Ethel Gertrude Taylor was a British nurse and missionary in China and Malaysia, serving in Asia for more than four decades. Her work there resulted in public recognition of her humanitarian services - she was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).
Ethel was born in September 1897 in London. In 1928 she sailed for Shanghai to serve in China, returning to England in 1932. The ship register noted her as a nursing missionary. She returned to China as a Nursing Sister in 1938 and may well have spent the period of the Second World War in China or elsewhere in Asia, as there is a record of her return to England in 1945.
Her work continued in the post-war period. She returned to China and then like many other missionaries after the establishment of the People’s Republic, Ethel went elsewhere in Asia. In the mid-nineteen fifties, she was in Triang, Malaysia, one of the new villages established during the ‘Malayan Emergency’. Triang was also the starting point for the work of Lillian Bromiley in Malaysia and here their stories intertwine. Whether they knew, or knew of, each other in China earlier is not known.
Lillian described Ethel, whom she frequently referred to as “Miss T.”, in a letter written to my mother in 1957 after her relocation to Kuantan:
“Christmas Eve I arrived in Triang to have Christmas Day and Boxing Day with Miss Taylor. She is a second mother to me and loves me very dearly. On Christmas morning she and I went to the Hokkien service at the C.I.M. House. It was very encouraging because there was a room full of people. The work there is really progressing these days.”
Ethel Taylor’s work is best illustrated by one story in Lillian’s letters; that of a young Chinese woman Kim Hua. In 1956 Ethel was directed to Kim, who was recovering physically from the loss of both legs after a train accident. She faced the added emotional challenge of rejection by her family, who now regarded her as burden rather than an asset. Her husband was in the process of divorcing her and planned to eject her from his home. According to Lillian, Kim had been uncared for for three days and was wishing for death at the point of Ethel’s visit.
Ethel looked after Kim, giving her the support needed to carry on with her life. Kim learned to sew and then trained as a seamstress, setting up a business and establishing her own home after her divorce. Inspired by Miss Taylor, she became a Christian.
When Kim’s current caregiver had to leave, Miss Taylor brought together Kim and Lim Geok Bee, another Chinese woman in Triang who had faced family adversity. She suggested that they set up home together. Geok Bee had by then also become a Christian - the two women were reportedly among the earliest converts through the work of the missions in Triang at that time, although a Roman Catholic Church, the Chapel of Saint John, had been established in Triang much earlier and would have had a congregation.
In the January 1955 Honours List published in the London Gazette, she received the MBE “for her role with the Malaysian Relief Teams, St. John’s Ambulance Brigade, Federation of Malaya”.
As Lillian’s own story shows, her time in Triang working with Ethel Taylor lasted only about a year or so, but Ethel remained her mentor and friend throughout her life. Lillian later wrote:
“Last week I paid a flying visit to Triang as we had a holiday for the Chinese New Year. Across from my home is a delightful Malay family whom I might have mentioned before. I had to leave here at 8.00 a.m. and at 7.00 a.m. Che Mansor’s wife was out in her garden. She had picked some of the choicest orchids for me to take to Miss Taylor. She doesn`t really know Miss T. but knows what fine work she does among the Chinese, Malays and tribes people…. You may imagine what joy Miss T. had to receive such marvellous flowers. She said it was the first time in her life that anyone had given her orchids.”
At the time of Lillian’s sudden and unexpected death in 1971, Miss Taylor had returned to England to live in retirement at Eastbourne, Sussex.
As a young boy I recall a visit by her to our home in England during one of her home ‘leaves’ and the pleasure it gave my mother and grandmother. In our family photographs there are two copies of the same photograph of Ethel Taylor standing with Kim Hua in the village of Triang on Christmas Day 1957, both annotated. One had been sent by Lillian Bromiley to my mother; the other from Ethel Taylor sent to another Ethel, my grandmother Ethel Leicester, asking for her prayers in support for her work.
‘Miss T.’ died in March 1993 age 95 in Eastbourne, Sussex.
- Unpublished letters from Lillian Bromiley to Elsie Jones sent between 1945 and 1971.
- Anecdotal information from various contacts: family members and relatives of Lillian Bromiley.
- British birth and death registries and ship passenger records.