When you think of Drumcree Girls’ Brigade, the first name that springs to mind is that of Miss Hilda Trueman, the founder captain who gave almost 50 years’ service to the company and made it perhaps the best in Ireland.
Such was her drive and leadership that over 100 members were in the ranks at various stages, with parents’ night having to be spread over two nights. “It took over my life,” said Miss Trueman who received the BEM in the New Year’s Honours List.
She was “enlisted” in 1949 by the then Rector of Drumcree, the Rev R E Dennis, “who recognised the value of uniformed organisation”. The suggestion was for a year or two, but Miss Trueman remained in office until 1995 and enjoyed every minute.
She had been a member of the Girls’ Training Corps post-wartime, and Mr Dennis felt she was ideal as captain - a shrewd judgement indeed. She recalled that the main element in the company was the quality and commitment of the girls “and especially the officers - I had bags of good officers”.
The name of Drumcree GB was consistently respected throughout Northern Ireland, with camps held all over the province, the Isle of Man and Lytham St Anne’s (once she and her cook looked after the 20-plus girls at camp). And Miss Trueman’s service found her in places like Buckingham Palace and Holyrood House, as a guest presenter of the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Awards in the presence of the Duke himself. “A great honour,” she said. And she travelled to New Zealand for the world GB conference, breaking short a holiday in Australia.
When she retired, the mantle was temporarily handed over to former member Rosemary McCall and then Hilary McClelland took over. Said Rosemary, “Miss Trueman was a terrific captain. She enriched the lives of so many girls.” And to underline that service, the organisation presented her with an Honorary President’s Badge.
But that was only one string to the bow of the busy Hilda Trueman. Her “real” job was as a dedicated teacher at Tartaraghan Number One Primary School, and later Birches PS. She is a talented musician, led the children to a plethora of festival wins, and was organist and director of music of Tartaraghan Parish Church for 27 years. She remains an active member of the Ulster Society of Organists and Choirmasters.
Miss Trueman was, in 1983-84, given the unexpected honour of being Mayoress of Craigavon. Her cousin, the late James Gillespie, was appointed Mayor, was unmarried and felt that Hilda was an ideal choice. “I thoroughly enjoyed that year,” she recalled. “And Jim was quite a character - he had such a dry sense of humour.” She also received two Mayor’s Awards - from First Citizens Samuel Gardiner in 1989 and Fred Crowe in 2001.
“I’m totally stunned and humbled by the BEM,” she said. “I’ve received many goodwill messages, and appreciate receiving a letter of congratulation from First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy Martin McGuinness.”