Remembering the heroic Irish nurses of the London Blitz
Three new plays explore very different eras of the London Irish experience
Nurses sort through the rubble of a damaged hospital after being bombed by Nazi airmen during raids on London. A new play by Maureen Alcorn tells the story of two Irish nurses rewarded for their heroic efforts during the Blitz. Photograph: Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis via Getty Images
The untold story of two young Irish nurses who saved the lives of patients when their London hospital was bombed in the Blitz is dramatised in a new play, to premiere at the London Irish Theatre Festival this week.
Irish nurses Mary Fleming and Aileen Turner were awarded the George Medal, the highest civilian award for bravery, for saving the lives of 17 patients when the Lewisham hospital where they worked suffered a direct hit.
What’s The Story? by Maureen Alcorn is inspired by their story. It is one of three new plays examining very different eras of the London Irish experience, to premiere at ‘Against All Odds’: New London Irish Theatre Festival 2018, from the Green Theatre Company.
“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,” Maureen Alcorn says.
Little is known about the nurses, except they worked on the TB ward in Lewisham Hospital and when asked by reporters about their heroic actions, said: “We were just doing our jobs”.
In the 1940s, nursing TB patients was one of the most challenging nursing duties, and many nurses caught the disease.
“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. So I wanted to flesh out their stories and pay homage to what they did - their story really deserves to be told.”
Alcorn says the play is a salute to the generations of Irish nurses who have worked for the British 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. Our nurses come from all over the world and their willingness to travel and work over here saves us, every single day.”
Alcorn’s previous play Crows By Day, Jackals by Night about an Irish man who joined the British army to fight Nazis was part of the first New Irish Theatre Festival in 2017.
The Green Curtain Theatre Company was set up in 2011. It works with writers, actors and directors drawn from the London Irish diaspora, to produce and perform plays which reflect our experience and history in London and England. This is the second year of the London Irish Theatre Festival.
Also premiering at the festival is A Tragic Carmody, in which internationally acclaimed artist Brian Whelan relates his experiences working with the late Camden artist, Danny Carmody, as they attempted to stage an exhibition of London Irish art. Danny, a bricklayer, was a self-taught and prolific artist whose huge canvasses reflected the city and the people around him.
In my play, Mosley Must Fall, Liam is an Irish veteran fighter from the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin. Now living in 1930s London’s East End, he’s disabled, disillusioned and desperate to keep his sons out of the political violence as Fascists, led by Oswald Mosley, attempt to march into the Jewish and Irish ghettoes around Whitechapel.
‘Against All Odds’ festival runs from February 20th to March 3rd at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre in Kentish Town in London.
It transfers to the Bread & Roses in Clapham from March 13th, with a special St Patrick’s Day evening of live music and short plays about the Irish diaspora planned for the closing night on March 17th.
For dates, tickets and more information, see lionandunicorntheatre.co.uk/against-the-oddsand breadandrosestheatre.co.uk/london-irish-play-festival.html