By James Patton
Katherine Harley, née French (1855–1917), was the younger sister of Field Marshal Sir John French, the first commander of the British Expeditionary Force. The family was of Irish origin—the father a serving navy officer based at Chatham in Kent. He died in 1865, and the mother was adjudged insane in 1867, so the younger children were raised by distant relatives. An older sister was Charlotte Despard (1844–1939), a socialist suffragette and Irish patriot.
Katherine married a cavalry officer associate of her brother, who
died in the Second Boer War. They had a daughter named Edith. His family was
By 1913, Katherine’s NUWSS had grown to nearly 100,000 members. Katherine suggested holding a Woman's Suffrage Pilgrimage to demonstrate how many women wanted the vote. Historian Lisa Tickner said "A pilgrimage refused the thrill attendant on women's militancy, no matter how strongly the militancy was denounced, but it also refused the glamour of an orchestrated spectacle."
The pilgrims set off on 18 June 1913. There were three
predetermined march routes:
Katherine prescribed that they should wear a uniform of white, grey, black, or navy blue coats and skirts, with white or matching blouses. Hats were to be simple, and only black, white, grey, or navy blue. There was a red, white, and green shoulder sash.
Most pilgrims traveled on foot or on bicycles. Wealthy sympathizers used cars or carriages. The intention was not that each individual should cover the whole route. It was said that the pilgrimage succeeded in "visiting the people of this country in their own homes and villages, to explain to them the real meaning of the movement." The pilgrims were accompanied by baggage trucks, and cars picked up those suffering from exhaustion.
estimated 50,000 pilgrims reached Hyde Park in
PM Herbert Asquith stated that the demonstration had "a special claim" on his consideration and stood "upon another footing from similar demands proceeding from other quarters where a different method and spirit is predominant."
|Katherine Harley (L) at a Military Review in Salonika (IWM)|
At the war’s outbreak in 1914 Dr. Elsie Inglis (1864–1917), a
suffragette colleague of Katherine, decided that women's medical units should
be allowed to serve on the Western Front. With financial backing from the NUWSS and the American Red Cross, Dr. Inglis formed the Scottish
Women's Hospitals for Foreign Service Committee, known as the "SWH." Over War
Office opposition, the SWH sent a women's medical unit to
In April 1915, with French support, Dr. Inglis sent a group, including
Katherine Harley, to
Meanwhile the SWH had moved with the "new" Serbian army to the Salonika Front. Katherine commanded an ambulance section, with her daughter Edith serving beside her. Wanting to be based closer to the front so as to shorten travel time Katherine purchased property in Monastir, near to the Serbian army headquarters, an obvious target for Bulgarian gunners. On 1 May 1917 she was having tea in her parlor with Edith and an American friend when a shell exploded close by, blowing out her windows. Katherine was killed by the storm of glass fragments. She was 62.
|Katherine Harley's Burial Site in Salonika|
Although she was neither French nor a soldier, the French general
Maurice Serrail (1856–1929), who was the theater commander, ordered a full
military funeral for Katherine, and the British allowed her burial at their
military cemetery on
Elizabeth Crawford again: "Not an easy colleague, and not
one happy to take orders, she was killed by a shell at Monastir, where, as one
woman doctor laconically noted, she had no need to be." For her service to
Sources: Spartacus Educational; Shropshire Remembers