Miss Georgiana Fyfe
Margot Grosset, archivist at the Girl Guiding Association Archive shares the story of Georgiana Fyfe, a World War I heroine whose actions saved the lives of countless refugee and orphan children.
Miss Georgiana Sutherland Fyfe was born on 10 April 1868. In 1914 she was the Girl Guide Commissioner for the West of Scotland which included Glasgow. At the outbreak of war Miss Fyfe joined Dr Hector Munro's Flying Ambulance corps in Flanders. She worked in and near Ypres among the civilian population. There were 3 ambulances in her care but the group had been rejected by other Relief Organisations.
As Christmas approached with no end to the war, Miss Fyfe contacted Scottish Guide Headquarters to request that the Guides of Scotland should raise money for gifts for the many refugee children in Belgium. This was done and a large shipment was sent from Leith to bring joy to the young people caught up in the war.
In January 1915 Miss Fyfe was officially attached to Army Headquarters. When a town or village came under bombardment, she rescued civilians who were first taken to military hospitals. On 28th March they evacuated 1000 from Ypres which was in ruins. The British Army gave three big London buses to transport the infirm men, elderly and children to a safe place.
A scene of tragedy
Miss Fyfe's comments tell a heart-rending story:
"Such a scene of tragedy I have never seen! I have been evacuating Ypres with the help of 2 cars from Colonel Depage the head of the Red Cross and it is a matter of saving hundreds of poor bed-ridden women and young girls with babies. There is no one else to do this as the Army is not allowed into Ypres."
Miss Fyfe's group financed four hospices along the Front. The largest was at Hazebrouck, tenmiles from the Front with another at Watou. About 3,000 Belgian and French refugees passed through one hospice in five months. A maternity hospital was based at Vinken with 20 beds that were nearly always full. Many babies were named George or Georgette in honour of Miss Fyfe. In total, 1,341 children were evacuated to France and Switzerland. Careful records were kept so children could be re-united later if possible with their families.
When the children reached Paris they were rested before boarding trains for their final destination. Many French medical units donated bandages and medicines. The Queen of Belgium was the Patron of the hospices and she made a direct appeal to the women of the United States of America for funds to help the civilian population.
In 1917 the 3rd Battle of Ypres meant another large group passing through the hospices. A young girl was buried for 56 hours under rubble until she was eventually rescued by six soldiers.
At the end of the war, Miss Fyfe was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Ordre de Leopold for the immense work undertaken in a time of crisis. She did return to Glasgow Girl Guides and is listed as County Commissioner and then County President. In 1928 Miss Fyfe adopted one of the Belgian orphans. Miss Fyfe died in 1963.
Recently we were contacted by the daughter of one of the children rescued by Miss Fyfe. Albert Ryckaert was thrilled to be sent cards from Girlguiding Glasgow as he always held Miss Fyfe in high regard. He died aged 104.
We in Girlguiding Scotland are proud of our link with this brave lady who is rarely mentioned for her sterling work during the Great War.
Grateful thanks to Dr Katherine Storr and Betty Ryckaert for their invaluable help in researching the life of Miss Fyfe.
Margot Grosset, Archivist, Girlguiding Scotland
GIRLGUIDING SCOTLAND ARCHIVES