My main area of historical interest is World War Two. I’m fascinated by it – perhaps because there were still air raid shelters around to play in when I was growing up in Glasgow. And I can still clearly remember my Dad pulling on his old army overalls and beret before climbing underneath Mum’s car when it needed fixed.

So when I heard about a two-day symposium on The Great War being offered at the Military Museum here in Calgary, I hummed and hawed before deciding to sign up. It’s not ‘my’ time period.

But I’m glad I did.

Here’s what I learned.

1) Two days and 25 papers later, I probably know more about Alberta in WWI than most of my native-born Albertan/Canadian friends.

2) As a writer, ANYTHING you learn is invaluable. Everything can be adapted to add depth, texture and veracity to your writing.

3) More importantly, if you write anything inaccurate in your novel, someone somewhere will pick up on it. And when they do, it will pull them out of the story. From then on they will question everything else you say. Pull a reader out of your story and you’ve lost them.

No matter what you’re writing about, please – please – make sure your facts are sound.



Scottish Women’s Hospitals

Given that Scotland will – or will not – vote for independence from the rest of the UK on Thursday, September 18th, I thought I would focus this week’s blog posts on Scottish history and writing.

With 2014 being the one hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of World War One, I was fascinated to read about the Scottish Women’s Hospitals which treated allied soldiers during The Great War.

Formed to provide medical assistance to the injured, the Scottish Women’s Hospitals also worked to promote the cause of women’s rights.

Elsie Inglis, who I talked about in a previous blog, was one of its founders. A doctor, she approached the War Office with the intention of setting up a hospital in Edinburgh to care for injured soldiers, or co-operating with the RAMC to treat soldiers on the Western Front. The War Office’s response? “My good woman, go home and sit still!”

Following this rebuff, the Scottish Women’s Hospital approached the French and by November 1914 they were in business, setting up a hospital in Calais. This was followed in December with a hospital in the Abbey of Royaumont. They went on to set up hospitals in Belgium, Serbia, Malta, Corsica and Russia.

The hospitals were staffed entirely by women. Many, but not all, came from Scotland, with others coming from other countries such as America, England and Ceylon. Doctors, nurses and other medical personnel received a salary, but ancillary staff, including orderlies, drivers and cooks, did not. These jobs were filled by women from the upper classes who could afford to work for free, wanted to help the war effort and had a sense of adventure.

If you are interested in reading more, please check out this wonderful website which not only goes into the history of the hospitals, but contains the biographies of many the women who worked there.