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Blue plaque honour for nurse on International Women's Day

Suzanne McGonagle
08 March, 2017 19:00

A NURSE who tended the wounded and won praise for her remarkable accounts of the horrors of two world wars was honoured in Belfast yesterday on International Women's Day.

The Ulster History Circle yesterday celebrated Emma Sylvia Duffin's achievements with a blue plaque at her former home on University Square.

Almost 40 years after her death, her great nieces Emma Mackin and Sarah Bracher unveiled the plaque in her honour.

The English-born nurse kept detailed journals as she tended to the wounded during her role as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse.

On the outbreak of the First World War, she served as a nurse, first in Egypt during the Gallipoli campaign, and then in the military hospitals of Le Havre and Calais in France.

Fluent in German, her tales of caring for wounded German soldiers add a humanitarian perspective to stories of devotion and selflessness.

When World War Two broke out she was appointed commandant of the VAD nurses based at Stranmillis Military Hospital in Belfast.

She resumed her diary-keeping and provided detailed accounts of the impact of the Easter Tuesday blitz on Belfast when more than 800 people were killed.

In one of her diary entries, she recalled how St George's Market was used as a morgue for unidentified bodies.

Of the war she wrote: "I had seen many dead (in WWI), but they had died in hospital beds, their eyes had been reverently closed, their hands crossed on their breasts; death had been glossed over, made decent.

"Here it was grotesque, repulsive, horrible. Death should be dignified, peaceful. Hitler had made even death grotesque."

Ms Duffin served as honorary secretary of the Belfast Council of Social Welfare from 1933 to 1953. She died in 1979, aged 95, and is buried in Newcastle, Co Down.

Her diaries form part of the significant Duffin family archive in Northern Ireland's Public Record Office.

Chris Spurr from the Ulster History Circle said they were delighted to unveil the plaque in hour of a woman who "made an important contribution to nursing in both world wars, and recorded a remarkable account of her experiences in her diaries".

Meanwhile, a legendary US civil rights activist delivered a lecture at Belfast yesterday to mark International Women's Day.

Angela Davis, one of the most outspoken critics of President Trump, spoke to a packed audience at the event in City Hall after being greeted with a standing ovation.

Ms Davis, a key figure in the US Civil Rights Movement, was invited to Belfast by Reclaim the Agenda, a collective of women sector representatives, grassroots feminist, trade union and student activists.

The organisation aims to encourage and promote women’s activism through education, campaigning and celebration to create a fairer society.

08 March, 2017 19:00 News

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