Kickass Women in History: Lady Dorothie Feilding-Moor

It’s time once again for Kickass Women in History! This month, I was so intrigued by Phryne Fisher’s experiences as an ambulance nurse in WWI (in Miss Fisher’s Mysteries, which you would probably love as much as we do) that I found a real-life ambulance driver to profile.

Lady Dorothie Mary Evelyn Feilding-Moor was a British aristocrat who served as an ambulance driver and nurse with the Munro Ambulance Corp, a volunteer unit based in Belgium. She was the first woman to be awarded the Military Medal for Bravery in the Field, and she also received the 1914 Star, the Croix de Guerre, and the Order of Leopold II.

Lady Feilding outside the hospital in Furnes, Belgium, 1916
Lady Feilding outside the hospital in Furnes, Belgium, 1916

Dorothie Fielding (1889-1935) was the daughter of the Ninth Earl of Denbigh. In 1908, she was presented at court. Lady Feilding officially joined the war effort in September 1914, when she joined the Munro Ambulance Corps. This was a volunteer unit based in Belgium, organized by Doctor Hector Munro (in charge of day-to-day administration) and the novelist and suffragette May Sinclair (in charge of funding).

Munro ambulances
Munro ambulances

At that point in the war, the British Army was opposed to having women near the front lines, so most female ambulance drivers worked in Belgium or France where they could establish hospitals and ambulance corps with minimal government inference. The Munro Ambulance Corps was a small group consisting initially of administrators Hector Munro and May Sinclair, two doctors, two London bus drivers who drove ambulances, and four female ambulance drivers: Lady Fielding, Mairie Chisholm, Elsie Knocker, and Helen Gleason.  In an article about May Sinclair, the Nationals Humanities Center quotes war correspondent Philip Gibbs:

“They did not seem to me at first sight the type of woman to be useful on a battlefield or in a field-hospital. I should have expected them to faint at the sight of blood, and to swoon at the bursting of a shell. Some of them at least were too pretty, I thought, to play about in fields of war among men and horses smashed to pulp. It was only later that I saw their usefulness and marvelled at the spiritual courage of these young women, who seemed not only careless of shell-fire but almost unconscious of its menace, and who, with more nervous strength than that of many men, gave first-aid to the wounded without shuddering at sights of agony which might turn a strong man sick.”

The Munro Ambulance Corps worked with the Belgian Red Cross to move the wounded from the battlefield to nearby field hospitals, which had to be constantly relocated in the face of the advancing German Army.  Ambulance drivers and nurses faced shells, bullets, gas, and shrapnel. Dorothie wrote in her letters home about increasing feelings of despair and her loss of religious faith as she contended with lice (most of the women ended up cutting their hair very short, as lice was a continual problem), mud, bureaucratic interference, general chaos, shelling, and gas: ‘It’s a dirty business gas and rather frightening—comes in great foggy waves and makes you cough your head off’.

Elsie Knocker, Dorothie Feilding, Mairi Chisholm
Elsie Knocker, Dorothie Feilding, Mairi Chisholm

In 1917, Lady Feilding left the front to marry Captain Charles Joseph Henry O’Hara Moore, MC.  She immediately washed the lice out of her hair and settled down for a nice, long, well-earned rest.

HA HA, as if.

She became an ambulance driver in London, which was no small feat because Britain was bombed by Zeppelins and airplanes over fifty times from 1915 until the war ended in 1918. Just to give you a sense of what driving an ambulance during a raid was like, here’s an account about the 1915 raid on London, from Women Wanted: the Story Written in Blood Red Letters on the Horizon of the Great World War, by Mrs. Mabel Daggett ( A | K | G ):

There was the time of the first serious Zeppelin raid on London, when amid the crash of falling bombs and the horror of fire flaming suddenly in the darkness, the shrieks of the maimed and dying filled the night with terror and the populace seemed to stand frozen to inaction at the scene about them. Right up to the centre of the worst carnage rolled a Green Cross ambulance, from which leaped out eight khaki-clad women. They were, mind you, women of the carefully sheltered class, who sit in dinner-gowns under soft candlelight in beautifully appointed English houses. And they never before in all their lives had witnessed an evil sight. But they set to work promptly by the side of the police to pick up the dead and the dying, putting the highway to order as calmly as they might have gone about adjusting the curtains and the pillows to set a drawing-room to rights.

“Thanks,” said the police, when some time later an ambulance arrived from the nearest headquarters, “the ladies have done this job.”


