Miss Margaret Dryburgh 1890-1945
A Dutch woman sparked off a far-reaching chain of events when she donated a collection of music manuscripts to California's Stanford University ten years ago. For the meticulously handwritten manuscripts were far removed from any usual musical composition.
They were choral arrangements sung by 30 Dutch, British and Australian woman imprisoned by the Japanese during the Second World War. To cope with captivity the woman formed a choral group in their prison camp on Sumatra, Indonesia. The inspiration for this was Margaret Dryburgh.
Margaret was born in Sunderland, the daughter of the Reverend and Mrs. W. Dryburgh. The family moved to Swalwell in the 1900's where he was the minister at the Presbyterian Church at the Ebeneezer Chapel in Market Lane. The family was very well liked in the village and they were all keen and talented musicians. Margaret became a qualified teacher and taught for a short time at the village school before going to China in 1919 as a missionary.
Soon she began arrangements of classical works for a 'Voice Orchestra', where types of humming sounds were used for each instrument. She taught the other inmates how to produce these sounds and concerts were put on to raise morale. From memory Margaret Dryburgh wrote down pages of music from baroque to contemporary with the help of Norah Chambers, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music in London.
With only their memories to guide them they reproduced musical scores for over 30 orchestral and piano works by composers, which included Handel, Brahms, Chopin and Beethoven. Even the Japanese soldiers were amazed at the women's talent and used to listen at the door when they sang their services. The Saturday night gatherings grew so large and loud, that the guards peering in at the windows and climbing on to the dustbins, for a better view could not ignore them. They took to inviting themselves, sitting in the front row on cane chairs while the woman sat on the ground.
One of the pieces written by Margaret was the 'Captives Hymn', which was sung every Sunday at worship in the camp.
Its main feature was the absence of bitterness or hatred of their captors, despite the dreadful conditions they endured.
Together the two women rearranged the scores for choral singing, condensing a 15-minute movement of a symphony into a 5- minute choral work without losing its sense of balance and flow. Unless needed for vocal ease, the new scores remained faithful to the original keys.
The choice of syllabuses to be sung was left to Norah Chambers. To keep the programme a surprise for the other captives, she rehearsed the orchestra in a sooty shed behind the kitchen, without so much as a pitch pipe for an aid.
Constant hunger and disease took their toll and Margaret died on April 21st 1945 after reciting Psalm 23, a matter of months before the war ended. She was buried on 23rd April 1945 among the rubber trees of "Belau Camp on Sumatra. On March 2nd 1951 Margaret was reburied in the Dutch War Grave Cemetery in Java.
A year after the compositions were handed over to Stanford University, a women's chorus in California performed them in a series of concerts.
The first picture below is a drawing by Margaret Dryburgh of the kitchen at Muntok Camp; the second a drawing of the Men's Camp. (Thanks to Neil McGregor for these two drawings)
The story of the women and their music captured the audiences' imagination. It is thanks to a Dutch survivor, Helen Colijn, that their amazing spirit and Margaret's story lives on in her book which was later made into a film. The film -makers contacted Bill Fletcher, who played the organ in the Swalwell Chapel where her father was minister, to find out about her Tyneside background. The film,' Song of Survival', was shown in Britain on Channel Four.
In December 1997, a film, called 'Paradise Road', was released that showed the women's struggle to survive a horrific time in a Japanese Prisoner of War Camp in Sumatra during the Second World War, Margaret Dryburgh, was played by Pauline Collins.
Wards 9 and 10 at Dunston Hill Hospital were renamed 'The Margaret Dryburgh Ward' because of the hospital's connection with the Far Eastern Prisoners of War Association.
WWW::: Can your group direct me to the burial poem featured in the recent film:"Paradise Road"?
The burial was that of the young girl who traded persoanl possessions for medicines::: she was killed for her kindness ::; and the poen was read by Ms. Dryburugh::: Peace Only good Things Robert
Posted by: Rv. Mr. Robert Lackney at January 5, 2008 9:38 PM
The burial poem read by Pauline Collins playing Margaret Dryburgh in the film Paradise Road is as follows:
"How silent is this place,
The brilliant sunshine filters through the trees,
The leaves are rustled by a gentle breeze,
A wild and open space by shrubs pink-tipped,
Mauve-blossomed, did all grow.
A hush enfolds me, deep as I have known,
Unbroken, save by distant insects lone*,
A jungle clearing, a track through which we bear our load to Him,
It is our Paradise Road, how silent is this place, how sacred is this place".
*I am not sure about this word.
Author unknown, it may even have been written for the film, or the film may have taken its title from the poem.
