Letters: Brave women of WW2

'Auntie Mary', and Bulldog Drummond, to the rescue
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The Independent Online

I should like to add another name to the roll-call of women decorated for bravery in the Second World War (letters, 28 March).

When the SS City of Benares sailed from Liverpool on 13 September 1940 en route for Canada, a volunteer escort in charge of the children on board being evacuated to escape the Blitz was a 41-year-old music teacher, Mary Cornish.

Four days out, at 10pm, the ship was torpedoed, and she found herself the only woman in a lifeboat, in charge of six small boys ranging in age from nine to 13, with 38 other passengers and crew. By ill luck, this lifeboat was not found by the rescue ship and was given up for lost. The naval officer in command set a course for Ireland and for eight days, before they were spotted by a Sunderland flying-boat, the survivors were so closely crammed together that they could scarcely move, suffering Atlantic storms, cold and thirst, and with diminishing prospects of survival.

"Auntie Mary" constantly massaged the boys' feet and ankles to ward off frostbite and, to keep up their morale, led them in singing and playing word games. Finally, in desperation, she embarked on a serial story based on the exploits of Sapper's Bulldog Drummond, then a popular fiction hero akin to James Bond. His adventures involved Nazi spies, secret codes, brave parachutists, and even a wicked U-boat commander, and Ms Cornish always broke off at a moment of high suspense to keep the boys' interest until the next day. They were still demanding another episode when they were safely aboard HMS Anthony, bound for the Clyde.

In 1941, Mary Cornish was awarded the British Empire Medal for what, in her view, was merely doing her job as an escort. "Her boys" felt they owed their survival to her (and to Bulldog Drummond, without whom they reckoned they would have died of boredom).

Elizabeth Paterson

London SW6

Questions for an errant husband

It seems a strange irony that the Home Secretary is embroiled in a scandal involving the sex industry. Last year, she took the moral high ground when she introduced new proposals which would incriminate male users of prostitutes as potential rapists of trafficked women, with ignorance of whether the woman involved was trafficked or coerced into the sex industry, as no defence.

The porn industry, like the prostitution industry, works from numerous outlets at home and abroad, some legal, others illegal. Porn and the prostitution industry are inter-affiliated on many levels. I wonder if the Home Secretary has questioned her husband about whether he checked that the models depicted in the porn material he watches were coerced or consenting, whether underage or not?

Richard Timney would probably complain that it would be virtually impossible to verify such information. But is this not what the Home Secretary was proposing when making it impending on male prostitute clients to verify such information on the women they visited? Would the Home Secretary impose the same imperatives, that ignorance is no defence, on her husband as a user of the sex industry?

The only difference between the average user of the sex industry and the Home Secretary's husband is that the former pay for it with their own money, whereas the latter expect the taxpayer to foot the bill.

Geoff Diggines

London N1

The scandal about the husband of the Home Secretary claiming an allowance for adult films is laughable when it is borne in mind that Jacqui Smith is probably the most intolerant and repressive Home Secretary since William Joyson Hicks, the Conservative Home Secretary in the inter-war years.

She is bringing forward repressive legislation against men who use prostitutes and is attempting to bring in repressive legislation to curb lap dancing and yet her own husband watches adult films . The defeat of Jacqui Smith is a ministerial defeat that I am very much looking forward to at the next general election .

And MPs and ministers should be given a choice between keeping a home in their constituency and staying in an inexpensive hotel or hostel when in London, or keeping a home in London and staying in a cheap and comfortable hotel or guest-house in their constituency.

Peter J Brown

Middlesbrough, Cleveland

The Conway scandal highlighted the unfairness of MPs appointing family members as support staff, thereby depriving other potential applicants from applying, contrary to the usual rules for jobs paid for by the public purse. The Smith case shows another side of nepotism.

The Home Secretary's husband is paid £40,000 to run her constituency office and yet he was not able to submit proper expense claims, a basic administrative task. In any other field of employment, public or private, such a highly paid employee whose actions led to the public humiliation and possible resignation of his employer would have been instantly dismissed. Presumably, Mr Timney's job is safe because of his relationship to his employer. Is it not time that MPs were stopped from the practice of employing relations at the taxpayer's expense?

John E Orton

Portishead, Bristol

Jacqui Smith was warning us about dirty bombs while her husband was watching dirty films. She's more gaffe-prone than Prescott. Please don't resign; I can't wait for the next instalment.

Philip Moran

London N11

Pull the troops out of Afghanistan

Tomorrow, the leaders of the G20 meet in London. High on the US agenda will be obtaining commitments from European nations to send more troops to Afghanistan. In France, Italy and Germany, polls show that clear majorities believe their governments should not send more forces to Afghanistan; in the UK, 68 per cent want all British troops withdrawn within 12 months.

In Afghanistan, UN figures show US/Nato bombing killed more than 500 civilians last year, and only 18 per cent of people want more troops, as opposed to 44 per cent who say force levels should be cut.

As Obama intensifies the war, we urge European leaders to withdraw their forces, and urge readers to join the "Die-in for Nato's victims in Afghanistan" at Britain's military nerve centre in Northwood on 27 May.

