Belfast Telegraph

Blue plaque honour for the Belfast woman who helped wounded world war troops

By Victoria Leonard

The great-niece of a heroic Belfast woman who helped the wounded in two world wars has unveiled an Ulster History Circle blue plaque in her honour.

Emma Sylvia Duffin, who served as a nurse in the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) in both the First and Second World War and was the VAD commandant at Stranmillis Military Hospital during the Easter Tuesday Belfast Blitz, received the posthumous honour yesterday on International Women's Day.

After the outbreak of the First World War, Emma became a nurse with the VAD in Egypt, where she tended to survivors of the Gallipoli campaign, and from 1916 to 1919 worked in the military hospitals of Le Havre and Calais. There, she looked after the wounded from the western front who were unable to be shipped to Southampton.

As the commandant of the VAD nurses at Stranmillis Military Hospital during World War Two, Emma witnessed the impact of the Belfast Blitz, in which over 800 people were killed. Her journals record the aftermath at St George's Market, which was used as a morgue for unidentified bodies, as she aided stricken families searching for their loved ones' remains.

Emma also served as honorary secretary of the Belfast Council of Social Welfare from 1933 to 1953, and was instrumental in improving after-care for women who had given birth as well as incorporating the society's social services into the new welfare state.

A keen diarist and illustrator, Emma donated her journals to the Public Record Office, and they were recently published thanks to the efforts of former employee Trevor Parkhill.

Speaking at the blue plaque unveiling, her great-niece Emma Makin said: "We are all delighted and there is a sense of pride that she is being recognised and honoured, particularly on International Women's Day.

"It is amazing to have such an inspirational woman in the family, and I have enjoyed reading the journals Trevor Parkhill published which have allowed me to get to know her. I think there should be more recognition of the role of women in Belfast."

Trevor Parkhill said Emma Duffin had been a "witness to history" and that her diaries had left a "good historical source" for future generations.

Vice-chair of the Ulster History Circle Myrtle Hill described Emma as "an ordinary woman who did extraordinary things, like so many others."

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