When the war ended, Lady Feilding and her husband finally got to settle down. They had five children and apparently Lady Feilding spent her post-war years organizing pretty much everything in the vicinity, including the British Legion, the Agricultural Show Society, and the Tipperary Jubilee Nursing Association. She died of heart failure at the age of 46, possibly because she had, in 46 years, done 246 years worth of work.

Lady Under Fire on the Western Front
A | K | AB
Lady Feilding-Moor was far from the only female ambulance driver in WWI, but her experience is one of the best documented because she was prolific letter writer.  You can read her letters in Lady Under Fire on the Western Front: The Great War Letters of Lady Dorothie Feilding, MM, by Andrew and Nicola Hallam.

There are so many great resources about this horrible time period and the many, many kickass women who tried to make it better.  Here’s a sampling courtesy of the incredibly helpful website Edwardian Promenade:

Elsie and Mairi Go to War: Two Extraordinary Women on the Western Front, by Diane Atkinson ( A | K | G | AB )

War Girls: The First Aid Nursing Yeomanry in the first World War, by Janet Lee ( A )

Women in Uniform edited by D. Collett Wadge

Taking the Wheel: Women and the Coming of the Motor Age by Virginia Scharff ( A )

Women and War Work by Helen Fraser ( A | K | G | AB )

I should mention that I am recommending these books based on subject matter and reputation, not direct experiences – but you can bet they have all been added to my towering To Be Read list.

Other helpful websites not previously mentioned include, which has an first person account of serving in the ambulance corp by Helen Gleason, and an article by Nigel Blundell on The Express which included excerpts from Lady Feilding’s letters.  I’m not too proud to say that Wikipedia is, as always, a heavenly if somewhat unreliable gift to a harried writer.



Comments are Closed

  1. Kat says:

    Don’t forget Vera Brittain’s “Testament of Youth,” which tells of her experience in the Great War.

  2. Zen DiPietro says:

    I love this feature so much! It’s amazing to see these women who put themselves on the line. Not only were they extraordinary in what they did, they were extra-extraordinary for doing it while female–which made everything harder. I’ve whispernetted myself a copy of “Lady Under Fire on the Western Front” (which is a great title, as it makes me think about what a lady was doing at the same time All Quiet on the Western Front was going on). Thank you for the rec!

  3. L. says:

    While we’re on the subject, I would like to recommend the novel Not So Quiet… by Helen Zenna Smith.

  4. Mina Kelly says:

    I suspect her early death probably had a lot to do with inhaling mustard gas. The damage it did to people’s lungs was pretty much irreversible, so a lot of people who survived the war died later because of respiratory infections and the like.

  5. Francesca says:

    Another good one is Song of Songs by Beverly Hughesdon. The m/c is the daughter of an earl who enlists as a nurse. She’s a frustrating heroine (sometimes you want to shake her), but she is tested and matures. It’s a huge, sweeping epic.

  6. Karen says:

    I’d like to recommend the Maisie Dobbs books by Jacqueline Winspear. i enjoy the Phryne Fisher books and TV show. I’m so glad you all recommended it! The Maisie Dobbs stories seem a little grittier and darker than the Miss Fisher stories, but I’m hooked on them. You definitely need to read them in order.

  7. Danker says:

    Thanks Carrie S. Another grand read. An amazing woman, but as your article demonstrates, so also were her “gently raised” compatriots.
    I agree with Mina Kelly about the possible explanation for her early heart failure. My grandfather dies of heart/lung damage, 20 years after being gassed on the Somme and in Belgium. It happened to loads of the victims of the gassing in WW1.
    Are you interested in recs for further subjects? I have a late 17th – early 18th century scientist if you are interested. If so, how to contact you?

  8. Karin says:

    Thanks, that was a great profile. Charles Todd, who is the author of the Ian Rutledge mystery series(the detective hero is a WWI vet), wrote a novella called “The Walnut Tree” about a British WWI battlefield nurse, and there is an understated romance in it.

  9. Louise says:

    Second the recommendations for Not So Quiet and the Maisie Dobbs series. The Bess Crawford is also good, but not as gritty about life on the front as Maisie and Not so Quiet.

  10. Jody says:

    I highly recommend Anne Perry’s 5 book WWI series beginning with No Graves As Yet. Whatever you think of the author personally, these books are amazing and harrowing to read, and the fictionalized versions of Lady Feilding et al are very well done.

  11. […] for me to link over to Smart Bitches, Trashy Books where this month’s Kickass Woman is Lady Dorothy Feilding-Moor, who was an ambulance driver in WWI.  I had so much fun researching this article – […]

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