The sensational and tragic Alma Dolling

Part of what intrigues me about the story of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals is the individuals themselves.  Of course researching their experiences, travels and service during WW1 are at the heart of my interest.  But what is fascinating, is how diverse and unconventional many of these women were.    And although while many of the women endured an arduous struggle to obtain recognition in their careers, homes and from within politics, they all shared the desire, with various degrees to improve the lot of women. For some tho, the journies, both pre and post war were very different.  Alma Dollings life and death were both sensational and tragic. 


 Alma Victoria Radcliffe Clarke was born in Kamloops, British Columbia Canada in 1896 to Walter and Elizabeth Clarke.  Her father was a printer, publisher and owner of a weekly newspaper called the Kamloops Standers. Alma was a spirited child who loved the limelight. She walked in her mothers footsteps in her love of music. She was a gifted performer and was completely at ease playing the piano and violin.  She was educated in Toronto and Victoria, British Columbia. In her teens she studied music at Toronto’s college of Music where she played solo for the  Toronto Symphony Orchestra.  Alma was charismatic and extremely attractive. The boys loved her as she flirted in low cut dresses, drank cocktails and smoked.  At 19 she married the love of her life, Ulsterman Caledon Dolling, they traveled to England where he enlisted to fight in the great war.  In 1916 there was  tragic news, Caledon had been killed at  Battle of the Somme.   

Left Heartbroken, Alma joined the French Red Cross in 1916 as a driver. She was wounded twice and was awarded Croix de  Guerre. In 1917 she joined the Scottish Womens Hospitals as on orderly. Alma served initially at Royaumont Abbey.  The orderlies role within the hospital was not an easy one. Long hours, heavy lifting and stomach churning tasks often day after day. The hauling of stretchers up and down the hundreds of stairs at the abbey; the dragging the bags of dirty, blood soaked linen along corridors; the washing down the floors and operating tables; the stench of the chloroform; the screams coming from the men of the Poilu. In their blue bonnets they worked the wards, stores, kitchens and the laundry.


In the summer of 1917 she traveled up to Villers-Cotterets. Villers was a satellite hospital of Royaumont. That summer they were just a few kilometres from the front line. Villers had though been battered in the months before. The surrounding countryside was stripped of trees, trenches lined the roads. Shell holes some 30 feet deep splattered the fields, villages were reduced to piles of stone. Refugees tramped the roadside, begging for help as German prisoners attempted to mend the roads. The wooden huts at Villers, which were to become wards and accommodation for the hospital , were basic. Corrugated iron roofs, oil-papered windows and duck boards for paths, with the mud being so bad.  At night the huts would shake from the booms of the big guns and half dead men would be brought in. On the day she left Villers there were 231 wounded, 7 operations, 74 admissions and 44 were discharged.  Alma left the hospital at Villers in October and returned to Royaumont for a short time before returning to England.
In 1921 Alma had remarried.  She had fallen in love with a Coldstream Guard officer named Thomas Compton Pakenham and were living in America. She had a young son but the marriage soon broke up.  Two years later with the marriage over Alma and her son were back in Canada. She returned to her music career. 
 In 1925 Alma falls for a distinguished young architect, Frances Rattenbury, who becomes her third husband. After a few years of living in Canada, Alma and Francis have a child of their own. In 1927 they move to Bournemouth, England.  Francis by this time is having financial problems that accelerate over the next few years. In 1934 they employ  Chauffeur/Gardener George Percy Stoner.  With Francis often depressed by his money worries Alma turns to young  George for her needs and an affair begins.
Over the next few months the affair intensifies and with Francis drinking heavily, George begins to visit Alma’s bedroom at night.  George also becomes jealous of Alma’s husband and resents any time the couple do spend together.  In the wee hours of March the 23rd,  George takes a carpenters mallet and beats Francis with vicious blows to the skull. A few days later Francis dies.  By the time the police turn up Alma is intoxicated and she admits to the crime and is taken away.  A few days later George confesses to the housekeeper that he is the murderer. They were both tried  for murder at the Old Bailey,  Alma was acquitted with George Stoner sentenced to death by hanging. However public sympathy was in favour of young George, Alma had been booed from the court as the crowds felt young George had been led astray.
 Days later Alma walked into the river Stour and stabbed herself to death  with a dagger.
George Stoner was never hung and only served seven years of his sentence. He died in Christchurch Hospital in 2000 aged 83, not much more that half a mile from where Alma perished and on exactly the 65th anniversary of Francis’s murder!
Super video bellow of her life. 
Alan Cumming

Belhospice to name ward after Dr Elsie Inglis.

