A Dorset Woman at War: Mabel Stobart

08 April 2014

Exhibitions, Industry news

Summer 2014 will see a special exhibition at Dorset County Museum commemorating the centenary of the start of the First World War. The exhibition will focus on the story of one Dorset woman, Mabel St Clair Stobart, exploring her life and the role she played during the epic retreat of the Serbian army in 1915.

The Museum has a collection of unique photographs recording Mabel Stobart’s experiences in Serbia. They trace her intrepid journey from the tented field hospital she established near the front line and the relentless 250 mile trek through the Albanian mountains to her final escape from Scutari. Her story is exceptional, not only for the adventures she experienced but because she was motivated by bettering the lot of women. She led her mission to Serbia in the face of opposition from another famous Dorset figure, Sir Frederick Treves, who felt there was no place for women in the Serbian conflict.

The photographs of Stobart’s adventures are highly graphic and do not flinch from the horrors of war. When Kodak developed them for her subsequent lecture tour of America, they were so impressed that they were blown up, mounted and hung in the Kodak head office. 

The exhibition will reveal the extraordinary story of a powerful and determined woman who frequented the salons of London Society but was also a feminist, playwright and farmer. 

A Dorset Woman at War: Mabel Stobart and the Retreat from Serbia 1915 opens on 31 May 2014 and runs until Saturday 15 November 2014 at the Dorset County Museum High West Street Dorchester Dorset DT1 1XA. Opening times at the Museum are 10am to 5pm Monday to Saturday. Tel: 01305 262735.www.dorsetcountymuseum.org

Image:  © DNHAS. Evacuating wounded from our dressing station at PalankaBetween 11 - 14 October 1915. This photograph features one of the motor ambulances that had been specially adapted to carry four people.  The note on ambulance 3 reads: ‘Cars not to exceed one driver, one attendant and four patients’.

Stobart explained, it was not surprising that some of the soldiers were already dead when they were taken out of the rough, springless wagons. The jolting over the bad roads in the cold and the rain, whilst huddled together, half a dozen badly wounded men in one small cart, was bound to be disastrous.

The crumpled figure on the stretcher may be a Serbian officer, as he is wearing an officer’s greatcoat. Some of those assisting him wear the armband of the Serbian Red Cross. The men are acutely aware of the photographer; one soldier turns enquiringly towards the camera as his actions to help the wounded are documented. The viewer has a sense of unease, as though invading the privacy of this moment.