Kilmovee nurse saw duty in WWII

This is the lovely story of Bridie McLaughlin whose career as a nurse saw her assigned to various overseas destinations during World War 11.

Bridie was formerly Duffy from Kilmovee and she went over to England in 1939. Dr Sharon Lambert, a regular reader of our dairy page and a lady with family roots in the Lough Talt area of County Sligo, met Bridie in recent weeks and recorded her story which was published four weeks ago in the Lancaster Guardian.

When the Christmas card arrived from Sharon and her family, she enclosed a copy of the story and it was so good that we decided to seek her permission to re-print it in the “Western”. This was immediately forthcoming and Sharon arranged to get the photos sent across to accompany the text.
Sit back and enjoy the homely story of Bridie McLaughlin, this amazing woman from County Mayo who has lived in Lancaster for over 50 years.

“I was born in Magheraboy, Kilmovee, County Mayo in 1917. I was one of twelve children in the Duffy family; seven boys and five girls; We had a lovely happy childhood on the farm and plenty of fresh food. I came over to England in 1939 to do nursing. My sister had come over to do nursing before me and I thought “that’s what I want to do,” Nobody thought I’d stick it but I loved every day of it, to be able to help people who were suffering.

I trained as an SRN at Lewisham Hospital in London and then I did a part-time midwifery course because you needed that to get a sister’s post.

The war was raging while I was training and bombs were dropping on London every night. Casualties were coming and going into the hospital all the time.

Our church was hit once but the lovely big statue of Christ outside it wasn’t touched. TB was also rife and I knew some nurses who went down with it.

In 1944 I joined Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Nursing Service and was posted to Hatfield House and then to the 73rd British General Hospital in Normandy. We didn’t know where we were going to, it was very hush-hush. My people didn’t know where I was.

There were thousands of troops there at Southampton when we were going on the ship. Anyway by the light of the morning we saw that we were going to arrive on the beaches of Arramanches and waded ashore knee-deep in water and then we were bundled into trucks. That was in July 1944 and the General pointed out to us the severe fighting that was going on in Caen. You could see the smokescreen rising.

Oh it was hectic; the wounded were coming in all the time. The great thing was, we were able to evacuate them the next day over to England, and that kept them in great form. Some of them had terrible wounds and they were only boys, all of them. It was terrible.

It wasn’t all sadness though. One time there was this lad sitting up in bed and he said; “Haven’t you got a brother Tommy Duffy?” And he was from home, from Carracastle in Mayo. He was lucky,he only got a slight wound on the arm.

There was a great social life in Normandy too. We were at some American parties. Oh my God! There was this night we went to a party where they had this bowl of cocktail drink and it was beautiful. And after one drink I was just going to have another cup and suddenly this sister dropped down on the floor beside me. She’d been drinking it all night. And I put my cup back!

We were there from July until September when we were posted to England because the fighting had moved up and they were sending the English hospitals up to Brussels.

We were sent back to Chichester House in Sussex, a big posh house, and then we were posted to India, to a convent in Calcutta that had been converted to a hospital. They were all indian troops that we were treating and we didn’t speak Urdu and they didn’t speak English but we managed.

Poliomyelitis was widespread in Calcutta then. We were also supposed to take these tablets to prevent malaria but we were all going as yellow as a duck’s foot with them and we stopped taking them. But the Matron said;

“Take your whisky ration.” And I swear that whisky ration saved us. You used to get a bottle of whisky between four of you and you drank so much of this every day, a ration. I never got fond of it but I took it. It killed the germs I’m sure.

We were in India until the Japanese surrendered and the week after that we were posted to Singapore. We had to have eight minesweepers to take us into Singapore. A lot of ships were lost in that area. There, we took in all the prisoners-of-war, you know, from that awful Changi prison. They were in a terrible state.

From Singapore they were going to post me to Bangkok, where there was an outbreak of poliomyelitis, but I got laryngitis and I was sent back to Chichester in England. Then we were posted straight to Germany and I was there a few months before I was demobbed in 1947.

I got three medals for my service in the QA’s; the France and Germany Star, the Defence Medal and the War Medal 1939-45.

After I was demobbed I worked as a sister in Dartford in Kent. Then my father became ill and I went home to Ireland to nurse him and my mother wasn’t so good then I nursed her.

When I came back to England I worked at Preston Royal and then I applied to Lancaster to work as a ward sister at Longlands Annexe. They used to bring patients there from the RLI after their operations.
I married my late husband Robert, who was from Northern Ireland, in Lancaster in 1954 and we had three children, Marie, Angela and Robert.

Marie is handicapped but she’s very happy living in Torrisholme and receives lots of care around the clock. She’s partially blind and can’t speak much but she loves listening to her Irish music tapes. Angela is a midwife and lives in Rossendale and Robert is a teacher in Worthing. I also have four lovely grandchildren, Robert, Caroline, Rebecca and Ryan.

I thought Lancaster was lovely when I first came here over fifty years ago and I still think it’s lovely. My family love to visit too. When my niece Rosario came she couldn’t get over the lovely name ‘Bashful Alley’ and wondered where it came from.

When the children were young we used to love to go down to Heysham. We were like mountain goats climbing over the banks, till once I twisted my ankle and could hardly walk home!. We went to Morecombe a lot as well and we used the big swimming pool there. And I never made chips, so always when we went out we’d have fish and chips as a treat.

I also used to enjoy going with my husband to the Catholic Club, which was over the Alexandra Hotel, and dancing to Irish music.

I love living in Lancaster. My son Robert used to say to me; “Wouldn’t it be lovely if you could come down to live in Worthing?”.

No.I’ve been here fifty years now and I would’nt live anywhere else but Lancaster.”

* That’s Bridie’s Story. And Sharon Lambert tells me there’s a nice little postscript too. A first cousin of Bridie’s, Michael Conway from Kilmovee, read the story in the Lancaster Guardian in November and got in touch. He is 77 now, and like Bridie he emigrated decades ago, and they had never met since. He’s been living in the village of Galgate just outside Lancaster for 15 years but didn’t know that Bridie was in the town. They had a emotional meeting for the first time last Wednesday and had many memories to share from down the years.

By Michael Commins’ Western Diary
Courtesy of the Western People
December 2004