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Sarah Burns McClearyNurse at Gretna Works Hospital
SARAH BURNS MC CLEARY
Date and place of birth : 2 November 1887 Creetown, Scotland
Date and place of Death : 1965 in South Shields District, County Durham
Biography: Sarah grew up in Creetown, a small town in Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland,
With her four brothers:
John McCleary 1884
Peter McCleary 1885
Nathan McCleary 1889
William McCleary 1890
Peter McCleary and Euphemia Joseph were married in Kirkcudbrightshire in 1882
Parents occupation :
Peter worked as a Granite Quarry Labourer Clerk and Euphemia was a Nurse.
Schools Universities attended and years of attendance – Not known
Place of residence at Gretna: N/K
Sarah and Alexander had two more children
Sheila E Cunningham 1922
Alan Cunningham 1927
Job title at Gretna: Sarah worked as a Nurse in the HM Factory hospital
Travels – Nil known
Awards/recognitions: Nil known
Trivia/any other information
Email from Granddaughter, Oct 2021: ‘My grandmother, Sarah Burns McCleary, was a nursing Sister in the small on-site hospital which served the factory. She had been working as a Sister at the Fleming Memorial Hospital, the children’s hospital in Newcastle upon Tyne, before she moved to Gretna. When I was a child she talked a lot about both hospitals. When my husband and I visited the Gretna “Devil’s Porridge” museum some years ago, before it moved to its new site, we discovered, from the lists of wartime inhabitants of the new town, that my grandfather Alexander Cunningham was living there too, with his parents, Bernard and Elizabeth Cunningham. They had previously lived in Brampton, Cumbria; Bernard was a painter and decorator and Alec had worked in the grocery trade. At Gretna Alec was a materials checker. I think Sarah and Alec already knew each other before moving to Gretna. They married in Creetown (her home town) on Dec 12th 1916. Their first child, my father, Ian Cunningham, was born at Gretna on Sept 9th 1918. I understand that the doctor who worked at the hospital officiated at the birth; Gran often spoke about him and I wish I could remember his name. The new family moved to live in South Shields after the War. My husband and I found that the hospital building where Gran worked had later become a Masonic lodge. At the time of our visit, it was located in the grounds of a private house – the owners of which kindly showed it to us. During our visit to the museum, we found that the staff there had not known that there was a hospital associated with the factory itself. Later, they discovered photos of it and sent me some. Sadly, I cannot be sure of spotting Gran in them, although I wondered about one figure in one of them. Gran was notoriously camera shy. (She also confided to me that she hadn’t wanted to marry young, because she wanted to “live” first! A trailblazer!) I imagine that the hospital looked after people who had been overcome by the fumes involved in their work or had suffered industrial accidents. I think difficult cases were sent on to Dumfries. I sometimes wonder how many of the women who stirred those vats of poison went on to endure chronic and ultimately fatal liver disease – since they scattered after the war, we’ll probably never know. I can’t remember any particular stories Gran told of the work of the hospital. I do remember the reverential tone in her voice when she mentioned doctors. All men.(Times have changed!) She told me she had asked the doctor who officiated at my father’s birth to “be with her” when her “time came”. Language which sounds quaint now. Childbirth was a pretty dangerous time then of course, more so than now. One of my uncles told me Gran had been matron at the hospital, but he was suffering from dementia at the time I spoke with him, and was prone to filling the gaps in his memory with fantasy. The museum records did not show her name in the list of matrons. The factory work must have been a nightmare. The hospital records would be intriguing to see, if they could be found. I wonder whether they were sent to storage in Dumfries, for instance? But pre–NHS I suppose they would have been owned by whichever organisation was sponsoring the Gretna hospital. MoD?