Of the four women I’ve presented in this run up to Remembrance Day, Dame Margot Turner is my personal favourite. While we bandy around the word ‘hero’ rather easily these days, I’ve found that the mark of a true hero(ine) is that you often don’t realise you’re in their presence.
As a young Lieutenant in the QA‘s (British Army Nurse), part of my training in Aldershot included a visit to the QA Museum. It was a fascinating place and when the tour was complete, I duly went into the bookshop to buy a book on the regiment’s history from the older, grey-haired woman, dressed in a yellow sweater and beige trousers, serving behind the counter. Our instructor nudged my arm. “That’s Dame Margot Turner,” she said. “You should ask her to sign your book.” I had no idea who Dame Margot might be, but my army instructor had told me to ask for a signature, so I asked for a signature.
What a revelation.
Born in 1910, Margot Turner joined the QAs in the 1930s. Her first overseas posting was to the Far East and she was serving in Malaya when the Japanese invaded in 1941. Ultimately the only survivor after her ship was torpedoed, she kept herself alive on a makeshift raft, under the blazing sun, by condensing water in her powder compact until she was picked up by a Japanese ship.
Margot Turner then survived the following three and-a-half years in various brutal prison camps. After the war was over, she continued serving in the Queen Alexandra Royal Army Nursing Corps rising to the rank of Colonel Commandant before retiring. She was awarded the MBE and DBE for her service. This video shows her accompanying Princess Margaret on a tour of the QARANC Centre in Aldershot.
Dame Margot Turner’s story was told on the British Television Show This is Your Life, where she was reunited with some of her former camp colleagues. The show ended with them singing The Captive’s Hymn, written by one of their own, which they had sung in the camps. A young producer watching the show, was so inspired by Dame Margot’s story that she went on to create one of the BBC’s most loved series of the 1980s Tenko, which told of the horrors these brave women experienced.
Dame Margot Turner. 1910-1993. True Heroine.