A Friend to the Forces in Wartime
Please, if you remember Mary's work, please drop me a line anytime, email@example.com
Before working for BUA, Mary dedicated well over six years of her life to helping servicemen and women during and after the Second World War.
In 1943 Mary’s husband, an RAF pilot, was killed and she received the news by telegram. Despite the sad news just five days later she opened the Nuffield Foundation Forces Information Office in Trafalgar Square; London.
This large hut in the shadow of Nelson’s Column soon became a centre for Forces personnel passing through London, and Mary acted a guide, philosopher and most importantly was a friend to all who called in.
She became known as “Tommy” to the serviceman and word of her centre spread to the forces worldwide.
The centre’s expenses were met by the Nuffield Foundation; the London theatres also supported her work and they donated free tickets to her so the servicemen and women could take in a show. At the busiest some 2,000 tickets per day were being given out, in all 365,000 free tickets were issued through Mary to service personnel.
Mary had a soft spot for the men who self-labelled themselves as the Guinea Pigs; these men underwent pioneering surgery for their burns at East Grinstead when Archibald McIndoe was performing skin grafts for the first time during the War. Mary would often accompany these men to London theatres and restaurants in the West End enabling them to enjoy a night out too.
It is reported that a Ministry of Works official tried to get the hut taken down, due to it being an “eyesore”.....he relented after a storm of protest which included the promise of its defence to the last man by the Royal Marines no less.
Mary’s centre closed in 1947, by which time it had handled over 3 million enquiries. But the work with Mrs Thomson continued on behalf of the Services from Wardour Street in London.
She undoubtedly touched many lives, selflessly bringing a measure of much needed support and comfort to many at wartime despite her own loss.
Mary sadly passed away, aged 62, in September 1973 at Haywards Heath hospital, which was near her home, a cottage in the village of Balcombe; not far from Gatwick.
Remembered as Mary to us, but as Tommy - The Serviceman’s Friend to so many more.
Mary at work with BUA in 1966