Child of my Love: An Autobiography by Sue Ryder, Harper Collins, £12.99
Asx somEoNt, wilt) Stu; Ryder is and they are most likely to know of her through her second-hand shops. Go into any of her shops and ask who she is and you will get a variety of answers: "She is the lady that drove lorries to Poland during martial law"; "She is a wonderful woman, ah, when she smiles"; "She cares for the sick and the handicapped". Child of My Love, her autobiography, is the story of iron discipline and relentless sense of duty, by someone intensely human, but at the same time detached from the world around her. The style is direct, unadorned and unabridged. Her likes and dislikes are plain and her prejudices manifest. The writing bears the stamp of someone in a hurry, dismiss sive of anything peripheral, focussed on her duty.
Born in 1923, and brought up in Yorkshire, her father was a landowner and her mother involved in social work, often taking her daughter with her to the slums of Leeds. At the start of the war, she volunteered for the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) whose motto was "In Difficulties Unconquered"; it was a motto she took to heart. She was posted with the FANYs to the Special Operations Executive (SOE) headquarters in Baker Street. The SOEs role was to foster the spirit of resistance to the Germans in occu pied countries.
Sue Ryder spent much of her time attached to the Polish section, where she helped prepare the agents (or bods, as they were known) for their missions. This left her with a special love for the Polish people and their country and she has stood by them during their subsequent suffering in the Communist years. Years later she was to choose the title Baroness Ryder of Warsaw when she was awarded a life peerage for her work.
The attrition rate among the hods was devastating. Almost the entire Czech section was wiped out in the reprisals that followed SOE's successful assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the Butcher of Prague. She witnessed the courage, cost and futility of two uprisings in Poland. The trauma of knowing that many of those she had cared for would be captured, tortured and killed left a deep impression on her.
It was as a result of those experiences that she determined to establish a "living memorial" to the dead and those, such as refugees, who continue to suffer. The years with SOE prepared her for the difficult times ahead, when she found herself working alone, frusttrated by the authorities and sometimes faced by personal danger as she sought to help those in need: "I was 22 then, but knew what dehumanisation was like. I had seen what happened to people when everything, even their hair, was taken from them, and their minds and bodies subjugated until some could only crawl on all fours or lie in silence. It was now time to ask whether the same urgent sense of unity, purpose and ability to work that had carried us through to victory in war could be continued in peacetime, lest we should fail the generations who had died or the children who would be born in the years to come."
After the war, she carried out relief work with Amis Volontaires Francais, and then visited the prisons of Germany, representing the nonGerman, often stateless prisoners who found themselves, through acts of revenge, sharing cells with those who had persecuted them in the concentration camps. In 1953, the scope of her work was extended by the formation of the Sue Ryder Foundation. Through it she has established homes and domiciliary care teams for the sick and disabled throughout the world. Her foundation is her family, each home her child.
In 1959, she married Group Captain Leonard Cheshire and together they devoted their lives to the relief of suffering.
Both initially questioned whether the dedication required by their work was compatible with marriage. Sue Ryder's work was her life and she felt that nothing could change that. However, Mother Theresa encouraged them to see marriage as "a gift from God to each of us for the benefit of our respective work". They spent their honeymoon setting up a new home in India.
Her view of humanity and suffering is underpinned by a strong Christian conviction which has guided her since her early childhood.
We see how the Foundation responds to the challenges she sees around her, from remembrance of the dead, to support for prison visiting to providing care for the sick and handicapped.
The thread running through all these activities is the desire to be a witness to the Faith. She believes the future of the Foundation depends on its ability to continue to be such a witness in an increasingly secular world.
Sue Ryder has lit a beacon, keeping her faith with those who sacrificed their lives for humanity. That beacon can be seen from many parts of the world.
This is a book about gallantry, compassion and indomitable faith. But most importantly, it is a call to carry out the work she has started. Her part, ing salvo is at the end of the introduction: "When you have read all, or any, of these chapters, do not simply put the book down I ask you to remember that every journey begins with a single step".