A nurse in war-torn England

A nurse in war-torn England


Margaret McLean was voted School Captain in 1929. Her mother was so proud of her daughter that despite the family’s economic hardship, she found a way to afford a school blazer with the new school motto Optima Optime, emblazoned on the pocket.

Less than a decade later the girl who had dreamed of becoming an actress, was working as a nurse in London at the outbreak of World War II. Her first marriage was to Australian naval officer Alan MacGregor-Smith, whom she described as ‘all brass buttons and gold braid’ and they moved to Portsmouth, where his ship was berthed.

Maggie and Margaret MaloneShe was never to forget the terrible night of the bombing at Portsmouth – one of those tragic incidents of war. ‘It was a miracle that both of us were not killed. It was the month of January and thick snow lay on the ground. The sound of sirens woke us. We ran from the house and huddled in the coal-hole, where there was just room for a couple of us. The first enemy planes dropped fire bombs to encircle Portsmouth. The following bombers then knew to drop their bombs in the middle of that circle. This way they would directly hit the British ships docked for repairs in Portsmouth harbour.’         

Further bombs fell on open land where many local residents had fled with their bedding, believing they would be out of danger. On that dreadful night the bombs landed on them all. ‘It’s inevitable … all part of a shocking war … that such tragedies happen. ‘You had to be there to believe the horror of it all; unless you had been in it, you couldn’t possibly imagine what it was like,’ she shuddered.

The next morning the MacGregor-Smiths returned home to find all their windows shattered; the front door blown up the stairs. ‘That day I spent my time going from queue to queue; a queue for a pot of water, a queue for a candle, a queue to get a loaf of bread.’ …


Read more about Margaret Malone’s vivid recollections of school life in the 1920s. 


Margaret Malone and Maggie Gowanlock
in 2009 (Photo Verena Bacchini)