Charles Bryson, his time with the Scottish Women’s Hospitals on the Russian Front by Kevin Ross

There is a curious incident in Yvonne Fitzroy’s ‘With the Scottish Nurses in Roumania’ (1918): it is September 30 1916 and Yvonne, the former actress and society lady now working as an orderly with the Scottish Women’s Hospital, finds herself at Tchernavoda on the Danube. The Hospital had come up the river by barge, and Yvonne writes that as the women were disembarking, they “to our astonishment found an Irishman serving in the Russian Army in charge.” Yvonne refers to this man as “Captain B”.
On October 23 they encounter him again. The women are sitting by a roadside, waiting for the arrival of their lorries during the chaos of a retreat :
At last Captain B. passed by in a car, and got out to speak to us. He managed to commandeer a passing lorry […] We found ourselves at the mercy of an insane driver, who dashed along regardless of anybody, wrecked one refugees’ cart, terrified the horses all along the road, and stopped for nothing and nobody. As Captain B. had had to knock him down twice before the poor little man would consent to take us at all he no doubt thought here was a great chance of getting his own back. At last at dusk he charged a cart, made a belated attempt to avoid it, and drove clean off the edge of the road.
Who on earth was this man, this Captain B., an Irishman in the position of authority in the Imperial Russian Army? Well, his name was Charles Bryson, and he left an autobiography: ‘Unsought Adventure’ (1939), written under the pseudonym ‘Charles Barry’. In it he gives his own account of this incident:
At one place, where I was trying to untangle the traffic, I found Dr. Inglis and one or two members of her staff of the Scottish Women’s Hospital standing guard by the roadside over a quantity of hospital equipment and medical supplies. I asked them what they were doing there and was told that they were waiting for one of their lorries to come back for the stuff. I pointed out the impossibility of such a thing. They agreed that things did not look too bright, but said they would wait a while longer. As we were talking I saw a Russian Army lorry coming along slowly with the rest of the fugitives. I ran over and saw that it was actually empty. The driver had not even thought of offering transport to sick or wounded humans. I ordered him to pull in to one side, but he refused point-blank. I repeated my order, but he still refused, and then for the first time since I had attained officer’s rank I struck a soldier. He obeyed then, and I packed my fellow countrywomen – more or less – with their effects into the lorry and sent them on their way.
Charles Bryson was a remarkable man. He was born in Belfast in 1877 and in a busy life trained for the priesthood; became a monk; became a teacher in Paris; and served with the British secret service in both world wars. He received some modest fame between the wars, as the author of a number of detective novels (featuring Inspector Gilmartin of Scotland Yard).
But in 1914 he was travelling; at the outbreak of war he was in Germany, and made his way, by walking the 120 miles, to Russia. At the British Embassy in St Petersburg he was turned down for service with the British Army (on the grounds that he wore glasses). Fluent in Russian, he volunteered for the Russian army:
” … with no knowledge of artillery, a total ignorance of cavalry drill, and the absence of every qualification except for good health and physique and the ability to sit on a horse, I joined the Imperial Russian Horse Artillery.” Promotions, decorations and a commission quickly followed.
Bryson was serving on the staff of an Army Corps when he was ordered to meet and escort “an English ambulance unit.” This was the beginning of his involvement with the Scottish Women’s Hospital. He has left us a couple of anecdotes about that remarkable unit:
 It was when they were at Ismail, I think, that a curious thing happened. The doctors – I believe Doctors Inglis and Proctor – were sitting at a table when a Russian soldier walked in with his cap cocked at a funny angle and demanded to be treated for a wound. As the fellow appeared to be a little drunk, but otherwise all right, the women began to persuade him to go and sleep it off. He insisted, however, and when asked to show his wound took off his cap to display the handle of a clasp-knife projecting from the top of his skull. It must have been months afterwards when I met the unit again in Odessa. I reminded Dr. Inglis of the incident and asked what had happened to the man with the knife in his head.
‘Oh,’ she told me, ‘we took the knife out and he left us in about three weeks, apparently cured.’
‘Didn’t it effect his brain?’ I asked.
‘Probably,’ Dr. Inglis replied, ‘but it was not obvious. Heaven knows what will happen later, for the knife did not come away without taking some other matter with it.’
I don’t think I should have liked to meet that soldier later on when inflamed with raw spirit and revolutionary fervour.
I received from the members of the Scottish Women’s Hospital compliments, which I am sure were sincere, on my excellent English. I admitted that I had learned it in Ireland, but one good lady among them seemed to regard my accomplishment with suspicion. At any rate she was just a little less amiable than the other charming women who composed the unit. A year later I am afraid I had forgotten her existence, but she had obviously remembered me. I was sitting at lunch one day on the veranda of the [Thames] riverside resort which was then known as the Karsino, with a number of other officers, when I was approached by a gentleman who introduced himself as an Assistant Provost-Marshal, with the request that I give an account of myself. I was not particularly polite to the A.P.M. nor were my friends who were with me, and there was something of a wrangle. At last, however he told us the reason for his demand. There was a lady at a table near by who had denounced me to him as a spy. She was positive that she recognized me as a man she had seen in Rumania dressed up in Russian uniform. Even there she had had her suspicions. There was a roar of laughter from my friends […] and we invited the A.P.M. to sit down with us. I then gave him an outline of my military career up to then and produced a little identity card which had been given me by a certain department of the War Office. I convinced him, I think, that though I must be a queer bird I was not a spy. I don’t know what he said to my denouncer. I never saw her again.
Bryson’s service took him away from the Scottish Women’s Hospital. At the outset of the Russian Revolution he refused to take an oath of allegiance to the Provisional Government and joined the British Military Mission. He returned to this country, obtained a commission in the British Army and was employed in the secret service in Murmansk. After the war, ‘Unsought Adventure’ reveals, he worked in the International Labour Organization in Geneva. He served in the Intelligence Corps during the Second war.
Charles Bryson died in 1963.

