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Item of the month - April 2017

Fortune Grass by Mabel Lethbridge.

fortunegrass

This unprepossessing book cover hides one of the most interesting stories in the Local Studies collection.

Fortune Grass describes the first 27 years of the life of Mabel Lethbridge.  It begins in 1915 when she was sent from Ireland to boarding school in England.  Narrowly avoiding being expelled after two terms, she left and became a probationer nurse in Bradford.  

Eight months later she returned home, now in Ealing, and set about finding useful war work.  Telling her mother that she had found employment at an aircraft manufacturer, she actually went to work at the National Filling Factory in Hayes, lying about her age.

mabelworkedhere mabel lethbridge

The book contains vivid descriptions of life in the armaments factory. Only nine days after starting work, there was an explosion.  Many of the girls Mabel worked with were killed and she lost her leg.  The account of the explosion and her recovery in hospital make harrowing reading, but she never lost her fighting spirit.  As a result, she became the youngest ever recipient of the Medal of the Order of the British Empire. She was too young to receive a war pension.

The rest of the book covers her brief marriage, the birth of her daughter, and her efforts to find employment.  She worked as a match girl, a clerk in the Ministry of Pensions, and rented seats to crowds queuing outside London theatres.  

In 1962 Mabel appeared on This is Your Life, and in 1964 was interviewed for the BBC programme Great War Interviews.  The interview can be seen here


Portrait taken for Imperial War Museum by Colin Gill

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