Kathleen Elizabeth Bruen



(scrapbook under construction)


Born Rangoon, Burma, 15 June 1915

Strand Road Rangoon


Irrawaddy Flotilla Co offices in Rangoon
Company allied to Denny Bros of Dumbarton, ScotlandMartin Bruen in middle age

Irrawaddy Flotilla Co offices in Rangoon   Her father, Martin Bruen, engineer

Kathleen Elizabeth Bruen was born in Rangoon in 1915, the third daughter and last child of Martin Bruen, who had grown up among the close-knit Yeatsean mariners community at Rosses Point, Sligo, and Marguerite, eighth of 13 children of Hugo Friedlander, German doctor in Rangoon, and his Eurasian wife.


Martin Bruen earned his living as an engineer.  He had trained at Dennys of Dumbarton, the shipbuilders closely connected with the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company.  In Burma he held a succession of jobs as engineer supervisor to railway, rice and timber mills.


Although born in Rangoon, Kay and her family had travelled to Rosses Point at the end of the Great War.  But Marguerite didn’t get on with her husband’s family, and they left to stay in Dublin at the height of the Troubles, where Kay witnessed rooftop gunfights, then went to Liverpool for while where Kay briefly attended school for the first time.  By now Martin was back at work in Burma, and the family joined him as soon as they were able, Marguerite glad to be back in her familiar environment. Kay grew up in Burma, spending her teenage years in the capital, Rangoon.


 Hanagraph image of Kathleen Bruen in her teens

 Was this an early photobooth system, perhaps in a Rangoon department store like Rowe & Co. where her uncle Henry Friedlander was chief cashier?



                                             Kay Bruen with friends at Rangoon University in the mid-Thirties

Kay Bruen with friends at Rangoon University in the mid-Thirties

Mi Mi Khaing’s recollections of Rangoon University and Kay Bruen in the thirties

    Kay Bruen with friends at Rangoon University in the mid-Thirties

Kay Bruen with friends at Rangoon University in the mid-Thirties

Kay Bruen with friends at Rangoon University in the mid-Thirties

Kay Bruen with friends at Rangoon University in the mid-Thirties

Kay Bruen at Thandaung with friends in the mid-Thirties

Kay Bruen at Thandaung with friends in the mid-Thirties

Kay Bruen at Thandaung in the mid-Thirties with friends including Denis Rae & Adrian Cowsley

Kay Bruen at Thandaung in the mid-Thirties with friends including Denis Rae & Adrian Cowsley


Kay Bruen at Thandaung with friends in the mid-Thirties

Kay Bruen (standing, right) at Thandaung with friends in the mid-Thirties

Elmer “Tiger” Ady  -when war came he led one of the convoys of refugees from Rangoon in the long, long walk out of Burma over the Naga Hills to India

His sister Peter Ady , who became an Oxford don, served as witness at Kay’s wedding in London in 1939.



buildings Kay knew in the Rangoon of the 1930s appear seventy years later in these photographs of D.B.H.Ker.

Here they all are. Rowe & Co where Kay’s uncle Henry Friedlander was chief cashier, Sofaer & Co the Baghdad-Jewish-Burmese traders whose Abraham Sofaer was to play the heavenly judge in Powell & Pressburger’s Matter of Life and Death, the Post Office where Kay’s uncle Frank Friedlander helped organise transport, the Courts where Kay’s uncle Sydney Christopher practised as a barrister, St Paul’s High School (the boy’s equivalent of Kay’s St John’s Girls High School) where Spike Milligan was a pupil.

Rangoon’s authoritative cosmopolitan voice: Abraham Sofaer



Kay’s father Martin Bruen died in Rangoon in July 1936. He had been broken in spirit.  Laid off as an engineer during the great depression, he never worked again, and his family found it difficult to make ends meet.  Kay’s mother turned to her own mutually supportive Friedlander family of brothers, sisters and their spouses who were well-rooted in Burmese and Anglo-Indian civic life.


As the one child that her parents had devoutly expected to succeed, Kay made the most of her opportunities.  Graduating from Rangoon from a Geography and Geology Department that had been largely created by the charismatic geographer Dudley Stamp, Kay was offered the choice of further study at Oxford, Cambridge or London Universities. She chose London as the University of her own teacher, Stamp’s successor at Rangoon, Professor Beasley.  Sailing to London in the Paddy Henderson (British & Burmese Steam Navigation Co) ship Prome to continue her higher education, Kay had a shipboard romance with the first mate from Edinburgh, John Anderson, who turned out to have grown up next-door to Kay’s Bruen cousins in Edinburgh.  Kay kept in touch with him and in London was able to stay in contact with school and University friends from Rangoon who were also in Britain, Eileen Elliott, Mi Mi Khaing and Peter Ady.  


She shared a flat with an American, Betsy Anderson, and a New Zealander Lilian Jeffreys, and through them in October 1937 met Winston Monk, a New Zealand Rhodes Scholar.  Winston would visit the flat regularly while studying at the Public Record Office.

Kay in Cornwall with Joyce Berryman and her parents, July 1938.