Hospices of Hope is a UK charity (based in Kent and Edinburgh) that for the past 25 years has been pioneering and developing hospice services for terminally adults and children in South East Europe. Our involvement in Serbia began in 2006, when we decided to partner with BELhospice, the first Serbian charity dedicated to palliative care. For the palliative care. For the past 10 years, we have concentrated on developing home care services and training medical personnel.

 Last year we managed to secure a property in Belgrade, with the aim of establishing Serbia’s first hospice day care and inpatient unit. We have decided to name one of the wards in honour of Dr Elsie Inglis, founder of Scottish Womens Hospitals, in recognition of her heroic work in setting up hospitals in Serbia, helping to save thousands of lives. Elsie herself died of cancer in 1917 and 100 years on, the naming of the ward will be a lasting tribute to her life and work.

We are also delighted that Alan Cumming has included a visit to Belhospice as part of the centenary schedule. This coming September, Alan is taking the relatives of Dr Elise Inglis back to Serbia as part of Serbia’s commemoration plans to remember the work of this remarkable lady. 


 Graham Perolls

Executive Director Hospices of Hope (UK and USA)

President Hospice Casa Sperantei (Romania)
Hospices of Hope   11 High Street   Otford   Kent   TN14 5PG   UK

Inglis Family members visit Serbia

Inglis Family members visit Serbia Elsie Inglis died on 26th November 1917 and we are fast approaching the centenary. To celebrate this, and to make a connection with the many Serbians who still harbour fond memories of Elsie and her contribution to Serbia during the first world war, around a dozen relatives will be making the journey to Belgrade by land or air during September, to coincide with the annual memorial held on 15th September. I was born in 1944 and Elsie was my grandmother’s aunt. She was spoken of frequently and fondly by my grandmother Isobel, great aunt May and by numerous cousins. The most direct connection I remember was with Elsie’s niece Violet Inglis, who helped to look after me and my brother in St Andrews after my father died when I was four. We stayed a lot with my grandmother then and I remember V (as we called her) often taking us to the beach and playing games. She didn’t tell us about Elsie though, nor about her having trained to be a pilot nor about her own visits to Serbia and to other Scottish Women’s hospitals. Perhaps we were too little? And there is another story about this time which I have just been given by my cousin Daphne, daughter of my father’s brother Richard. The three brothers Richard, Jack (my father) and Jimmy all grew up in St Andrews and were a lively and outgoing trio of boys. Richard recorded his own mother’s tales (told to him at the end of her life) about the brothers and one relates to Elsie, who visited St Andrews often (this must have been early in the war) – ‘Elsie used to visit us in this connection [Scottish women’s Hospitals]. The three boys were still at the nursery stage and going in to seen them playing with their toys, Elsie asked one of them what the name of his horse was. The one who answered was about four at the time [?1914] and he said at once – ‘my horse is called women’s suffrage’. So, the boys had been strongly influenced by the talk of the times – or perhaps wanted to please Elsie.. The family group includes many of the relatives who still live in Scotland, some who have moved to London, and a group of Inglis relatives from Cornwall. For all of us, Elsie has been a great influence and the more I learn about her, the prouder I am to be a descendant. Through the remarkable achievements of historical research by Alan Cumming I have discovered rich details about the women who courageously followed Elsie’s lead to join the hospitals in Serbia, France and other countries and provided solace and care at a dreadful time of war. We can learn so much from this: about the powerful role of women in the early 20th century, about the long fight to gain the vote, and about the importance of international solidarity in times of conflict. There is great resonance for these messages at this time of great turbulence in our society and in Europe. What do I hope to learn and bring back from the exciting tour to the sites of the women’s hospitals in Serbia? First, direct contact with the places that Elsie worked in and hopefully some local historical perspectives. Second, meeting the Serbians and making new friends whilst learning about the country. And thirdly, building a united family which hopefully can work with Alan and the Scottish Government to ensure that Elsie has a strong legacy for the next 100 years … Tony Waterston 7.5.17