Margaret Dryburgh (1890-1945) was born in Nelson Street, Monkwearmouth. Her father, William Dryburgh, was a Presbyterian minister. The family moved briefly to Gateshead but returned to Sunderland in 1906 when William became minister of St Stephen’s church on Stockton Road.
Margaret trained as a teacher and, in 1917, became a Christian missionary. Her first posting was to China in 1919, then to Singapore where in 1934 she was appointed head of Choon Goan School. This is where she was living when the Second World War broke out. When Singapore fell in 1942, Margaret was captured with the other missionaries and taken to an internment camp at Sumatra.
During her time at the camp, she was very active in setting up activities for her fellow captives, such as forming a short story club and producing a camp magazine. She also joined forces with Norah Chambers, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music, to form a camp choir. She composed The Captives’ Hymn, which was sung every Sunday during the improvised church services. Such events were vital in maintaining moral in conditions where disease and malnutrition were rife. Towards the end of the Second World War, along with other inmates, Margaret was transferred to Loebok Lingau camp, a journey which took its toll on her health. She died on 21st April 1945 from dysentery. Her remains were finally buried in the Dutch War Grave Cemetery in Java.
Dryburgh’s music, particularly the Captives’ Hymn, continues to be performed by women’s choirs. Her life has been most famously recorded on film in the 1996 film Paradise Road, although in that film her name was changed to Margaret Drummond. You can read the lyrics to The Captives’ Hymn here. The hymn is most often sung by all-female choirs, a capella.