promenade, lined on one side by shops), when I saw
in front of me a woman of humble station in life, holding a small boy of
some three years by the hand. Suddenly the child stopped, turned towards a
shop-window and, relinquishing his mother's hand, drew
himself up to his full height, clicked his tiny heels together and, standing
to attention, was about to raise his arm in the Phalangist salute. His
mother, unconscious of his action, grasped his hand and dragged him along
with her - none too gently! The wee boy's face was a study in expressions of
anger and disappointment. But, with sudden determination, he turned,
manfully resisting his mother's display of force, and, nearly toppling over
himself in his anxiety that his heels should touch each other, he stiffened
his small round body and saluted, solemnly and ceremoniously, in Phalangist
manner! His unheeding mother, sensing rebellion, seized him so vigorously
that the child stumbled and nearly fell - but he was docile now, he had done
his duty. He had saluted a large portrait of Generalissimo Franco in the

(8) Florence Farmborough, Life and People of Spain (1938)

And what of the woman's role in the great Movement of Liberation in National
Spain? The answer comes readily: the woman of Spain is not found wanting.
Her place is in her home, miles away, perhaps, from the front line, but her
heart is in the trenches. How could it be otherwise? Is not every soldier a
mother's son? And has not every soldier a mother, sister, or sweetheart, who
are daily, hourly, experiencing anxious thought for his welfare? 'Men must
work and women must weep.' And though it may be true that the women of
Spain, by reason of the greatness of their heart's pain, have, and still do,
shed tears for their absent ones, it is also true that this pain is
mitigated by pride, a pride born of self-sacrifice and patriotic abnegation
in the heart of every woman who gives her best-beloved to her country that
he may defend it in its evil hour.

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