Katherine Harley (3 May 1855 – 7 March 1917) was a suffragist who in 1913 organised the Great PilgrimageMarch in 1913 by suffragists from all over England Wales to London, in support of the campaign for votes for women., a march along six routes to converge on Hyde Park, London, where a rally in support of women’s suffrage was held.
Born in Kent, Katherine was the daughter of Margaret French, née Eccles, and her husband John French, a Royal Navy commander from Ireland. Katherine’s siblings included an older sister, Charlotte (later Charlotte Despard, born in 1844) and John (later John French, 1st Earl of Ypres, born in 1852). Katherine’s father died before she was born, and her mother was confined to an asylum by 1867, leaving Katherine to be raised by relatives. She married Colonel George Harley, who was killed in the Second Boer War.
Katherine joined the NUWSS in 1910 and became the honorary treasurer of its Midland Region; she was made president of the society’s Shropshire branch in 1913. She was also a member of the Church League for Women’s Suffrage.
In 1914, at the age of 61, Katherine volunteered to assist the war effort by serving as a nurse with the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service in France, where she was awarded the Croix de Guerre.
Late the following year Katherine transferred to Greece, to nurse on the Balkan Front. She established a motorised ambulance unit which operated near the front line, often at night, despite explicit orders not to do so. She rented a house in Monastir, Serbia (now in the Republic of North Macedonia) after its capture, and it was there, on 7 March 1917, that she was killed by shellfire. As a civilian working for the Serbian forces, Katherine was not entitled to a military commemoration, but her funeral was nevertheless attended by General Milne – commander of the British forces in the Balkans – and George, Crown Prince of Serbia. Her grave is one of 1600 in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Salonika (Lembet Road) Military Cemetery.
Beckett, Ian F. W. “French, John Denton Pinkstone, First Earl of Ypres (1852–1925).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Online, Oxford University Press, 2015, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/33272.
Nicolle, Dorothy. Shrewsbury in the Great War. Pen and Sword, 2015.
Robinson, Jane. Hearts And Minds: The Untold Story of the Great Pilmigrage and How Women Won the Vote. Doubleday, 2018.
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