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New Publication from the Northern Ireland War Memorial

A Nurse in the Belfast Blitz: The Diary of Emma Duffin 1939-42 by Trevor Parkhill

The Blitz on Belfast, 75 years ago, in April 1941 is without doubt the single most traumatic single event in the city's long and often troubled history. Emma Duffin's eye-witness account of the devastating raid and its aftermath are vividly evident in her graphic and extensive diary entries, now published by the Northern Ireland War Memorial as A Nurse in the Belfast Blitz.

Her description of a journey through the city centre to north Belfast, which had borne the brunt of the raid, confirms the devastating extent of an aerial raid which left hundreds dead and thousands of houses destroyed. Equally gripping is her account of a gruelling day spent in St George's market, where she helped grief stricken families identify loved ones from the laid out, often mangled, corpses.

A native of the city, Emma was Commandant of the Voluntary Aid Detachment unit based at Stranmillis Military Hospital. Her account is even more authoritative because of her experiences in the First World War where she had been a VAD nurse in Egypt and northern France, for which sterling service (1915-19) she was mentioned in dispatches. In France, she recalled, as she struggled to come to terms with her gruesome role in St George's market, 'I had seen many dead 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 and horrible. Death should be dignified, peaceful. Hitler had made even death grotesque'. 

Born in 1883, Emma lived until the age of 95, dying in 1979. Her mother had been a founder member of the Belfast Council of Social Welfare and Emma continued the Duffin family's public service tradition, serving as Honorary Secretary from 1933 to 1953, when she concerned herself primarily with the welfare of women and children. She was awarded an Honorary Master of the Arts by Queen's University in 1954.

Emma Duffin's diary, amounting to some 138 closely-written manuscript pages in one volume, is held in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, Belfast.  It has been transcribed and is represented in A Nurse in the Belfast Blitz, almost exactly as it was written.

To facilitate accessibility, the text has been divided into five chapters, each with a short contextual introduction by the editor, Trevor Parkhill.  Where possible, extra information is given in footnotes about events and family members mentioned in the text.

The book has been illustrated with objects from the Northern Ireland War Memorial collection and Inver Museum Collection of St John Ambulance Memorabilia.

Photographs from the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, the Belfast Telegraph, Queen’s University Belfast, and Stranmillis University College Belfast, illumine and enhance the text.  Expertly designed by Professor John McMillan, the book is accessible and reader –friendly, featuring a map illustrating Emma’s route through Belfast on the day after the Easter Tuesday air raid in 1941.

A Nurse in the Belfast Blitzis available to buy in the War Memorial gallery priced at £10.

Alternatively you can purchase a copy on Amazon.co.uk or by completing a postal order form (download from the Publications tab on NIWM website http://www.niwarmemorial.org/publications/)

  

Contact for further information:

Jenny Haslett        

NIWM Education/Publications Officer

education@niwarmemorial.org

028 9032 0392 (Option 3)

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