Iain Banks, Bruce Kent, John McDonnell MP, Robert Newman, John Pilger, Michael Rosen, Mark Steel, Susannah York

London N1

Women athletes fight the odds

Dominic Lawson's sexist rant against the recent success of the women's cricket team in the World Cup (Opinion, 24 March) made me wonder if I had, by mistake, picked up the wrong newspaper. I was shocked that The Independent would support such blatant sexism. Given the amount of money, privilege, time and media exposure enjoyed by men's sport, one would expect most of the male representatives of their various sports to be world leaders, too. It is interesting to note here that historical records of the contribution made by black sportsmen in tennis and in the Olympic Games were written about in the same pejorative way in the 1930s.

Women who represent their country at this level do so against all the odds and, usually, mostly at their own expense. Many women still find it difficult to take part in sport at this level because they have family commitments that often mean the male of the household can still have time for hobbies and sports, and given the lack of sponsorship they often still have heavy work commitments when representing their country.

At a time when the female population is getting increasingly unfit and overweight perhaps some encouragement to take part in sporting activities and the provision of some celebratory role models like these would have made better use of this page of your paper.

There is very little coverage of women's sport in any newspaper's back pages.

W A Hyde

Wirral, Merseyside

What happened to Osman Mohamed

Your front page on 17 March was dominated by the case of a man "Sent back by Britain. Executed in Darfur". Inside, the whole of page 3 was devoted to your law editor's article about Adam Osman Mohamed. We did not respond immediately because we had to double-check the facts.

Your law editor quotes the director of Waging Peace as having said that the ICC's warrant was "over murders committed during the genocide" and concluding the remarks by describing Sudan as "a country where there is clear evidence of genocide". The allegation of genocide was dismissed by the ICC's pre-trial chamber.

The correct information about Osman Mohamed is as follows: He left London of his own free will in August 2008 under the Home Office's assisted voluntary return programme. In Sudan, he stayed for two months in Omdurman with his sister, and moved to Darfur in December 2008.

Unfortunately, a conflict occurred among his own ethnic group, the Gimir, in Katila (Southern Darfur) over administrative arrangements. Twenty-two people were killed. He was one of those who lost their lives. There is a police record of the inter-tribal conflict which resulted in their deaths.

We grieve for him and share the shock and sadness of his young family. We also feel that his tragic death should not be used as anti-Sudanese misinformation. To say that he was shot dead by security men in front of his family is sensationalism which is unworthy of your highly respected paper.

The conflict of Darfur was started by the rebels. It is ongoing because they refused the peace deal which was brokered by the US, the UK and their allies in Abuja in 2006. The Sudanese government accepted and signed the peace deal.

Dr Khalid Al Mubarak

Media Counsellor, Sudan Embassy, London SW1A

No special rights for veterans

Former military personnel should get the same rights as everyone else: there is surely no conspiracy to deprive them of these.

There is no just or moral case for anyone to be given "priority for health, housing and benefits" out of line with that person's assessed needs ("Veterans win fight for 'smart ID cards' ", 30 March).

Incidentally, as I served for three years in the RAF in the late 1950s, would I qualify? If so, please forget what I have just written.

Eddie Dougall

Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk


Bonuses refused

I have recently received the annual reports from two mutual building societies, the Britannia and the Yorkshire. The executive directors of both societies have voluntarily waived their entitlement to performance-pay bonus for 2008, an example I hope will be followed by others.

Graham D Palmer

Warminster, Wiltshire

Is this scullduggery?

Your reporter on the Oxford and Cambridge Boat race drops a hint that the participants these days are not ordinary students but more likely to be semi-professional athletes, not from the UK, here for the rowing as much as for the study. Many of my university friends would dearly like to see the days return when contestants in university sport are genuine students who need to give most of their time to their studies, and whose sport, while keenly undertaken, is a secondary activity.

Alan Luff (Canon)

University College Oxford First Eight and Four 1951, Cardiff

Troubled water

Gordon Brown wants all households in England to have water meters, so we all pay for what we use. These charges are determined by a body which wants profits above all else. It's not as if we can stop using water as a protest. We are a captive market for the water companies and for the taxes the government will get in increased bills. Gordon's Scottish constituents do not get water bills and their council tax is frozen. If he dares to say "British values" once more, I shall scream for England.

Della Petch

Driffield, East Yorkshire

A royal warning

You say that "the risk of a monarch subverting British freedoms to please the Pope"... "would seem to be rather diminished these days" (Leading article, 28 March). There is a risk the other way round. This is that Papal pressure on the monarch could produce a constitutional crisis leading to change in the position of the monarchy. A few months ago, the Grand Duke of Luxembourg refused to sign a law permitting voluntary euth-anasia. In response, emergency legislation was rushed through, removing most of the remaining powers of the monarchy in Luxembourg.

Donald Roy

London SW15

Britain unborn

Your "pub quiz challenge" (28 March) states that Britain had three kings in 1066. True, three men sat on the English throne that year, but there was no such thing as "Britain" in a political sense then.

Sam Boote

Keyworth, Nottingham