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Katherine Harley, c. 1917
Wikimedia Commons

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)[1] and John (later John French, 1st Earl of Ypres, born in 1852).[2] Katherine’s father died before she was born,[1] 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.[3]

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.[4] She was also a member of the Church League for Women’s Suffrage.[5]

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.[6][7]

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Katherine Harley’s funeral procession
Commonwealth War Graves Commission

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.[6]