Miss Mary: The Irish Woman Who Saved the Lives of Hundreds of Children during World War II

By Bernard S. Wilson, illustrated by Julia Castaño. Gill Books, 2020. 144 pages. $9.95/paperback. Recommended for ages 8–12.

This book was written by Quaker Bernard S. Wilson, a retired university lecturer who lives in Canterbury, England. His deep interest in Mary Elmes led to his extensive research, writing, and leading of study sessions.

Mary Elmes traveled far from her home in Cork, Ireland: she studied in Paris, Madrid, Dublin, and London. Then she worked in a Spanish children’s hospital during the Spanish Civil War. She worked in France during the German occupation and was supported in her work there by American Friends Service Committee. In 1943, she was imprisoned for six months.

Soon after the war ended, Mary married and had two children. Her work with refugees had ended. After her death at age 93, her courage and commitment became known to a new generation. Ronald Friend, whose life Mary had saved when he was a child in France (then known as René Freund), worked with Wilson in England, and through American Quaker archives, he was able to contact Mary’s family. In 2013, Yad Vashem in Jerusalem honored her service in saving the lives of Jewish children by naming her the first Irish person to be recognized as one of the non-Jews who are “Righteous Among the Nations.” Ronald Friend joined her family in France for the presentation of the medal. Mary was further honored in 2019 when a new bridge in Cork, the city of her birth, was named after her.

Mary’s story has traveled far and is told here by Wilson in a form and style for children. His writing is clear and offers background information and a timeline. The stories are vivid evocations of real people and events. At the center is the woman who lived according to her beliefs and would never have expected to be remembered with books and medals and a bridge. She did what came to her to do, what she could, what was needed. Through Wilson’s narrative, she speaks to our condition.

Margaret Crompton (Britain Yearly Meeting) wrote Pendle Hill pamphlet 419 Nurturing Children’s Spiritual Well-Being. Recent publications include poems, short stories, and blogs. Her plays are published online by Smith Scripts.

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