FROM THE NEWSPAPERS - 1944 - Baroness Enid Summerskill British MP visits Yallourn


Throughout the history of Yallourn, the town played host to a long list of dignitaries and celebrities and 1944 was no exception. In June that year, one of England’s most famous women parliamentarians, Enid Summerskill, visited Yallourn as part of a British Parliamentary delegation that toured Australia on a fact finding mission.

Enid and her colleagues’ visit included a whirlwind tour to Yallourn and other parts of Gippsland. While at Yallourn, Enid inspected the power station, the Yallourn hospital, the health centre; and also met office bearers and members from various organizations of the town.

Enid Summerskill (born 1901) was a doctor, writer and later became a Parliamentary Secretary in the Atlee Labour Government. During her life, Dr Summerskill gained a reputation for her struggle to win equal rights for women; and she was also a strong crusader for the establishment of the British National Health Service.

Brief reports of Enid’s visit to Yallourn were published in several papers; and it is hoped that the footnotes, that accompany this article, will assist readers to understand a little more of Dr Summerskill’s achievements during her life.



Dr Edith Summerskill, only woman member of the British Parliamentary delegation, is covering much ground in the separate itinerary arranged for her. She flew to Tasmania on Saturday and back to the mainland on Sunday.
After resting for an hour she set out for Yallourn, where she inspected the hospital and baby health centre and met senior officers of the State Electricity Commission. Yesterday she inspected the works of the commission and also the paper mills at Maryvale, arriving back in Melbourne last night.
Members of the British and Canadian delegations who left for Tasmania on Sunday morning are expected back in Melbourne late this afternoon.

1. Edith Clara Wilde Summerskill was born in London in1901. Enid was educated at King’s College London and later studied at the Charing Cross Hospital Medical School.
2. Enid’s visit to Yallourn took place during World War: II and, in the context of the prevailing uncertainty in the Pacific, underlined Yallourn’s status in matters of national importance.
3. Enid’s tour of Australia must have been exhausting as, on her return from Tasmania, she rested only briefly before setting out on her hectic two day visit to several other Victorian towns. Her visit to Yallourn made the news in several well-known national newspapers.
4. It is documented that a group of women from Yallourn met with Enid during her stay in the town (probably at the Yallourn Hotel, which was renowned for its first class accommodation and fine hospitality). A lone source reported that *Mrs Pethybridge chaired the meeting and Mrs Masson welcomed Enid to Yallourn.
*Note: Rev. R.H. Pethybridge was the Anglican Minster at Yallourn during that era.
5. In her address to the gathering at Yallourn, Enid touched on several subjects including the Education Bill (UK), raising the school leaving age and the Beveridge Plan (a national policy regarding Social Security in Britain which had been the brainchild of Sir William Beveridge).
6. One press cutting indicated that Enid was unequivocal in her comments about the existing state of affairs at the Yallourn Hospital…
“…She (Enid) had visited Yallourn Hospital and expressed her amazement when she was confronted by a board of men, there being no women members. While stating that she was impressed by Yallourn's Medical and Hospital Association, she emphasised the necessity for having women representatives, especially in view of the fact that the majority of patients in the hospital were women, and said that certain reforms considered necessary from the women's point of view would not be instituted until women were represented on the board.” ‘The Argus’ June 21st 1944.
7. ‘The Age’ newspaper’s brief report about Enid’s tour of the Yallourn Hospital was a little different in nature to that of ‘The Argus’ …
“Dr Edith Summerskill has just spent a busy two days in Gippsland after her return from Hobart. On Sunday she visited the Yallourn power station, where she was entertained by the executives of the State Electricity Commission. In the afternoon she inspected the Yallourn Hospital and spoke to every patient, and was afterwards entertained by the Country Women's Association.” ‘The Age’ 20th June 1944.
8. It is known that while in Australia, Dame Edith Lyons accompanied Enid on a visit to a children’s clinic in Canberra. It is also recorded that Enid met Senator Dorothy Tangey and discussed a range of matters that women faced in those grim years of war.
9. Following her visit to Yallourn (and other places), Enid then flew to New Zealand. ‘The Women’s Weekly’ (July 29th 1944) featured a photo of Enid sitting in an airport lounge reading a book entitled ‘All That Swagger’ which was written by the well-known Australian author, Miles Franklin. According to the caption, the book was presented to Enid as a farewell gift from Australia’s Attorney General Dr Evatt.
10. After the war, one of Enid’s major responsibilities as Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Food was to assist families to provide nourishing meals during the period of imposed rationing throughout Britain.
11. Enid’s most famous book was entitled ‘Letters to My Daughter’ (1957); she also wrote ‘The Ignoble Art’ (1956), ‘Babies without Tears’ and ‘A Woman’s World: Memoirs’ ( 1967). An extensive file of more than 100 written documents, cuttings and research papers related to the life of Enid Summerskill can be viewed at :-
It would be most interesting to know if Enid’s impressions of Yallourn in 1944 have been noted somewhere in that file.
12. In 1962, Enid left the House of Commons and became a member of the House of Lords and received the title of ‘Baroness’ Summerskill.
13. Enid Summerskill died at her home in Highgate in February 1980; her passing went virtually unnoticed in the Australian press; however, one newspaper ‘The Canberra Times’ reported briefly on her death…
“Baroness Summerskill died suddenly from- heart attack at her home in Highgate, North London, yesterday. She was 78.Lady Summerskill had a distinguished career in the House of Commons as Dr Edith Summerskill from 1938; until her elevation to the Lords in 1961.She became Minister of National Insurance in1945, but the defeat of the Labour Government in 1951 made her tenure as a senior Minister very short.”
14. Enid’s visit to Yallourn created a degree of interest in 1944; however, when another very famous English woman came to Yallourn, a decade later, the level of excitement reached fever-pitch. On that day (March 3rd 1954), more than 20,000 people, from all parts of Gippsland, waited for hours to catch a fleeting glimpse of the Queen Elizabeth: II during her ‘drop-in’ tour of Yallourn-but that is another story.

The above story is part of an on-going project regarding the history of Yallourn. The story was researched and written by and Roger Spaull and presented and posted by Julie George for the Virtual Yallourn website in January 2017.

The above article from ‘The Argus’ (Melbourne) has been faithfully reproduced. The only amendments to the original copy are the font style, font size and spacing, so as to enhance the article for purposes of posting on the Virtual Yallourn website.

Reference Photo: 

Baroness Enid Summerskill - British MP - visits Yallourn 1944


Baroness Enid Summerskill who visited Yallourn during World War:II

Source: Spartacus website.