Mary (100) of Kirkintilloch is a true inspiration

An inspirational Kirkintilloch lady who took part in vital war work for the BBC on the home front, clocked up her 100th birthday recently.

May Lawson celebrated with a family gathering and also had a special visit from East Dunbartonshire Provost Alan Brown.

Provost Brown said: “Mary is a truly remarkable lady who has enjoyed a long and varied career.

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“She is quite an inspiration. It was a great honour to meet Mary and wish her a ‘Happy Birthday’ on behalf of the people of East Dunbartonshire. It was a lovely celebration.”

Mary praised the town of Kirkintilloch and its people.

She said: “I came to Kirky 20 years ago and it has been 20 wonderful years.

“My neighbours are terrific. Everyone is so friendly and I have everything I need right here on my doorstep.

“I had a lovely birthday but it was a bit overwhelming. My grandson got in touch from Australia and lots of people came to the door.

“I had a lovely afternoon from my family though at Willow Tea Rooms in town.”

Mary was born in Sunderland on St Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1919 
and brought up in a very musical family.

She graduated with a 
BSc degree in Physics and Chemistry and it was a combination of science and music which was to dominate her wartime career.

Mary said: “At the beginning of the Second World War, I was sent to the BBC to join the department of sound.”

She was invited to take up the post of a Woman Engineer.

Mary had to do her training at Broadcasting House in London.

In her memories, published online as part of the BBC Radio Broadcasting Equipment and Memories, she speaks of her arrival, saying: “Emerging from King’s Cross station, I was shocked. I 
saw my first bomb-damaged building, rubble littering the roads.”

Since the occupation of Europe in 1940, the BBC had become a vital source of news and needed a rapid increase in staff. Mary was trained on disc recording and replay.

She told the Herald: “There were flying bombs constantly hitting London but we had to keep things working. One bomb came down and nearly hit the next door flat. We had gone to bed and the ceiling came down. The area warden came to get everybody.

“I remember it was a very hot night and we had very little nightclothes on! We had to scrabble about for sheets.”

Of her work, she said: “It was very technical, editing a disc recording was not easy.”

She remembers the recording of short bands for the French section.

She said: “This curious set of bands had to have very precise timing. In 1944, we learned these were the coded messages to the French Resistance”. Mary also remembers the day the Queen was born. She said: “I remember we all got a box of chocolates at school.

“I got my card from the Queen for my 100th birthday and a card from the Houses of Parliament, as well as a visit from the Provost of East Dunbartonshire.”

The sprightly centenarian is still very active and enjoys gardening. She also completed an Open University degree in her 90s.

Mary said: “I have a bit of arthritis and need some help now but I love the garden. My late husband John was a biologist and we used to love hillwalking up in Argyll.”

Sadly, John passed away just before he turned 60 years old. But Mary said her husband considered himself lucky as he was in a war job as part of his profession.

She said: “John said before he passed away that he could well have died on the Normandy beaches.”