From Mr Colin Nevin
Sir, - One of the best-loved films
from the 1950s was The Inn of the Sixth Happiness,
starring Ingrid Bergman as the intrepid parlourmaid Gladys Aylward
from Edmonton, north London, who became a missionary in China.
It was 80 years ago, on 15 October
1932, that Gladys first set off from Liverpool Street station on
the Trans-Siberian railway to make the arduous trip to a far-off
country. She saved up her own fare after being rejected by the
China Inland Mission for not being academic enough to learn the
Chinese language. Undaunted, she went to help an elderly Scottish
missionary, Jeannie Lawson, in China.
It was Jeannie's plan to open an inn
for muleteers who traversed the isolated mountain treks that passed
through the remote village of Yangcheng in Shanxi Province, where
both women were regarded as "foreign devils". Jeannie died shortly
after, and Gladys was left alone in a part of China where few
Westerners ever visited. She learned the local dialect, and was
later asked by the Mandarin of Yangcheng to help put a stop to the
cruel custom of binding women's feet. Gladys was the perfect
candidate, as her feet were unbound.
Later, when Japan and China went to
war, Gladys's village came under enemy attack, and she
single-handedly took 100 children over the Shanxi mountains for
many days, with hardly any food, to eventual safety across the
Yellow River. This, she later remarked, was the reason, she
believed, why she came to China.
The film poignantly recalls the
children's trek, and made Gladys a household name. A book, The
Small Woman, by Alan Burgess, telling her story, became a
best-seller. I don't think that there is any memorial to Gladys in
the country of her birth, but wouldn't it be wonderful if an
initiative was taken to erect a statue or plaque in her honour in
Liverpool Street station to recall this diminutive heroine, in
recognition of the impact she had on so very many lives the world
Gladys died in Taiwan in 1970, aged
67; but it would be a fitting tribute for her own country and home
city to remember her in some tangible way.
45c Rathgill Park, Bangor
Northern Ireland BT19 7TQ