Alumni Services

Dr Fleming’s D-Day Landing

When I was younger I always wanted to be a part of history, it’s only recently I’ve realised that I was.

Dr Margaret Fleming

Dr Margaret Fleming, who celebrated her 100th birthday in January, graduated with an MBChB from the University in 1941.

Just three years later she was aboard a train to London after being called up by the Royal Army Medical Corps to be part of a mobile medical team transferred from Edinburgh to Surrey.

Anticipating this possibility, Margaret had established a code with her Mum agreeing that if she called and asked to, cancel her hair appointment, it meant that she was being posted south. She left Edinburgh on the 5th June 1944.

Treating the troops

Dr Fleming was part of a surgical team of 6 from Gogarburn wartime emergency hospital who arrived in London to provide medical support to Operation Overlord.

As for many women, the Second World War saw Dr Fleming involved in work that she may not have had access to if the majority of men had not been away fighting.

Dr Margaret Fleming group

As an assistant surgeon, Dr Fleming helped with the amputations and bullet wounds suffered by the troops returning from Normandy.

The development of antibiotics meant that many more survived to be operated on back in the UK by surgeons like Margaret Fleming. Despite this some British and Canadian infantry battalions suffered casualties exceeding those of the Somme battles in 1916, some 28 years earlier.

Student days

Initially Margaret hoped to train as a nurse but her family felt that she needed to explore other options first and so her first experience of Edinburgh University life was an MA in French that she completed in 1938. It was not a wasted experience as her language skills were invaluable in communicating with wounded French soldiers after D-Day.

Following completion of her arts degree Margaret returned to her true love of medicine and studied to become a doctor instead of a nurse.

Margaret was posted at Leith Hospital during the Second World War air raids. She recalls arriving for one shift under the roar of the Luftwaffe. Margaret and her fellow students found the windows broken and the hospital in darkness but all of the patients remarkably calm.

Their walk home that night featured an unscheduled stop in an air raid shelter as another siren rang out. Having eventually made it home in the wee hours of the morning; Margaret and her classmates duly turned up for lectures at 9am sharp the following morning.

Celebrating a centenary

Dr Fleming at 100

In the same year that the Allied nations commemorated the 70th anniversary of Operation Overlord, Dr Fleming celebrated her own historic milestone.

In January of this year Dr Fleming celebrated her 100th birthday along with over 100 guests, including the Gosforth Musical Society who staged a special concert of Gilbert and Sullivan Classics on the concert piano in the living room.

It is atop this very piano that Margaret proudly displays her birthday card from the Queen - another small piece of history for Edinburgh's wartime surgeon.