The Emergency Helpers

The Emergency Helpers

The Shetland Times, 8 August 1914, reported:

The Shetland Women’s Suffrage Society, under the convenership of Mrs Leisk, 169 Commercial Street, has initiated a scheme whereby sufficient help may be at once forthcoming for the nursing department should a naval engagement take place in the vicinity of the Shetland Islands.

The outbreak of war had brought the expectation of casualties and other contingencies. The Suffrage Society had caused lively debate in Shetland since being founded in 1909. Now this highly articulate, intelligent, and motivated body of women was going to apply their skills to voluntary war work. Accommodation was provided by the Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen. Room for six beds was found in their premises in Lerwick’s Tollbooth.

The head of the Emergency Helpers, from inception to disbanding in 1919, was Mrs Harriet Leisk (1853-1921). Originally Harriet Atherton from Liverpool, she had married a local businessman John Leisk. He had been Provost of Lerwick, 1895-1904. Harriet Leisk and other Suffrage Society office holders were to be prominent among the Emergency Helpers.

Much of what they did was preparation. It included making surgical dressings, and knitting comforts, and collecting material from households. They also held first aid and nursing classes. The Shetland News, 29 May 1915, reported a graduation ceremony at Mrs Galloway’s house. Successful trainees got St Andrews’ Ambulance certificates and armlets.

Those who received certificates and armlets were - Miss M D Campbell, Miss Christie, Mrs Conley, Miss Donaldson, Misses S and M Duncan, Miss Mary Gray, Mrs Leisk, Miss Morrison, Mrs Nicol, Mrs Nicolson, Miss L Mouat, Miss Ruby Robertson, Miss Ruby Sandison, Miss Agnes Smith, and Mrs Spence. The certificates were signed by Dalkeith, President; Dr Yule, Examiner; Mrs Duncan, (nurse), the Lecturer; and the Secretary.

The Helpers also raised money. Over four years to 1919 they raised £204.12/- for the "Lerwick Bed" in the Scottish Women’s Hospital at Royaumont, France. The facility was the brainchild of Elsie Inglis, one of the founders of the Scottish Women’s Suffrage Federation. The Shetland News, 7 December 1916, reported a sale with concert following. The sale raised £64.12/-, with 36/- coming from a Brazilian parrot auctioned off to a naval officer.

The following week the same paper reported about Kuli Bali, a Senegalese occupant of the bed. He was awarded the Medaille Militaire and the Croix de Guerre.

… Kuli Bali, very smart in grey blue suit drew himself up to his full length of over six feet and saluted after decorations were pinned on his breast by the Colonel from the headquarters staff. His empty left sleeve was pinned to his coat.

The contribution to the hospital at Royaumont meant that much of the suffering alleviated by the Emergency Helpers was abroad. Fortunately, the kind of engagement off Shetland envisaged in 1914 never took place.


Tollbooth, Lerwick
The Tollbooth, Lerwick.