Thursday, 8 March 2018

International Women's Day

I notice that the BBC is highlighting Helen Taylor - Thompson and her wartime work for SOE but, as a direct descendant of Dr David Livingstone, her life has been remarkable for other reasons too.

Image result for Helen Taylor Thompson photo

International Women's Day: The 93-year-old spy still keeping war secrets

Helen Taylor Thompson sent coded messages to spies in occupied France during World War II. "One mistake and someone's life could have been in danger," she says. Ms Taylor Thompson signed the Official Secrets Act aged 19 and was part of what was known as then Prime Minister Winston Churchill's "secret army". She went on to set up Europe's first Aids hospice and is still working today with her education charity.


This from the splendid Spitalfields Life blog:- 

“The Mildmay was a little general hospital, much loved, with just a few wards and an A&E department. In the seventies, the District Health Authority had tried closing it but they were frightened to do so because it had such a good reputation. Other small hospitals were closing locally and many people felt the Mildmay had had its day, yet I believed it was still valuable because it was a Mission hospital and it worked with the most vulnerable people. I was chairman of the Hospital Advisory Council which I had formed to support the Mildmay and, when I saw that it was next in line to close, I got the community behind me to fight and we marched to Trafalgar Sq, and I clambered up among the lions and pleaded for the Mildmay not to close. It was fun but it didn’t do any good. They said, ‘It’s got to close,’ and it did. So then, a whole lot of people said, ‘We must go out in Glory,’ but I didn’t. I said, ‘We will fight for it and get it back.’

I had only one or two people who agreed with me, but a solicitor said, ‘Legally they can’t close it without giving the Mission the option of taking it back.’ So I went to the MP Peter Shore and said, ‘I want you to work with me to get it back.’ Then I wrote a letter to Kenneth Clarke to ask if I could have it back, and I knew it would have to be on a lease and seven years was too short and I didn’t think they’d give me twenty-one years, so I requested ‘a long lease.’ And two months later, I got a letter back offering it to me on a peppercorn lease for ninety-nine years – with strings attached.

As a Christian, I put this down to prayer. I was at the top of the stairs and I thought, ‘I can’t do this on my own,’ and the phone rang at the foot of the stairs. The caller said, ‘You don’t know who I am but I am the father of one of the nurses and I wondered if you’d like some help.’ He was working for the GLC and he could use the photocopier after hours. I employed an accountant to do a feasibility study and the plan was that we were going to work with young people who had suffered chronic injuries in accidents and people with Multiple Sclerosis, because they weren’t being taken care of.

But the District Health Authority didn’t want us to reopen the hospital, they wanted to sell it and get the money. We were examined and they told me we were incapable of doing it. If we hadn’t made a go of it after a year, they were going to take it away from me. I still had to find the money, so I sold the Mildmay Convalescent Home for half a million and I discovered there was a thing called ‘free money’ - the money which the hospital had in 1948 when it was taken over by the NHS. It had been put into a trust to be used for the hospital. I had no idea how much there was but I said, ‘You’ve got to give me that money.’ – it was £365,000! So we just had enough for eighteen months. The hospital had been closed for three years and vandals had got in, so I said to the NHS, ‘You’ve got put it right for us.’ I realised that we needed to get in six months before the contract was signed, so that we could sign the contract and admit the first patient on the same day. Elizabeth Willcocks, the previous matron who was in retirement, agreed to come back for two years and we reopened.

Thirteen months later, we were asked if we would take some AIDS patients. At that time, they were treated like lepers. So I went to the Matron and the Medical Director, and they both said, ‘The Mildmay has always looked after the people that nobody else wants to look after.’ We had the top floor which had formerly been the children’s ward and we didn’t know what to do with it, so I took the proposal to the board and I said, ‘I want a unanimous answer,’ and they said, ‘Let’s get on with it!’

