Archibald McIndoe, a pioneering plastic surgeon of the Second World War operated on hundreds of burnt airmen and Sister Mary Meally helped run Ward III, the burns ward. She was well liked by the many war-injured patients under her care and some of the patients she tended formed a support group who called themselves the Guinea Pig Club.
She nursed patients from around the world and subsequently had friends in Australia, Canada, The United States, Argentina, Czechoslovakia, France, Norway and other allied nations which sent fighting men to this zone of war. Whilst carrying out her duties she also met many famous people, such as Clark Gable, who came to entertain her patients or to inspect the Hospital and her ward. This included queens, princesses, ministers, Service Chiefs, motion picture and stage stars, journalists and writers.
However, according to the Guinea Pig who wrote a fitting tribute on her retirement, she was not so much proud of the famous people she had met but was justly proud of her record of not having lost a single case in her Ward throughout the war. He speaks glowingly of her skillful attentions and devoted care, especially in the days when patients returned direct to the Ward from the operation theatre and felt that Sister Mealy undoubtedly saved the lives of more than a few men.
Sister Meally sitting between two patients of Ward III
Sister Meally often acted in her quiet Irish way, as a matchmaker. An example of this is how she encouraged and helped Bill Simpson to court Monica, one of the nurses. Bill Simpson, one of the more prominent Guinea Pigs, wrote a book entitled – I Burned my Fingers – and in this biography he mentions Sister Meally. He describes how he got up one day after one of his operations and with the connivance of Sister Meally peered his way through his head bandages and went to the nurse’s home to go off for the day with Monica. At any other hospital, discipline would have kicked in.
Bill Simpson recalls, whilst recovering from an operation on his eyelids, hearing the soft Irish voice of Sister Meally, encouraging him and counselling patience: saying that McIndoe was very satisfied with his work. He had been given two new top eyelids instead of one, so enthusiastic had McIndoe become in contemplation of all that would have to be done to him. This accounted for the blindness. Sister Meally advised him to be patient and he would have two beautiful new eyelids.
Sister Meally on Ward III
She became friendly with one on her patients, James William Buckee, known as Jimmy, who was admitted to the Queen Victoria Hospital on 4.1.1945 with burns to his face, wrist and legs. He was a pilot who crashed in a Martinet on a Drague towing flight. He is listed as having nine operations at the Queen Victoria Hospital and become close to Sister Meally during his time on Ward III and they were engaged when she retired in 1947.
On her retirement from the Queen Victoria Hospital in 1947 the Guinea Pigs paid tribute to her in their Guinea Pig Club magazine. They spoke of how they remembered her gentle and sure touch, and her humour and her vivacious spirit. These attributes all helped to relieve the tedium of repeated operations as some Guinea Pigs spent years in Ward III. Her personality partly accounted for the feeling, often expressed by her patients, that “returning to Ward III, is a little like returning home”.
She married Jimmy Buckee in 1951 and lived a long life, dying on 3.11.2002 aged 89.