You may also be interested in The Captives Hymn, written by Margaret Dryburgh while imprisoned, and also featured in the film at another burial service when the first two verses are spoken.
Father, in captivity,
We would lift our prayers to Thee,
Keep us ever in Thy love,
Grant that daily we may prove
Those who place their trust in Thee
More than conquerers may be.
Give us patience to endure.
Keep our hearts serene and pure,
Grant us courage, charity,
Greater faith, humility,
Readiness to own Thy will,
Be we free or captives still.
For our country we would pray,
In this hour be Thou her stay,
Pride and sinfulness forgive,
Teach her by Thy laws to live,
By Thy grace may all men see
That true greatness comes from Thee.
For our loved ones we would pray,
Be their guardian night and day,
From all danger keep them free,
Banish all anxiety,
May they trust us to Thy care,
Know that Thou our pains dost share.
May the day of freedom dawn,
Peace and justice be reborn,
Grant that nations loving Thee
O'er the world may brothers be,
Cleansed by suffering, know rebirth,
See Thy kingdom come on earth.
There are several websites which mention Margaret Dryburgh.
I hope this is of help.
Whickham Web Wanderers
Posted by: Whickham Web Wanderers at January 8, 2008 10:38 AM
The word in the burial poem you are not sure of is "drone."
"Unbroken, save by insects distant drone"
I just saw the movie last night and had to find out about the poem. Very moving in any context but especially following the immolation of Wing.
Posted by: Ed Giblin at January 24, 2008 7:06 PM
Thanks for supplying the 'missing' word in the Margaret Dryburgh poem. Paradise Road is an interesting film and Pauline Collins is very good in the Margeret Dryburgh role even if she hasn't quite got her north east England accent right, except once or twice.
Posted by: Whickham Web Wanderers at January 27, 2008 11:19 AM
WWW : for some reason i have been negliant in expressing my deepest appreciation for the use of Captive's Hymn in my work as chaplain.
The Burial Poem, remains [at least for me]
::: one of the most beautiful of expression of that sense of:
::: inner splendor, simplicity, and silence
::: that many hope to accopmlish in
::: time of personal trial.
my deepest appreciation for your post on my request.
Peace and Only good Things
Society of Sacred Art and Architecture, Inc.
Posted by: rv robert r. lackney at December 5, 2008 10:52 PM
The word you are not sure may be "drone"?
safe by distant insect´s drone
Posted by: Franco at August 25, 2009 6:24 PM
Thanks for the correction to the Margaret Dryburgh poem.
Posted by: Whickham Web Wanderers at August 26, 2009 9:23 AM
According to the film's credits, the burial poem was written by Margaret Dryburgh herself.
Posted by: Dangles at August 27, 2011 5:59 AM
Thanks for that information Dangles.
Posted by: Whickham Web Wanderers at August 28, 2011 3:02 PM
I would like to send you a copy of a drawing which is in my possession here in Australia. My mother was a Sylvia Muir who was in the POW camps along with Margaret. Apparently Margaret gave my mother this drawing before she died in 1945. My mother often spoke about Margaret as we were growing up and how the concerts helped them survive the atrocities of the camp. I cannot attach it to this email so if you would like a copy please let me know.
Neil McGregor PhD.
Posted by: Dr Neil McGregor at April 22, 2012 3:05 AM
This article is based on Margaret Dryburgh and her many life experiences and achievements, in particular her making of the Voice Orchestra created whilst she was captive of a Prisoners of War Camp in Sumatra, Indonesia. Her musical talent which was common amongst her family, was something that helped herself and others throughout her life. The ability she had to write music from memory and assist with the construction of sounds didn’t just help her get through some harsh conditions, but it also helped many women and children cope and even many Japanese soldiers feel a sense of warmth.
Margaret Dryburgh's ability to push aside any hatred or bitterness that was common for many to feel under the conditions, was to some unusual and somewhat admired. This is evident in Paradise Road when she states that she "just can’t bring" herself "to hate people", "the worse they behave, the sorrier" she "feels for them". To other characters this is something that amazed them because the Japanese soldiers (to which Margaret was referring to) had treated the women and children poorly. Also the way she was able to help others feel happiness and warmth through the music was remarkable in terms of the way many would have felt when in the camp.
Margaret Dryburgh sadly passed away on April 21st 1945 after surviving many years in the Prisoners of War Camp. She may have then finally gone to her paradise, her freedom. Although she has past on, her achievement’s and impact she had on others will forever live on with her remembrance.
Posted by: Jessica at June 1, 2012 1:35 AM