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
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 thats what I want to
do, Nobody thought Id 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 sisters 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 wasnt touched. TB was also rife and I knew
some nurses who went down with it.
In 1944 I joined Queen Alexandras Imperial Nursing
Service and was posted to Hatfield House and then to the
73rd British General Hospital in Normandy. We didnt
know where we were going to, it was very hush-hush. My people
didnt 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 wasnt all sadness though. One time there was this
lad sitting up in bed and he said; Havent 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. Shed 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 didnt
speak Urdu and they didnt 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 ducks 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
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
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 QAs; the
France and Germany Star, the Defence Medal and the War Medal
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 wasnt so good then I nursed
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 shes very happy living in
Torrisholme and receives lots of care around the clock.
Shes partially blind and cant 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 its lovely. My family
love to visit too. When my niece Rosario came she couldnt
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 wed 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
I love living in Lancaster. My son Robert used to say to
me; Wouldnt it be lovely if you could come down
to live in Worthing?.
No.Ive been here fifty years now and I wouldnt
live anywhere else but Lancaster.
* Thats Bridies Story. And Sharon Lambert tells
me theres a nice little postscript too. A first cousin
of Bridies, 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. Hes been living in the
village of Galgate just outside Lancaster for 15 years but
didnt 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