Flora Sandes

From time to time a different woman will be featured on this page. She may be well-known or she may have spent her life in relative obscurity but one thing will remain constant – whoever is featured will have proved an inspiration to others. (To read previous entries go to archive.)

This time we pay tribute to Flora Sandes: WWI soldier extraordinaire.
Next: Beatrix Potter: writer, illustrator and amateur biologist

On 1st December 1956, the Times newspaper published the obituary of Flora Sandes, the daughter of a clergyman, who had fought as a soldier during the First World War. In 1915, when women in England were marching for ‘the right to serve’ in the munitions factories, this extraordinary woman joined the Serbian Army as a private.

From an early age Flora showed a spirit of adventure. She could ride and shoot and she loved driving so much that she bought an old racing car. When war broke out she went out to Serbia with a nursing unit. Later she joined the Serbian Red Cross and joined the ambulance section of the 2nd Infantry Regiment, known as the ‘Iron’ Regiment where she put her nursing skills to use. She put her shooting skills to use when the regiment was attacked.

Women were allowed to fight in the Serbian Army so when the ambulances had to be abandoned, Flora was able to enlist as a private. She fought in many battles and was promoted many times. She was wounded by a hand grenade in 1916 and after being treated in a field hospital, returned to England on sick leave. She wrote a book about her experiences entitled ‘An Englishwoman-Sergeant in the Serbian Army’.

Her courage was recognised and she was decorated for conspicuous bravery in the field. While on sick leave she raised money for Serbian soldiers and returned to her regiment in 1917. She married and lived abroad until after the Second World War. She settled in Suffolk where she lived until her death aged 80.

Bibliography: for further details click on title

Flora Sandes: ‘An Englishwoman-Sergeant in the Serbian Army’.