A Chorlton Comrade

A campaign is under way to celebrate the memory of a courageous Chorlton woman who helped fight fascism in Spain and received an OBE for her work during World War II. Andrew Simpson tells her story.

Tracking down Madge Addy has been a challenge, because while most of the references give her name as Madge, her name was actually Marguerite and she was married three times: first to an Arthur Wilson Lightfoot, later a Mr Holst and finally Mr Hansen.

The Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936. Former hairdresser Madge Addy arrived in 1937, becoming Head Nurse at a hospital housed in an old monastery at Uclės in Castile. Like other British nurses, she played in important role in raising funds and awareness back home, writing detailed letters to the Chairman of the North Manchester Spanish Medical Aid Committee. Her stories about the grim conditions, daily hardships and good work being done on the ‘Manchester Ward’ helped raise money for essential medical supplies.

Madge was the last British nurse to leave Spain and was witness to the brutal aftermath of war. She told the Manchester Guardian about summary executions and revenge attacks carried out by General Franco’s victorious forces on those who had sided with the defeated democratic government, but also on civilians.

During the Second World War she went on to play a vital role in setting up the famous Garrow-Pat O’Leary escape line, working with the government agency MI9, which assisted prisoners and former prisoners of war.

Madge received an OBE for her work in occupied France; her bravery included travelling as a Norwegian subject on German civil flights, carrying secret messages sewn into the lining of her fur coat. She died in 1970.

I came across Madge Addy after Cllr Sheila Newman had been asked to look into erecting a Blue Plaque to her memory. We still have lots more to uncover about her life, including the location of the Chorlton hairdressing salon she ran before leaving for Spain. We do know, however, that she lived for a time at 34 Manchester Road, close to what is now Village Dry Cleaners. Credit for much of the research goes to Chris Hall, who is keen to commemorate Miss Addy. He and I would both like to talk to anyone who knew, or was related to her.

If you knew Madge Addy, can help raise money or would consider a donation towards the blue plaque, please contact Chris.

Pictures: Spain Fights for Independence, For Peace and Solidarity Among All Peoples, G. M. 1936-39, as featured in The Palette and the Flame: Posters of the Spanish Civil War, ed. John Tisa (1980); Ms Addy in 1938.

Andrew Simpson’s fantastic local history site can be found at https://chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk