Victoria Drummond – pioneering Merchant Marine sea going engineering officer, first female member of the Institute of Marine Engineers… and London Borough of Lambeth resident

RICHARD MADDOX from an initial idea by  fellow IWM Volunteer TIM MANSFIELD

SECOND ENGINEER MISS VICTORIA DRUMMOND, MBE, MN, visiting the training ship HMS Chrysanthemum on 9 March 1942 and posing with various anti-aircraft weapons used by Royal Naval and Merchant Navy personnel on an anti-aircraft gunnery course.

All images Copyright IWM.
(left image) IWM catalogue references A 7842A Original Source:
(right upper image) IWM catalogue references A7641A Original Source:
(right lowerimage) IWM catalogue references A 7840A Original Source:

BORN 14 October 1894 AT MEGGINICH CASTLE near Perth in Scotland and with Queen Victoria as her godmother she was destined to be someone extraordinary.

And as – among other things – the first British female marine engineer Victoria Alexandrina Drummond was exactly that.

As the First World War continued women were increasingy employed in what had been seen as mainly or exclusively male occupations.

In 1916 Victoria started a two-year motor mechanican apprenticeship at the Northern Garage in Perth, Scotland before moving onto the Caledon Shipbuilding and Engineering Works in Dundee, starting at the company’s engine and boiler works. (1)

After working as a metal castings pattern maker (responsible for making the model from which moulds would be made so that would metal items could be cast and used in the engine and boiler production) she was promoted to the finishing shop where the cast metal parts were treated before being installed.

Her apprenticeship ended in 1920 and she then moved to the company’s drawing office where she would have used her knowledge to design the sort of parts that she had worked with previously.

But this was the time of post-war economic decline and with few orders Caledon Shipbuilding and Engineering Works had to make many of its workers redundant.

Miss Drummond was one of them.

She left the company on 7 July 1922 and in September of that year went to sea as tenth engineer on the SS Anchises a 10,000-ton passenger and cargo ship owned by the Blue Funnel line. (2)

While on the Anchises she would make four return voyages to Australia and another to China. She left the ship in 1924. (3)

As the economic depression grew she continued her studies and gained sea-going experience.

But sea-going opportunities were scarce. She did however manage to sign on as a Fifth Engineer on the SS Mulbera – a passenger liner owned by the British-India Steam Navigation Company that had carried the newly married Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth) in 1924 on a voyage to East Africa. (4)

In 1929 she came ashore and shared a house with one of her two sister Frances Ada – she also had a younger brother named John – in Lambeth, South London close to what is now IWM London. (5)

Frances worked as a commercial artist and Jean, her other sister had a flat (apartment) almost opposite where Frances (and now Victoria) lived.

In October 1929 she sat her examination to become a Chief Engineer for the first time.

She would take the examination more than 30 times and became convinced she was failed not because she did not meet the required standard but simply because she was a woman. (6)  She was, however, awarded a Panamanian chief engineer’s certificate. (7)

Even with war becoming more and more inevitable and the fact Britain’s maritime trade routes were vital to its economy and to its population for survival, Victoria could not find a sea-going position until 1940 and then initially only on a foriegn-based ships.

The first of these was the SS Har Zion a cargo and passenger vessel based at Farmagusta in Cyprus and owned by Palestine Maritime Lloyd Limited of Tel Aviv in what was then Palestine. In August 1940 – after Drummond had joined another ship – the Har Zion was attacked and sunk by a German U-boat. (8)

In August 1940 Drummond was serving aboard the Panamanian owned SS Bonita when the ship was attacked by Luftwaffe aircraft on its way to Norfolk, Virginia in America.

When the attack started she took charge of the ship’s engine room.

A bomb’s near-miss threw her across the space.

Ordering the other engine room staff to safety she worked alone controlling the engines and dealing with fractured oil and steam pipes around her throughout the 30-minute attack. Her efforts enabled the ship to escape.

On arrival in Norfolk, Virginia she received a hero’s welcome and was soon being asked to speak at public engagements to raise awareness of the plight of civilains in working class areas like Lambeth were she and her sisters had served as Air Raid Wardens in the early part of the war.

