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Scottish Women's Hospitals 'Newnham and Girton Unit' in Thessaloniki (Salonika), 1916

This photograph album had two previous owners, firstly belonging to Dr. Katherine MacPhail. MacPhail is best remembered for her contributions to a number of Serbian hospitals and also the development of orthopaedic surgery within a number of Serbian cities. She also established a hospital for sick children in Belgrade. Dr. MacPhail then passed the album to Helen Taylor, an orderly with the Newnham & Girton Unit, 1916-17. It is possible photographs in this album relate to both the Newnham & Girton Unit hospital (named after the Cambridge women’s Colleges that funded it) and the American Unit (funded by American donors). 

In late 1915, the Newnham & Girton Unit of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals were ordered by the French Government to pack-up their mobile unit at Troyes in France to be dispatched with the French Expeditionary Force and set up a field hospital in the Greek port city of Salonika. The Unit set-up a large tented hospital in Salonika to treat wounded from the Serbian campaign and sick refugees, and was headed by its Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Louise McIlroy.

In August 1916, Newnham & Girton Unit was joined by the American Unit, with the original intention to establish a base hospital in Salonika. However, in with heavy fighting in Macedonia during the summer of 1916, it was decided the American Unit would be located closer to the action and was consequently moved to the hills near Lake Ostrovo, 85 miles from Salonika, in order to support the Serbian Army. 

Environmental conditions in Eastern Europe and the Balkans were testing. Diseases such as dysentery, malaria and typhus (several SWH staff succumbed to local diseases), challenging terrain, overcrowding in tents and lack of proper drainage at camp, extreme weather conditions, as well as remoteness, became part and parcel of camp life in the east, as did the ever present fears arising from proximity to front lines and enemy aerial bombardment.