First World War heroine to be honoured in new Fringe opera

Flora Sandes travelled with an aid group to the front line in Serbia but instead became a sergeant-major in its army. Picture: Contributed
Flora Sandes travelled with an aid group to the front line in Serbia but instead became a sergeant-major in its army. Picture: Contributed
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The only British woman to serve as a soldier in the First World War is to be honoured in a new opera at the army’s own venue at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Its producers say the “forgotten” true story of Flora Sandes will tell how she travelled with an aid group to the front line in Serbia, but instead rose through the ranks of its army to become a sergeant-major.

Dead Equal, which will also recognise the contribution of women serving in the modern-day Royal Army Medical Corps, will be staged by an all-female cast and creative team at a real-life army reserve centre in the New Town.

The third Army@TheFringe line-up will also recognise the contribution of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals which were set up in Serbia, and elsewhere in Europe, by Edinburgh doctor Elsie Inglis.

She famously instigated the network of medical units staffed by women in Belgium, France, Serbia and Russia despite being rebuffed by the War Office, where she was told: “Go home and sit still.”

Hallowed Ground will be drawn from the first-hand experiences of Australian military doctors over 100 years, including a surgeon denied service in the military who signs up to join the medical effort in the Balkans.

Army@TheFringe, which takes over the drill hall Hepburn House, is programmed in collaboration with year-round arts venue Summerhall. This year’s line-up, which has been revealed days after the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings at Normandy in France, includes a play bringing to life testimonies of five veterans of the operation.

Audiences will be able to meet real-life veterans expected to be in attendance at some performances of Bomb Happy, which is billed as “a verbatim play about ordinary young men in an extraordinary time”.
One-man play Unicorns, Almost is inspired by the life and work of Second World War poet Keith Douglas.

Lieutenant Colonel Gordon Mackenzie, head of engagement for the army in Scotland, said: “Army@TheFringe has established itself as a venue that offers high-quality performance art that asks serious questions about life in the armed services and about wider social issues.”

Verity Leigh, Summerhall’s programme manager, added: “We are delighted to be collaborating with the army for a third year to present a programme of innovative contemporary performance.

“Army@TheFringe supports artists to bring new work to the Fringe and to reach new audiences. Once again, the artists presenting work this year have some fascinating, moving and intriguing stories and ideas to share with audiences.”