Bray, Mary, OBE

She was born on 15 March 1916 at Southsea into a strong Nonconformist environment. She became a local preacher in 1942 and served in the ATS, reaching the rank of Sergeant. Hers was the first case in which a woman was allowed by the War Office to preach and it led to a new Army Council Instruction extending the permission to women in general, so that she was described by the former Deputy Chaplain General as 'the girl who made Army history'.

On demobilization she applied unsuccessfully for teacher training at the Portsmouth Training College, but was accepted for a one-year course at the Leavesden Emergency Training College. She began her teaching career in 1947 on the Isle of Wight. She founded a Girl Guide Company there and gave lifelong commitment to the movement, later becoming County President for Hampshire.

In 1956 she became headmistress of the John Pounds School, Portsmouth, where she was particularly successful in encouraging underprivileged pupils. In 1967 she was appointed head of Hunmanby Hall school. Her educational views were widely respected and were sought after in radio and television interviews. She became a JP and in 1979 was awarded an OBE for services to post-war education.

In retirement, following the closure of the school in 1991, she played a leading role in the ecumenical life of Emsworth, including the development of the Pastoral Centre and the Waterside Community. As a lay pastoral assistant she was given a Conference dispensation to administer the Sacrament and was the first woman to do so in the local Anglican church. Her own lack of confidence in her abilities (stemming from her limited formal training) made her an inspiration and a source of strength and encouragement to others. She died in Emsworth on 9 March 1999.


'From her early years Mary Bray, on her own admission, had a lack of self-confidence and an"over-sized inferiority complex" concerning her own abilities. Despite this, perhaps because of it, she became a source of strength and encouragement to countless others, and right to the very end was receiving letters thanking her for the confidence and inspiration she gave them.'

Geoffre R. Senior

  • Methodist Recorder, 25 March 1999