Then we had big trouble – bricks thrown through the windows and a lot of Christians saying we shouldn’t be doing it and homosexual groups saying, ‘Boycott them, they’re Bible Bashers!’ We decided, ‘We’ll take no notice, we’ll open up and we’ll show love and great care.’ In October 1988, we opened the first hospice in Europe dedicated to treating people with AIDS. We had so many, we turned the whole hospital of thirty-six beds over to them. We had found our purpose, and the government were good and supported us with money.

The press used to be on the roof of the building opposite with telephoto lenses because we had some quite well-known people as patients. You’d think it was a sad place because people were dying, but it was happy because the patients were so well looked after and the doctors made sure they suffered no pain. Princess Diana came regularly and there was a patient called Martin who was dying and had lost touch with his family for eleven years. I said to him, ‘Would you like to give her the bouquet?’ The BBC were there and he gave Diana the bouquet, and they filmed her as she kissed him. Within twenty minutes, his mother rang and wanted to come to see him, and the whole family were reunited and shortly afterwards he died.

The Chairman of the District Health Authority, who had interrogated me, came to see me privately and he said, ‘I wish I hadn’t voted against you reopening the Mildmay.’ I said, ‘I’m very glad you did because it put more pressure on me to make the hospital independent, without that maybe I’d never have been able to get it back?’”


She helped set up the Community Action Network and Thare Machi Education:-

Helen Taylor - Thompson Biography Co-Founder & Life President

Helen was elected to the board of the Mildmay Mission Hospital in 1952 and afterwards sat on a number of Government NHS committee. She later fought the closure of the Mildmay hospital and became its chair when it reopened as the first hospice in Europe for people living with AIDS in 1988.

In 1995 Helen, alongside with CAN co-founders Adele Blakebrough and Lord Andrew Mawson, organised the Great Banquet - which saw 33,000 people in London sit down with people from every background to a meal. This event saw the beginnings of CAN, the launch of a network of social entrepreneurs who shared a commitment to tackle social problems through business.

In 2000 Thare Machi Education (originally Starfish Initiative) began and today Helen is chair of the organisation. Thare Machi Education (TME) uses interactive DVDs in local languages to educate children and young people against the disease. TME works with local partners in Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Malawi, India and Cambodia, and soon will be in DR Congo, Zambia and China. In 1990, Helen was awarded the MBE and in 2005 the OBE. 

Thare Machi Education was begun by Helen Taylor Thompson after she grew alarmed at the increasing numbers of women who became HIV positive when poverty drove them into prostitution. Helen’s work with AIDS patients in Uganda and Kenya in the 1990s showed her the scale of the problem, and she realised that what was needed was a simple cost effective technology to deliver preventative education.

As a result, Thare Machi Education was registered as a charity and limited company in 2000. The name means “starfish” in the Marathi language of India, inspired by the story of a boy rescuing stranded starfish on a beach. We may not be able to make a difference to every person but we can each make a small difference to someone.

In 2002 we began work with our first local partners in India showing our lessons about HIV and AIDS. We now have 32 different lesson scripts, each of which is available in up to 60 languages. Our lessons have been seen by millions of people in countries throughout Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and South America. In 2008 we developed a lesson to help educate people about the threat from human trafficking in response to the growing numbers of people being forced into modern day slavery, and in 2014 our lesson “Avoiding Ebola” was introduced. We offer all our lessons free of charge for use wherever they are needed.


  1. Wow what a character! Thanks for this Jim. Reminds me that for most of my early years in Probation, the workforce was populated by "characters"; sparky,independant, creative and often idiosyncratic but the ones I knew all had in common, commitment to clients and great passion for their work. This even when pay was cr*p and many had 2nd jobs(driving instructor being popular!)they went on to at end of Probation working day.

  2. Thank you. Exactly the character, energy & stamina missing from the fight for Probation. Ian Hislop spoke of his admiration for similar characteristics in a short discussion with Nick Robinson (R4-based blog available I believe).