Friday, 13 April 2012

A Hero: Margaret Dryburgh

I have a lot of heroes.
I think we all do.
Grandparents, friends, colleagues, actors.......Auntie Gladys!...there are always some charismatic characters that spark the interest and tweak the admiration.
On the surface, one of my heroes,  looks a little........ unlikely.
She was a lumpy,somewhat austere looking   lady in her mid fifties.by the name of Margaret Dryburgh
and she died in 1945 
I first "got to know" Margaret after reading two accounts of the internment of European and other national civilians after the Fall of Singapore by the advancing Japanese.
The first book White Coolies by Betty Jeffrey,gave a somewhat harrowing account of the occupation from the Australian Nurses perspective while the more comprehensive Women Beyond The Wire by Lavinia Warner and John Stanilands chronicled the plight of all of the internees in Sumatra during the war.
(John D will, I am sure have more information on this subject)


A somewhat lurid 1950's paperback illustration of an extraordinary story
Both books sang the praises of Margaret Dryburgh.
The daughter of a Sunderland minister, Margaret trained as a teacher and then a nurse before embarking on Presbyterian missionary work in the far east by the early 1920s.
She was captured by the Japanese as she joined the Singapore exodus of civilians by sea and was interned in a series of prisoner of war camps for the duration of the war.


Very quickly, and with a quiet determination Dryburgh was instrumental in providing a morale boosting influence on her fellow camp mates. She organised camp reviews, poetry readings, adult and child education, hymn singing, and designed and wrote a weekly camp newspaper which she illustrated herself with cartoons and drawings.
She also teamed up with professional musician Norah Chambers to organise a camp choir, where she was responsible for writing all of the music down from memory. The choir effectively "sang" as instruments..and would tackle complicated orchestral pieces ranging from Handle, Bach and Beethoven which impressive skill.
In 1996, Paradise Road, a film which tells the story of the Women's Choir was released with Glen Close playing the Norah Chambers character and with Pauline Collins playing Margaret Dryburgh.




Dryburgh almost survived the war. She died of Dysentery in April 1945 after her camp was relocated . By that time well over half of the choir had died of illness and malnutrition, yet at Margaret's funeral, a hymn entitled The Captive's Hymn, was sung by the remaining singers, a hymn that Margaret had written herself.




Margaret's story, for me was inspirational,
She is a shining example how the skills one can develop can be channelled into a force for good when backed up by some Bulldog spirit and a good heart.

27 comments:

  1. When we visited the Imperial War Museum of the north, I was captivated by the stories and posessions belonging to the young nurses who had been captured by the Japanese. I'll have to see if I can find that book and film. xx

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  2. It has to be said, though, that Pradise Road is a ugh out loud awful movie!

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  3. It is a remarkable story. Whether you are religious or not, you have to admire the fortitude of the Christian missionaries.

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  4. Paradise road, in parts was very good bel.......however Tenko did it all just that little bit better

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  5. So much emphasis is put on the German atrocities during WW2, that one tends to forget the Japanese. One only has to read about 'The Rape of Nanking' to see the extent of their barbarity.

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  6. funnily enough cro I have just read The Rape Of Nanking by Iris Chang
    a very VERY hard read indeed

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  7. Thanks for sharing this and educating me a little more.

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  8. None of us could ever imagine the appaling conditions they had to endure and can only admire their fortitude.

    Another very good book detailing Japanese atrocities and, ironically given subsequent events in Europe, the hero is not only German but a member of the Nazi Party, is 'The Good German of Nanking, the Diaries of John Rabe'.

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  9. Thanks for this, John. Always glad to learn about wonderful people whose stories are easily lost in time.

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  10. What a wonderfully inspiring story. I guess none of us know what we are truly made of until we are tested to the limit.

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  11. I watched this inspirational movie not too long ago.

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  12. Wonderful post John. Thanks for telling us about this great woman.

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  13. Thanks, John. I had seen Paradise Road, but never realized the significance of one of its main characters. A worthy hero. lane

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  14. A true hero, John. I loved Tenko. If you visit ABC Wednesday home page, there is a wondeful lady (Reader Wil) who spent her childhood in one of the camps.She has no bitterness, she remembers how much her Mum loved her during that period.
    Jane x

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  15. What a wonderful tribute to your Aunt. I haven't seen Paradise Road, but I have seen Tenko several times and it is such an inspirational story of the worst and the best of humanity. Very moving post.

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  16. Broad!
    I think you mixed aunti glad with Margaret!! hey ho

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  17. Interesting to hear about this character, I'll look out for the books and film.

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  18. An interesting history lesson on something I knew next to nothing about. Thank you. I looked this up on Wikipedia and also learned about a nurse there named Vivian Bullwinkel who was quite an amazing person in her own right.

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  19. Bullwinkel was , as I recall the only survivor of the Japanese massacre of nurses on a beach in Indonesia.
    The japanese marched the women into the water and shot them from behind after killing the male soldiers they had been caring for.

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  20. Margaret Dryburgh was an amazing human being. Thank you John for the introduction...I feel your passion for these individuals. I feel the same way towards Nelson Mandela and what he continues to do for his people.
    War has and continues to bring out the worst in us humans.

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  21. It's incredible what people can become in horrendous circumstances. During WWII NZ's immediate threat was from Japan and there are still remnants of the coastal gun posts around the country. With the Japanese atrocities, it's understandable that a layer of our society - the old soldiers - has resented the planting of cherry blossom trees along Memorial Avenue or targeting Japnese Brides as wedding customers for the historic Nurses' Chapel. Yet Japanese culture has found its place here and my daughter takes sushi and anime for granted. Now we are grateful for the response of the Japanese search and rescue workers who came last February, and our hearts ache for the families who lost their children, newly arrived in Chch, to study English is a doomed building.
    Thanks for the Captive's hymn, the pointer to Paradise Rd and the reminders about Tenko. The Captives' Hymn is very moving.

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  22. And just like that, I'm introduced to someone I have never heard of. Suddenly feeling very small.... Thank you, John, this movie is going on my must-watch list.

    (and thank you for visiting my place! I have read and enjoyed your comments on every post of Bloggertropolis-Steve's and visit your blog from time to time, I really appreciate your views of the world around you - Cheers!)

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  23. A real hero.
    Instead of an overpaid footballer. I do get so peeved when athletes are labelled heroes for simply doing what they are (very) well paid for.

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  24. I'm always fascinated by how people respond to extreme circumstances. Oh that I could rise to the occasion like a Margaret! I might be able to take charge of one of those thing (like the weekly newspaper) but ALL of them? She really is inspiring.

    Dxxx

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  25. I'm always fascinated by how people respond to extreme circumstances. Oh that I could rise to the occasion like a Margaret! I might be able to take charge of one of those thing (like the weekly newspaper) but ALL of them? She really is inspiring.

    Dxxx

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  26. My mother Jane Elgey née Reid was in the same camp as Margaret Dryburgh and remembers the Vocal Choir well, we both recently attended the Singing to Survive Concert in Chichester organised by Marge Caldicot, another child of a camp survivor.

    The story of the Vocal Choir and its members is a story of the strength of woman under extreme circumstances and its worth telling over and over again.

    Finally I believe that my mother and her family are also mentioned in Lavinia's book.

    regards

    Vince

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  27. https://youtu.be/WHJurply0wg

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