Marlesford, Suffolk: Flora Sandes

“I had long realised that if you have the misfortune to be born a woman it is better to make the best of a bad job, and not try to be a bad imitation of a man, when I was suddenly pitchforked into the Serbian Army, and for seven years lived practically a man's life.”

Flora Sandes grew up in the vicarage in Marlesford in rural Suffolk. She loved the outdoors and was a keen rider and a good shot. She was one of the first women to drive, gaining her driving license in 1908.

At the outbreak of World War One, she applied to volunteer at a British military hospital but was turned down, and instead joined a group of women who, within days of war being declared, travelled to Serbia to provide nursing help there. After several months, her potential as a soldier was recognised and as the fighting escalated she was given the rank of private.

Flora was seriously injured in a battle in Macedonia when the Bulgarians launched a surprise attack. She was one of the few officers who were brave enough to break cover, an act which won her the Star of Karađorđe; Serbia’s highest military honour. Although largely unrecognised now, at the time, Flora’s achievement was marked on the front page of the Express, in the Times and even in the New Yrok Times.

Despite being 65 and still suffering from the effects of her injuries, Flora volunteered to fight for Serbia in World War Two when the Germans invaded Belgrade. At the end of that conflict, and after the death of her Serbian husband, Flora returned to Suffolk, spending time with her family in Orford, before settling in Wickham Market. She died at the Ipswich and East Suffolk Hospital in 1956.

Here, Flora Sandes’ biographer Louise Miller tells her story.

Location: The Vicarage, Church Road, Marlesford, Suffolk IP13 0AT
Image of women in uniform during World War One
Photograph courtesy of Imperial War Museums

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