The largely untold story of two young Irish nurses who saved the lives of patients when their hospital was bombed during the London Blitz is to be dramatised in a new play.
Mary Fleming and Aileen Turner were awarded the George Medal, the UK’s second highest civilian award for bravery, for saving the lives of 17 patients when their hospital was hit by a German bomb in November 1940.
“It is almost impossible to find anything about their lives before or after their incredible act of bravery”
The play, called What’s The Story?, relives their actions on that night at the Grove Park Hospital, which used to be located in Marvels Lane in Lewisham, South London.
At the time, Ms Fleming was a 24-year-old staff nurse, originally from Cappawhite in County Tipperary, while Ms Turner, also from Ireland, was a senior assistant nurse.
After the bomb hit the hospital, they climbed into a first floor window and crawled along the floor of an upstairs ward to reach the stranded patients who were being treated for tuberculosis.
They then lead them back to safety through scalding steam from burst hot water pipes, only moments before the floor of the ward crashed to the ground.
The pair subsequently received the George Medal on 9 May 1941, with Ms Fleming’s citation noting “her quickness, coolness and courage” in rescuing 17 patients from “almost certain death”.
“Their willingness to travel and work over here saves us, every single day”
The new play, written by Maureen Alcorn, is inspired by their story and forms part of the Against All Odds New London Irish Theatre Festival 2018 from the Green Theatre Company.
Ms Alcorn said: “The true story of Mary and Aileen’s bravery against all the odds when a bomb ripped through their ward during the blitz really resonated with me, not just because of their obvious courage but also their self-deprecating modesty.”
She highlighted that little was known about the nurses, except they worked on the TB ward and when asked by reporters about their heroic actions, they said: “We were just doing our jobs”.
“These two Irish nurses were so modest, it is almost impossible to find anything about their lives before or after their incredible act of bravery on one terrifying night singled them out,” she said.
New play remembers action of heroic Irish nurses during Blitz
“I wanted to flesh out their stories and pay homage to what they did – their story really deserves to be told,” said Ms Alcorn.
She noted that she also wanted her play to act as the starting point for a wider narrative to salute the generations of Irish nurses who have worked for the NHS since its inception 70 years ago.
“We’re in danger of taking our unique and special health service for granted when it is most in peril,” said Ms Alcorn. “Our nurses come from all over the world and their willingness to travel and work over here saves us, every single day.”
The Against All Odds festival opens Tuesday 20 February at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre in Kentish Town, where it will run until Saturday 3 March.
It will then transfer to the Bread and Roses in Clapham for 13-17 March. More dates and venues will be added shortly.