Priscilla Scott-Ellis

Priscilla Scott-Ellis

Priscilla Scott-Ellis, the daughter of the 8th Lord Howard de Walden, on 15th November 1916. One of six children, Priscilla was brought up in Belgrave Square and at Chirk Castle. In 1932 she was sent to Benenden School and in autumn 1933 to a finishing school in Paris.

On the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War Scott-Ellis supported the Nationalist Army fighting the Popular Front government. Saddened by the death of a Spanish aristocratic friend in Franco's airforce, she volunteered her services to the fascists in Spain. According to Mark Pottle: "In March 1937 Pip learned that her near-contemporary, Gabriel Herbert, the daughter of Aubrey Herbert, the diplomat, had volunteered to nurse for the nationalist side. Pip determined to follow her example. Her motivation was not primarily ideological, although she shared the monarchist and anti-communist sentiments of her Spanish friends."

After completing a First Aid course she arrived in Jerez de la Frontera in October 1937. She now underwent further training until being sent to the front-line at Teruel on 28th January 1938. From March until July 1938 her unit followed the nationalist Aragón offensive. She wrote in her diary: "I did not feel sick at all, but afterwards when I left the hospital I kept seeing wounds all the time and hearing the screams of agony … I understand now why nurses are so often hard and inhuman."

Scott-Ellis was amazed at the lack of sterile precautions she witnessed when posted to a surgical unit. Scott-Ellis wrote in her diary: "I was absolutely horrified at the dirtiness of the doctor. His ideas of antisepsis were very shaky and it gives me the creeps to see the casual way they pick up sterilised compresses with their fingers etc. I am not surprised that so many of the wounds get infected."

After the victory of General Francisco Franco she returned to London. She began editing her diary for publication but the outbreak of the Second World War brought an end to what would have been considered a pro-fascist book. Scott-Ellis joined a field hospital in northern France, which was evacuated via Dunkirk in June. She worked for a hospital for Polish soldiers in Scotland before moving to Spain where she was employed by the British Consulate in Barcelona. Scott-Ellis married Jose Luis de Vilallonga in 1945.

Scott-Ellis lived in Argentina with her husband and two children. After their divorce in 1972 she married Ian Hanson, a young opera singer. They settled in Los Angeles, where a disastrous land investment wiped out her savings. She died there of lung cancer on 8 March 1983. Hanson died two years later, an early casualty of the AIDS epidemic. Her Spanish Civil War diary, The Chances of Death, was eventually published in 1995.