The Foxearth and District Local History Society

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Meetings, announcements and notices for the Foxearth and District Local History Society, and associated organisations.

Sue Ryder and the the Sue Ryder Foundation by Phyllis Felton: 9th May 2017

Last year the Society enjoyed a talk by local historian, Phyllis Felton, on the Walnut Tree Hospital and nurse training there. On 9th May we once again welcomed Mrs Felton to tell us about perhaps the most respected charity worker of the 20th century - Sue Ryder - and the great Foundation she established. Phyllis had clearly researched her subject thoroughly and her enthusiasm for this well-known local figure was evident.

(Margaret) Susan Ryder was born in Leeds in 1924 and was the youngest of ten children. Her parents had a culture of always helping people and this influence - combined with her strong religious faith - was dominant throughout her life. From the age of 8 she was encouraged to do all sorts of jobs on the family estate even helping the servants with domestic chores and cooking. She was educated at Bendenden School and at the outbreak of war in 1939 she volunteered for the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry and was accepted when she gave her year of birth as 1923; this was a fiction that she maintained all her life -even in her autobiography. The true date only emerged with the discovery of her birth certificate when she died in 2000. She was soon assigned to the Special Operations Executive in Poland where she drove agents around and served as a radio operator and also worked in Italy and North Africa. At the end of the war Sue Ryder signed up to the International Red Cross and this work brought her face to face with some of the worst concentration camps in Europe. She had a particular affection for Poland which was reciprocated by various awards and the naming of parks in her memory. For her work in Yugoslavia she was presented with a medal by President Tito.

In 1951 Sue Ryder's work with the Red Cross ended and she realised that there was a pressing need for homes for so many displaced persons. She used her mother's house in Cavendish to create the first of many homes and this extended property became an International Head Quarters of the Sue Ryder Foundation which she set up in 1953. In 1959 she married Group Captain Leonard Cheshire VC who had already founded the Cheshire homes for the disabled charity and individually and jointly the pair received many honours. In 1979 Sue Ryder was made a life peer taking the title Baroness Ryder of Warsaw and her outspoken support for the victims of war atrocities continued vigorously in the House of Lords. Admiration for the Foundation's work was such that it had 47 well-known people as its patrons and 56 "counsellors" who gave freely of their time and expertise.

Mrs Felton displayed many contemporary photographs as she painted a revealing and absorbing picture of an extraordinarily determined woman who hated the limelight but who liked to be in control and whose dedicated and tireless work lives on in the 80 or so homes, hundreds of charity shops and thousands of volunteers serving under the Sue Ryder banner. Mrs Felton was warmly thanked by Secretary, Clare Mathieson on behalf of 18 members.

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