The Glasgow maverick- Sir Thomas Lipton


Its without question the assignments undertaken by the various units of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals would have been greatly prohibited without the enormous  support of the general public and some high profile benefactors.  All the units were  reliant on the generosity of the public purse, sponsors and the goodwill of the many individuals they came in contact with on a day to day basis.  Sir Thomas Lipton was one those. 


Sir Thomas Lipton was born in the Gorbals of Glasgow in 1848.  A densely populated area of the city, notorious in those days for its poor sanitation,  poverty, crime and drunkenness.  His parents were Ulster-Scots who fled Ireland during the potato famine.  A rough and tough childhood would ensue.  These were poverty stricken streets and all four of Thomas siblings died in infancy.  He left school at thirteen taking a number of  jobs mainly as an errand boy.   He gained employment aboard a steamer journeying from Glasgow to Belfast.  This did not last and young Thomas, only 14 at this time used his wages to head to America where he spent the next five years working and travelling the country.  He returned to Glasgow in 1869 and opened a provision shop “Liptons Market”. The business expended across the city and before long all over Scotland and eventually the UK.  With his empire of shops now at 300 he entered the tea trade.  To great effect he bypassed the old guard distributors and wholesalers in order to sell tea to poor working class folk.   Thomas expanded his interests in the tea markets to such effect that he became a multi millionaire and  Liptons Teas are still in the market today.   In his personal life he never married but lived with one of his shop assistants , William Love.    His great passion was yachting and he contested the America Cup from 1899-1930, a race he entered five times.  He never won the “auld mug” but  won the hearts and minds of the American people so much so he was presented with a gold loving cup.  He has a tangible link to the claim of initiating the The World Cup.  By way of thanking the Italians for making him the  grand order of the crown he sent them a trophy to be used for international competition.  The Football Association refused to send a team, instead  so Lipton invited  West Auckland Town to represent Britain. A team of coal miners and the like,  the script could almost have been written in advance as  they beat Red Star of Zurich and Juventus to win this cup in 1910 then successfully defended the title in 1911.  Because of this Lipton is often credited with initiating the first football World Cup.

In 1898 Thomas bought the Clyde built, 1,200 ton steam yacht  ” Erin”.erin-thomas-lipton

 Thomas entertained everyone from Royalty to president Roosevelt aboard his floating home.  He reveled in the lavish parties and was at home with rich and famous. But Thomas was a man of substance and moral obligation.  When ww1 broke, he supported medical units attempting to reach war torn Europe.  His yachts were placed at the disposal of medical missions. The Red Cross, Serbian Relief Fund and the Scottish Women’s Hospitals all took full advantage.  Many other organizations benefited from his willingness to transport Doctors, nurses and medical supplies.  The Scottish Women’s Hospital units would of course travel to the likes of Serbia by ship. The main body of the units comparison of dozens of women, medical supplies, tents and  ambulances etc. But the transporting of the smaller relief parties easily could be done by a smaller vessel. The yacht was much quicker and it could also be floated down the Corinth Canal, saving precious time.   Thomas and his crew regularly journeying too and fro  Marseilles and Salonika or from the UK to Salonika.  For much of the war Thomas and crew braved these extremely dangerous waters avoiding mines, submarines and zeppelins from overhead.tl3Dr Elsie Inglis wrote of his generosity as he shuttled not only personnel and medicine but often letters from home.    Elsie Corbett , an ambulance driver with the Scottish Womens Hospitals who had traveled from Kilmarnock said that he would read out copies of the letters of condolence he wrote to the families of previous units who had died of typhus. “Large tears would roll down his face as he read them”  He was also full of fun.  He would get the unit to pose on board the yacht and instead of the camera taking the picture, a large green toy snake would pop out! Much to the amusement of the the women.  At the height of the Typhus epidemic in Serbia, Thomas  decided to visit the worn torn nation. He visited hospitals and medical missions in Belgrade, Kragujevac, Niš, Vrnjačka Banja, and elsewhere. Thomas on his first visit was as popular with the local people as he was with the staff of the hospitals. He was proclaimed an honorary citizen of the city of Niš.  Clearly affected by Serbia’s plight, on his return to the UK he wrote articles for newspapers and a detailed account of his time in Serbia called “The terrible truth about Serbia” in order to raise awareness.  tp4

Sir Thomas Lipton died at the age of 81.  Over his life time vast amounts of money were donated to charities.  Despite his wealth and standing he never forgot his roots. He was in step with those who had nothing and bequeathed much of his fortune to the city of Glasgow.  On the day of his funeral huge crowds lined the streets of Glasgow.  He was laid to rest beside his beloved mother and father in the Southern Necropolis, Glasgow.  

(Copy and paste the link below to read “The terrible truth about Serbia”)