Years after the war, Pauline Nagle (1898-1980) or Felicie Mary Pauline Nagle to give her her full name, would astonish her relatives by occasionally redeploying her wartime ambulance service parking method: nudging vehicles in front and behind to make space.
“I knew Pauline [Nagle] when I spent some months in London in 1957 after leaving school, attempting to discover what I was going to do next,” recalled her cousin Fr. David Harold-Barry SJ. “Pauline was kindness itself.”
Through the war and for decades beyond Pauline lived in the basement of Chesham Street near Sloane Square with her mother Marcella and let out rooms to lodgers.
“I was a lost teenager just out of school and off the farm in Tipperary launching myself into the strange world of London in 1957 and the only person I knew of in the whole city was Pauline,” continued David. “I used to call on her for a meal from time to time though a grand aunt told me off for ‘taking advantage of her’! I always felt this was unfair as I knew Pauline rather enjoyed my visits and anyway, in those days, she could afford a cook, who baked excellent cakes.
“She had a tough war driving ambulances around London while bombs were falling. She told me many stories about it but, such is the self-centredness of youth, I only paid half attention. I simply picked up she was undaunted by the dangers and wholehearted in her efforts. Her only brother, Gilbert [Gilbert d’Angulo Nagle MC], was killed in World War One and maybe she felt this was her war, which it was.”
There is a glimpse of Pauline in the West London Press of 31 Oct 1941 when she was fined for “showing a light” at 30 Chesham Street, Pimlico. It was a common misdemeanour, easily done in an unthinking moment. Pauline told the magistrates court she had been fixing the blackout curtains but had not quite finished when one of her lodgers inadvertently switched on a light. She was fined 50 shilling.
Fr. David again: “She had a rather spartan upbringing, among other places in Belfast, where her father forced French on her at the tender age of 7. They had a ‘big house’ in Co. Cork called Byblox, now demolished. She looked after her mother, and I arrived in London not long after her mother died.
“Pauline’s sister Carmel (‘Carsie’) became a nun. Someone put a World War One gun with bayonet attached into her hands at my ordination to the priesthood in Doneraile, Co Cork, 49 years ago. Pauline was also there (she’s in a grey coat in the front).
“After 1957 I did not see her for some years until I caught up with her again, by which time she had sold the house and lived in a tiny room in an old people’s home. How she ‘came down’ in the world! I never asked why she was reduced to this but she looked after the people in the home as she had looked after her tenants before. She was an utterly unselfish person. She left me £100 in her will and I had a feeling she did not have much to leave anyone.”
Helen Esmonde, another of Pauline’s cousins, remembers Pauline’s “great character, depth and humour”. “A hugely important strand to her life was her love of children and young people, although she remained unmarried and had no children of her own. In the early 1950s Pauline advertised residential care for babies, operating out of her Chesham Street house. For a short stay, when my parents needed to travel to Ireland, I was one of of those babies. Weirdly, I have a vague memory of this. Pauline also had a number of other ‘projects’ including starting a holiday home for children in Worthing.” Even in old age, Pauline was never short of new ideas and ambitions, starting carpentry classes in her 80s.
Pauline’s father was Garrett Thomas Nagle (1853-1932), reputedly the first Catholic magistrate in Belfast since Penal times, when Catholics lived under punitive laws designed to oppress and silence them. They had other notable antecedents, among them Honora (“Nano”) Nagle, an 18th-century pioneer of Irish Catholic education, who was declared “Venerable” in 2014 by Pope Francis, and Nano’s cousin, the great Parliamentarian and orator Edmund Burke – and stalwart supporter of Catholic emancipation – who was a Nagle on his mother’s side.