Funds raised as a result of her talks would go to establishing the ‘Victoria A Drummond Canteen’ near Lambeth North Tube station, not far from her home. (9)

A fund was started to for a Victoria Drummond canteen at Lambeth North to provide food for families who were made homeless in this heavily-bombed working-class area.

Injured herself in the attack she was commended for her actions and in July 1941 would recieve the MBE from King George VI. She also was awarded the Lloyds of London Medal for Bravery at Sea for her actions.

Victoria was the first woman to recieve the honour which was awarded to officers and crew of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleet who showed exceptional gallantry at sea in time of war.

Her war service continued with more Atlantic crossings and convoys to Russia. She also took part in supplying forces during the D-Day landings.

She endured other attacks – one of which killed and injured a number of the crew she was serving with on aboard the SS Czikos in 1941.

By the end of the conflict she had sailed on a variety of ships back and forth across the Atlantic, to Russia and taken supplies to Allied forces during the Liberation of Europe.

With the war over Miss Drummond continued her sea-going career as well as becoming a shipyard superintendent in Dundee, Scotland overseeing the completion of various commercial vessels on behalf of the owners.

She also gained her Chief Engineer’s qualification and retired in March 1962, having spent 40 years in the shipping industry. (10)

Following the deaths of both her sisters in 1974 she moved to Saint George’s Retreat, a nursing facility run by an order of nuns in the south of England.

She died there in December 1978 and was buried near her parents and sisters at Megginch Castle, the family home since 1661. (11)

Today she is slowly recieving credit for her remarkable achievements.

She is acknowledged as an early member of the Women’s Engineering Society (like fellow engineer Beatrice Shilling) who also features on this blog.

In addition she was first female member of the Institute of Marine Engineers (now the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology – IMarEST) after joining in 1921 (12) where today a meeting room is named after her.

The Institute and Abertay University (formerly Dundee Technical College where she studied during her apprenticeship) has a plaque in her honour. (13)

In June 2018 HMS Sultan the home of the Defence School of Marine Engineering and the Royal Naval Air Engineering and Survival School renamed a lecture theatre after her. (14)

Later that year she was inducted into the Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame. (15)

In 2017 she was shortlisted be become the first woman in the Hall of Heroes at Scotland’s National Wallace Memorial. (16)


(1) – retrieved 21 January 2019

(2)  ibid – retrieved 21 January 2019

(3) ibid – retrieved 21 January 2019

(4) – retrieved 21 January 2019

(5) – retrieved 21 January 2019

(6) – retrieved 21 January 2019

(7) – retrieved 21 January 2019

(8) – retrieved 21 January 2019

(9) – retrieved 21 January 2019

(10) – retrieved 21 January 2019

(11) – retrieved 21 January 2019

(12) – retrieved 21 January 2019

(13) – retrieved 21 January 2019

(14) – retrieved 21 January 2019

(15) – retrieved 21 January 2019

(16) – retrieved 21 January 2019

2 thoughts on “Victoria Drummond – pioneering Merchant Marine sea going engineering officer, first female member of the Institute of Marine Engineers… and London Borough of Lambeth resident

  1. Stuart Nicholson says:

    This is her MBE Citation-

    London Gazette 8 July 1941 Supplement:35214Page:3964

    To be Additional Members of the Civil Division
    of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire:—
    Miss Victoria Alexandrina Drummond, Second Engineer.
    The ship was attacked for thirty-five minutes by a bomber, when 400 miles from land, but by skilful handling many hits were avoided.
    When the alarm was sounded, Miss Drummond at once went below and took charge. The first salvo flung her against the levers and nearly stunned her. When everything had been done to increase the ship’s speed she ordered the engine-room and stoke-hold staff out. After one attack the main injection pipe just above her head started a joint and scalding steam rushed out. She nursed this vital pipe through the explosion of each salvo, easing down when the noise of the aircraft told her that bombs were about to fall, and afterwards increasing steam.
    Her conduct was an inspiration to the ship’s company, and her devotion to duty prevented more serious damage to the vessel.


    • iwmvolunteerlondon says:

      Thank you Stuart for this. I had found the citation but didn’t include it as there is so much that I could have added and felt I had to stop somewhere! You adding it means it might be read as opposed to being missed in my general write up.


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