Victoria Drummond

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Victoria Alexandrina Drummond
Victoria Drummond 1941.jpg
Drummond after receiving her MBE, July 1941
Born (1894-10-14)14 October 1894
Errol, Scotland
Died 25 December 1978(1978-12-25) (aged 84)
Burgess Hill, Sussex, England
Resting place
Megginch Castle, Scotland
56°24′27″N 3°13′48″W / 56.4075°N 3.2301°W / 56.4075; -3.2301
Occupation Marine engineer
Known for First woman marine engineer in Britain
  • Capt. Malcolm Drummond, 9th of Megginch
  • Geraldine Margaret Tyssen-Amherst
  • Order of the British Empire
  • Lloyd's War Medal for Bravery at Sea

Victoria Alexandrina Drummond MBE (1894–1978), was the first woman marine engineer in Britain and first woman member of Institute of Marine Engineers. In World War II she served at sea as an engineering officer in the British Merchant Navy and received awards for bravery under enemy fire.

Early life[edit]

Victoria Drummond was born on 14 October 1894 at Errol, Perth and Kinross, Scotland. Her father was Captain Malcolm Drummond of Megginch, Groom in Waiting to Queen Victoria[1] and Deputy Lieutenant for the County of Perth.[2] Her mother, Geraldine Margaret Tyssen-Amherst was the daughter of William Tyssen-Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst of Hackney.[3]

She had two sisters and a younger brother, John Drummond, 15th Baron Strange. She was also a goddaughter of Queen Victoria, after whom she was christened.[4][5]

Qualifying as an engineer[edit]

From 1916 to 1918, she was an apprentice at the Northern Garage, Perth. And then from 1918 to 1922 at the Caledon Shipbuilding & Engineering Company, Dundee. She joined the Blue Funnel Line's SS Anchises in 1922 as Tenth Engineer. After completing four voyages to Australia and one to China, she began study for her second engineer's qualification. However, after qualifying, she was able to work only as Fifth Engineer for the British-India Steam Navigation Company in 1927, making one voyage to Africa and four to India on TSS Mulbera.[4]

From the 1930s onwards she and her two sisters made their home in Kennington Road, south London. Initially her attempts to gain a British chief engineer's certificate met with repeated failure. Indeed, to prevent any accusations of unfairness, the Board of Trade Examiners habitually failed all candidates who sat the examinations with her. She was able to qualify as a Panamanian chief engineer, however, as these examinations were a purely written paper, with the gender or status of the candidate not being known to the examiners.

In a career lasting 40 years she sailed on 49 voyages, which took her from her all around the World. She continued her career through hardship and discrimination, carrying out the physically gruelling work of the engine room as well as supervising a sometimes reluctant and prejudiced work force.[6]

Service in World War II[edit]

When World War II broke out, Drummond and her two sisters served as Air raid wardens in Lambeth, London. In March 1940 she became second engineer on the 2500-ton steamship SS Har Zion (Mount Zion). The Har Zion could carry both cargo and 110 passengers. Owned by a group of Jewish businessmen based in Haifa, she was registered at Famagusta, Cyprus, and sailed under a British flag[7] with a substantially Jewish crew. Drummond served for six months on Har Zion, which rescued the British Consul and part of the British Expeditionary Force at Marseille.[4] After Drummond left the ship, she was sunk in August 1940 in the Western Approaches by the German submarine U-38, with the loss of 36 of the 37 on board.[8]

On 25 August 1940 Drummond was serving aboard SS Bonita, sailing for America with a cargo of china clay, when the ship was attacked by German bombers in the Atlantic, 400 miles (640 km) from land.[4] Drummond ordered the engine-room crew out, then remained alone at her post, keeping the engines running at full power in spite of damage from the bombardment. Her courage was recognised when she was awarded the Order of the British Empire[9] and the Lloyd's War Medal for Bravery at Sea[6][10][11] Her MBE was awarded by George VI in July 1941.[12] After the bombing of her own home at 143 Kennington Road, money was raised by public subscription to open the "Victoria Drummond Canteen" in Westminster Bridge Road, North Lambeth. This remained open for the remainder of the war, providing food for people who had lost their houses to bombing.[3]

In 1941, she was again under attack by Luftwaffe aircraft when serving on SS Czikos, one crewman was killed and two injured.[4] She subsequently completed a return transatlantic convoy crossing on Manchester Liners' SS Manchester Port, in which many other vessels were lost. After making several coastal voyages, she sailed around the World on Blue Funnel's TSS Perseus. In 1944 she joined the Baltic Trading Company's oil tanker MT Karabagh, on which she served when in a convoy to Russia and later in the Invasion of Normandy.[3]

Appointment as Chief Engineer – 1959[edit]

After the war, she superintended the building of ships in Scotland and continued to serve aboard ships as second engineer. From 1959 until her retirement in 1962, she served as Chief Engineer, the first British woman to do so. Throughout her distinguished career she maintained her conviction that if you were good at something and could be of useful service, than you should be allowed to do your job.

After the deaths of her sisters in 1974, she moved to the St. George's Retreat, Burgess Hill, Sussex. She died there on Christmas Day 1978. She is buried at Megginch Castle beside her parents and sisters.[4]

Her biography, The Remarkable Life of Victoria Drummond – Marine Engineer, was written by her niece, Cherry Drummond, 16th Baroness Strange.


  1. ^ The London Gazette: no. 26448. p. 5961. 10 October 1893.
  2. ^ The London Gazette: no. 26466. p. 5961. 12 December 1893.
  3. ^ a b c "Victoria Alexandrina Drummond, M.B.E.". Clan McFarlane and Associated Clans Genealogy. Retrieved 20 January 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f  Drummond, Cherry (1885–1900). "Drummond, Victoria Alexandrina". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co.  September 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/66436
  5. ^ Pine, L.G., ed. (1952). Burke's Landed Gentry (17th ed.). London: Burke's Peerage Ltd in conjunction with City Ltd. p. 694. 
  6. ^ a b "Victoria Drummond (1894–1978)". Port Cities Southampton. University of Southampton. Retrieved 24 March 2011. 
  7. ^ "Har Zion". Hebrew Shipping Database. Haifa Museums: National Maritime Museum. Retrieved 21 January 2013. 
  8. ^ Helgason, Guðmundur. "Har Zion". Ships hit by U-boats. Retrieved 20 January 2013. 
  9. ^ The London Gazette: no. 35214. p. 3964. 9 July 1941. Retrieved 5 January 2014.
  10. ^ "Merchant Navy Awards". The London Gazette. The National Archives. 9 July 1941. Retrieved 5 January 2014. 
  11. ^ de Neumann, Bernard (19 January 2006). "Lloyd’s War Medal for Bravery at Sea (Part One)". WW2 People's War. BBC. Retrieved 5 January 2014. 
  12. ^ "News in Brief: The King's Investiture". The Times (48991) (London). 30 July 1941. p. 7. 

Further reading[edit]