Friday, February 21, 2014

Olive King, her ambulance, and the Bulgarians

Olive King and her ambulance
Australian War Memorial P0 1352.002 
Olive’s unit eventually erected a field tent hospital close to enemy lines in Gevgeli, a town on the border of Greece and Serbia. The hospital had 300 beds but was treating nearly 700 patients. Olive and the other staff members worked for 16 to 20 hours a day in difficult conditions, including short rations and freezing weather. One day the unit received an urgent message: Bulgarian troops, who had a reputation for brutality, were headed in their direction. The Bulgarians had just pushed back a corps of French and British soldiers and the Serbian army, which the medics had come to support, was retreating from its own country. Thirty women, assisted by 40 Royal Engineers (who had been stranded in the area), were given less than 24 frantic hours’ notice to dismantle the entire hospital unit before the area would be overrun by the enemy.

            While 13 French ambulance drivers who had been supporting the hospital decided to take a slow retreat down a rickety trek, most of the staff and patients were able to evacuate aboard the trains that were leaving Gevgeli. Olive and two other female drivers didn’t join them; they couldn’t bear to leave their cars to the Bulgarians or to destroy them to prevent this from happening. Trains that clearly had room enough for the ambulances pulled into the station, one after another, but the women were always told that while there was room for them, there was no room for their ambulances. Finally, the last train leaving Gevgeli pulled into the station. The Bulgarians were now less than half a mile away...

Excerpt from Olive King: "Adventurous Ambulance Driver" from Women Heroes of World War I.

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