Belfast Telegraph

Modest 'Florence Nightingale of the Mournes' will be honoured with blue plaque in her birthplace

By Rebecca Black

A woman known as the 'Florence Nightingale of the Mournes' is being honoured with a blue plaque in the heart of the picturesque countryside where she was born and raised.

Margaret Anderson may have been from a tiny hamlet just outside Kilkeel in Co Down, but her tender nurse's touch was felt across the globe - from the then Mesopotamia in western Asia to tending wounded soldiers during the chaotic Second World War evacuation of Dunkirk.

She will be recognised later this week with an Ulster History Circle Blue Plaque, which will be unveiled at Mourne Presbyterian Church by her great-nephew Charles Annett.

Charles (80) told the Belfast Telegraph that despite the extraordinary service Margaret had given, she rarely spoke of it, and instead was known as a great listener.

In fact she was so modest that her own family didn't even know about the service she gave during the First World War until she was awarded the Royal Red Cross - the highest decoration for a nurse - on December 18, 1919, by King George V at Buckingham Palace.

And they only learned of her brave voyages across the English Channel during the desperate mission to rescue the soldiers trapped in Dunkirk by the advancing German army after she wrote to thank her family for a gas lamp they had gifted her, revealing that it had been the only light she had had in the small boats.

Margaret was born in the townland of Ballinran, Kilkeel on December 21, 1881, as the oldest daughter in a family of eight siblings. At just 13, she travelled to Waringstown, Co Down, to work as a medical receptionist before moving to the Leeds Union Infirmary, where she trained as a nurse.

At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Margaret started her service with Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Reserve.

For five years she worked at the Mount Dore Military Hospital in Bournemouth, where despite volunteering to serve overseas, the authorities refused to let her go, so invaluable had she become.

It was then she was awarded the Royal Red Cross, and King George's mother, Queen Alexandra also presented a book to Margaret, with a signed message of thanks for her service.

She travelled overseas in 1919, leaving for Mesopotamia where, until the end of 1922, she continued in the nursing service with the British Expeditionary Force.

She was later appointed assistant matron at the Royal Infirmary, Truro, Cornwall but in 1925 returned to Kilkeel to become matron at the temporary Silent Valley Hospital, which had been established during the building of the reservoir.

Margaret later returned to England, but at the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, she rejoined the nursing reserve despite then being in her 50s. She took part in several sorties across the English Channel during the evacuation of Dunkirk.

She eventually retired home to Kilkeel, where she died in 1956 at the age of 75. She was laid to rest in the grounds of Mourne Presbyterian Church, the church where she was baptised and had attended.

The Ulster History Circle plaque will be unveiled on Thursday by Charles Annett, who, like his great-aunt, is also a member of the Mourne congregation.

Chris Spurr, chair of the Ulster History Circle, said the charity was delighted to recognise Margaret, and thanked the Ulster-Scots Agency for their financial support towards the plaque, and Mourne Presbyterian Church for their assistance.

Belfast Telegraph

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