Sister Ruth Hannah Dickson (223772) served in Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service during World War Two. Born on 15th May 1890, she was the daughter of Joseph Alexander Dickson and the late Lydia Ann Dickson of Eglish, Co. Tyrone.
Ruth became a Christian at a young age and considered missionary work abroad. After completing nursing training at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, Co. Antrim in 1917, she volunteered as a military nurse. She served in France towards the end of The Great War and afterward cared for Prisoners of War in Wales. She also nursed her terminally ill mother at home in Co. Tyrone in 1919.
In the 1920s, Ruth was a Sister in the Lisburn Infirmary, Lisburn, Co. Antrim when she reconsidered her desire to do missionary work. An opportunity arose to go to China and after training in Edinburgh, Scotland and beginning to learn Chinese, she left for Manchuria, China.
She continued to study the language and took on the role of Matron at the Newchang Hospital in September 1924. The hospital had no other female missionaries before Ruth’s arrival and she roomed in the Cottage Hospital, which served the needs of the foreign community in the port. As well as her nursing duties, she acted as a midwife to the local community and taught Sunday School at St. Nicholas’ Church.
Nursing in World War Two
As World War Two intensified in Manchuria, Ruth departed with other missionaries in September 1941. A typhoon struck the ship and caused the loss of most of her belongings. So, on her arrival in Singapore, she volunteered for military service, serving in Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service. The bombing continued in the area and eventually, Ruth evacuated with other nurses and members of the Royal Air Force. They washed up on an island and eventually became prisoners of war of the Japanese. As prisoners, they travelled from island to island before arriving at Sumatra. She worked in a Malay Hospital and in the fields.
In November 1944, the Japanese forces moved the prisoners to Banka Island. Malaria was rife and Ruth along with around 90% of the prisoners contracted the disease. Ruth died on 24th December 1944 aged 54 years old as a result of malaria and malnutrition. A Scottish colleague cared for her and conducted a small burial service on Christmas Day 1944. Another Irish nurse formed a wooden cross to mark the grave.
Ruth Hannah Dickson’s grave is in Section 5, Row H, Grave 7 of Jakarta War Cemetery, Indonesia. Her headstone bears the inscription:
Blessed are the dead who die in The Lord. They rest from their labours.