Mairi Chisholm (l) and Elsie Knocker (r)Image copyright Courtesy of Diane Atkinson
Image caption In May 1916, Elsie Knocker (r) came back to Exeter to talk about her experiences on the front line

The dedication of a nursing “angel” from World War One has been recognised with a blue plaque.

Elsie Knocker and her friend Mairi Chisholm ran a first aid post in the village of Pervyse, yards from the Belgian trenches for nearly four years.

Known as the “angels” or “Madonnas” of Pervyse, the nurses stayed near the front line until both were badly injured in a gas attack in 1918

The plaque was unveiled at the house in Exeter where Knocker was born.

Her father, Lewis Shapter, was a surgeon at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital and her grandfather Thomas Shapter, was a doctor and author.

‘Mad’ woman

She trained as a nurse, but at the outbreak of war Knocker and Chisholm volunteered as despatch riders on the Western Front because of a shared – and unusual – love of motorbikes.

Knocker soon realised her nursing skills were needed at the front, but women were not normally allowed there.

Her determination eventually paid off and permission was given for a first aid post in the cellar of a bombed-out building in Pervyse.

They had to fund it themselves, so in May 1916, Knocker returned to Exeter to raise money by giving a talk about her experiences.

She said she was called “mad” and unsuccessful attempts were made to remove her.

Image caption The Exeter Civic Society blue plaque recognised Elsie Knockers wartime effort

“Every pair of hands was needed and it didn’t matter who you were, as long as you were strong, healthy and able to cope… you couldn’t be frightened, because you were too busy,” she said.

The cost of running the first aid post, two ambulance cars and one lorry was £60 a month and the Exeter audience donated enough for fund it for three months.

Knocker joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force at the outbreak of World War Two and was twice mentioned in despatches.

Elsie Knocker – the angel of Pervyse – died in 1978 at the age of 94.

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