Home-town concert of music by war heroine

MUSIC composed by a Sunderland woman to lift the spirits of fellow captives in a Japanese PoW camp is to be performed in her home town for the first time.

The true story of Margaret Dryburgh - a gifted musician whose "songs of survival" boosted morale in the prison camps - was told in the Hollywood film Paradise Road, in which she was played by Pauline Collins.

Next month, her music will be performed by Bishopwearmouth Young Singers at a concert in aid of Macmillan Cancer Relief.

Fund-raiser Wendy Coombs said: "All the money raised at the concert will go towards helping Sunderland patients suffering from cancer and towards the day-to-day work of Macmillan nurses."

The concert will be held on the evening of April 20 in St George's United Reformed Church - which adopted Margaret as "our missionary" when she first went to China, and raised money for her work in the Far East.

Margaret, born in Sunderland in 1890, studied for her BA degree in Newcastle and later taught history at Ryhope Grammar School.

But in 1919 she went to Swatow in China to teach in a mission school, and St George's, then a Presbyterian church, adopted Margaret as "our missionary" and raised funds to send to her. It is believed letters were exchanged and Sunday school children were taught about her work.

She was transferred to Singapore before the war and founded a secondary school there. St George's continued to send funds to help her.

She was evacuated with other woman and children just before the fall of Singapore, but on February 11, 1942, their ship was intercepted by the Japanese and they were taken prisoner.

Margaret composed songs and music and also had a keen memory for musical scores which she rearranged for women's voices, so they could enjoy the great music they had loved in peacetime.

But deprivation, ill-treatment and disease took their toll, and as mortality reached 37 per cent, Margaret herself died - within weeks of the end of the war.

Her name was recorded on the roll of honour in St George's to the dead of the Second World War.

Then last year, the St George's Church Meeting heard of an Arts in the Church project and commissioned Manny Man Kin Ling, senior lecturer in design at Sunderland University and a noted calligrapher, to design a piece of art to celebrate Margaret's life.

The chosen design, a glass pyramid with Aflame for Truth - the motto of Margaret's Singapore school - sandblasted on its faces, was dedicated at a special service last year.

*Tickets for the concert, 5 (4 concessions), can be obtained from Sunderland Minster (formerly Bishopwearmouth Parish Church), from St George's in Belvedere Road, or from Wendy Coombs (tel: 522 8806). Cheques should be made payable to Macmillan Cancer Relief.