Katherine Harley (Kent, May 3, 1855 – Bitola 7th March 1917)

Katherine Harley (maiden name: Katherine Mary French) was born in Kent on May 3, 1855. She was married to George Ernest Harley in 1877.
She served as Administrator of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals (SWH) at Royaumont and Troyes in France, in 1915 and was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French government for her service to France.
Katherine Harley (Kent, May 3, 1855 – Bitola 7th March 1917)
In late 1915 she helped establishing a hospital in a disused tobacco warehouse in the Macedonian border town of Gevgelia. The hospital did not function for a long time, since with the advance of the Bulgarian army, it was forced to move to Thessaloniki (Salonica) in Greece.
In early 1916 she resigns her position and returns to UK, but she was soon back in Macedonia and trough the SWH Committee establishes an independent motorized ambulance unit - The Transport Column, with her in command.
The role of the unit was to operate near the front line to collect Serbian casualties and bring them to the SWH hospitals for treatment. The seriously wounded were evacuated with light ambulance cars 'Fords' which would come every morning to the prime-aid locations to take the seriously wounded. Thanks to them the evacuation was carried out and quickly and without delay.
Katherine Harley (Kent, May 3, 1855 – Bitola 7th March 1917)

The Transport Ambulance Column did an excellent work in evacuating the wounded and worked non-stop to keep their vehicles roadworthy on the especially bad road infrastructure at that time. The woman drivers often were even to enthusiastic about their work and sometimes even insubordinate, operating at night close to the battlefield despite explicit orders not to this.
Katherine was criticized about the loose behavior of the unit and for failing to enforce discipline, so she was encouraged to resign in December 1916.
Together with her daughters she went to the recently liberated town of Monastir (today Bitola), where she acted independently, providing assistance to the inhabitants of the town. The population in Bitola then suffered from diseases, illnesses and the ravages of war and was in bad condition.
Katherine Harley rented a house within the town, which was on the actual front line, with the Bulgarian and German army located on the surrounding mountains from where the city was constantly bombarded.
On 7th March 1917 Katherine Harley was with her daughter and with Miss Mary L. Matthews, head of the American Girls' School, when the shell hit in the street, shattering the window glass, which pierced her head.
"
March 7, Wed. 1917
A fine warm day. Mrs. Harley, sister of Field-Marshall Sir John French of the British Forces in France, and her daughter Edith, have been here some weeks, giving proper food to little children. In the afternoon, I went to invite the ladies to tea tomorrow. They were living in a house near the Government Headquarters. It was about half past three. Shelling often began about that time. I should have remembered and suggested that we go down stairs.
Miss Edith was serving tea and had just gone to get another cup when a shell burst in the street and shattered the windows of the room where we were sitting. I looked across at Mrs. Harley whose body had stiffened and her face was very white.
Then I saw blood trickle down her face. We laid her on the floor and I had to run to the Government to ask for an Ambulance to take Mrs. Harley to the Hospital.
The Governor and his staff were down in a sub-cellar, waiting for the firing to cease. After quarter or half an hour, it was considered safe to come up. Mrs. Harley was taken to the hospital, but as they laid her on the operating table she died. A bit of glass had ended her useful life. Miss Edith said they knew the danger when they came, but they wanted to feed babies and small children. Mrs. Harley was laid out in a shirt of the British Red Cross and her uniform jacket.
She looked very peaceful. General Sarrail (French) at Salonica arranged for a military funeral and burial there. The Governor and the Mayor called on Miss Harley and were sympathetic. It was strange that Miss Harley and I escaped harm.
Excerpt from the diary of Mary L. Matthews, head of the American Girls' School
Mary L. Matthews
Mary L. Matthews

 The full diaries and letters of Miss Mary L. Matthews will be available online after the opening on September 15 of an exhibition at Mount Holyoke College, where she was in the class of 1885.   https://ascdc.mtholyoke.edu/exhibits/show/marymatthews

Since at the time of her death she was a civilian working for the Serbian forces, she was not qualified for military commemoration. She however is the only woman buried in the military cemetery Zejtinlik in Thessaloniki. At her funeral attended Prince George of Serbia, General Milne, the commander of the British forces, and many other dignitaries accompanied by contingents of troops and military bands.

Grave of Katherine Harley in Zeitinlik Thessalonikki
Her grave was erected by the Serbian Army, and the memorial is inscribed in two languages:
"The generous English lady and great benefactress of the Serbian people, Madame Harley a great lady. On your tomb instead of flowers the gratitude of the Serbs shall blossom there for your wonderful acts. Your name shall be known from generation to generation."

„Великој добротворки српског народа, госпођи Харлеј...
На твоме гробу уместо цвећа
српска захвалност вечно ће цвати,
за Твоја дела и Твоје име,
покољења ће далека знати.“
У потпису:
„Српски официри допунске команде“.
Until the Second World War the present street "Car Samoil" in Bitola was named Mrs. Harley.

References:
http://scottishwomenshospitals.co.uk/women/
http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=56085&hl=Harley
http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205380484
http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205380483

1 comment

Peggy said...

On the day of her death, Mrs. Harley was with her daughter and with Miss Mary L. Matthews, head of the American Girls' School, when the shell hit in the street, shattering the window glass, which pierced her head. Miss Harley stayed with her mother while Miss Matthews ran to get an ambulance from the government house nearby. The ambulance took Mrs. Harley (who was the sister of a British general named French) to the Greek instead of the French hospital. As Mary Matthews tells the story, Mrs. Harley never regained consciousness and died on the operating table. In her diaries and letters, Miss Matthews praised the efforts of Mrs. Harley and her daughter for their efforts to feed hungry children. The full diaries and letters of Miss Mary L. Matthews will be available online after the opening on September 15 of an exhibition at Mount Holyoke College, where she was in the class of 1885.

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