Winston was waiting at the station when she got back to Paddington

Kay and Winston got on well from the start, they shared many friends and academic interests. Encouraged by Winston who had travelled widely across Europe by rail and bicycle, they crossed to Paris for the royal visit in July 1938.  In January 1939 they travelled to ski at Chamonix in the French Alps with Winston’s NZ airman friend Minden Blake and Kay’s Rangoon friends Tiger and Peter Ady.  They enjoyed the home comforts of the Hotel de l’Arve where Tiger made a hit with little Lisette, the innkeepers daughter.  At the Caveau nightclub the New Zealand men displayed their gymnastics on the dancefloor and the Ady siblings their dancing.   


That summer, after obtaining a Geography MA at London University, with her special study of rice in Burma, Kay returned to Rangoon in 1939 expecting to find work in Asia and carrying this testimonial:.

“I should add that Miss Bruen is a lady…”

Weeks later, on the outbreak of war, Winston Monk cabled her to come back to London to marry him immediately. It was an offer she could not refuse.


Kay’s marriage to Winston F. Monk at a London registry office on 27 November 1939 was witnessed by her friend from Burma, Peter Ady and Winston’s New Zealand airman friend Minden Blake.  Winston’s parents were horrified at long distance by this sudden turn of events.  They thought their promising son’s head had been turned by a temptress.  Kay had instantly ceased to follow Catholicism long before when she’d been told by the nuns that her Burmese friends could never go to heaven.  But Winston’s proud mother back in Kaikoura did not see a Rangoon convent girl as any kind of suitable mate. She wrote that Winston was ”breaking his father’s heart” and warned: “once a catholic, always a catholic”. The rift was not healed for many years.



Armed with a new testimonial, Kay now entered the employment arena in Britain for the first time, registering with Gabbitas, Thring & Co’s Educational Agency.



Her first job was at Maiden Erlegh School for Boys housed in Solomon Barnato Joel’s former mansion in Berkshire.

Among the unruly pupils were sons of prominent Romanian politicians including the recently assassinated Prime Minister, Călinescu.  Kay stayed only a few months.  The  school continued until 1942. 

Kay had left Maiden Erlegh to become Geography and later Sixth Form Mistress at St Felix School for Girls, England.  The school was being evacuated from Southwold in Suffolk to Hinton St George in Somerset.



In 1943 Kay and Winston spent nearly a year as British Council lecturers at Bogota, Colombia, travelling on Atlantic convoy.  Fortunately for them, the weather was so bad that the German submarine packs kept on the sea bottom. The convoy before them and the convoy after were not so lucky.  Her time in Bogota gave Kay the chance to learn Spanish and to ride. Inviting friends to a party, she posted invitations --but nobody received them. In the Bogota of those days a public postbox was no guarantee of the kind of efficient postal service she had grown up with in Rangoon.

As the months progressed in Bogota, both the war and the work the Monks had been expected to do there had turned in new directions. They returned at once to Britain, Kay to lecture to the armed forces, Winston to teach again at Westminster School,

As a teacher at Westminster, Winston made a memorable impact on a generation of boys, among them Tony Benn, Anthony Bridbury, Stephen Barratt, Oleg Kerensky, Crispin Tickell, and Roger Young.   One of them later wrote:

"Winston's politics were what we would now call left-of-centre.   This did most of us a lot of good but at no time was there any attempt to indoctrinate us.  It was, if you like, that we were aware that this was his standpoint and it was left to us to challenge or agree with any opinion as we saw fit.  In our last two years he and Kay would once or twice invite a couple of us round in the evening for coffee or sherry.  In the tiny Barton Street flat this was not administratively easy but we were glad to go round for a general chat.   Life was pretty bleak at school and this sort of occasion did help morale!"


Kay’s two older sisters died during the terrible upheavals of the war years:  Eileen, aged 36, in Rangoon in August 1944, and Olive, aged 41, in June 1945.


Kay’s mother Marguerite had left Rangoon for India as Japan advanced, flying out from Mandalay in 1941.  She arrived in London from Calcutta as a refugee in 1946 and stayed for a while in Kay and Winston’s little flat with their first child in Great College Street.  Marguerite was then with compatriots at or near Bewdley, Worcestershire in Government-run refugee accommodation which had probably been in earlier use by the Free French.  Kay remembered Nissen Huts around a big house. The probable location was Blakeshall, once the home of the Hancock ironmasters.   Becoming ill, Marguerite died in Kidderminster hospital (the death certificate gives 1 Sutton Road) in June 1947.


While he was still a teacher at Westminster, Winston’s parents visited London to meet him and Kay and the new two-daughter family and see the Olympic Games in 1948. It was their first contact since his departure from New Zealand as a Rhodes scholar in 1935.

Winston’s father died soon after returning to New Zealand

In 1950 Winston Monk was appointed senior lecturer in history, Victoria University College, Wellington, and Kay was accordingly issued with a New Zealand passport by the High Commission in London.


Winston Monk’s "Britain in the Western Mediterranean" was published by Hutchinson, London 1953


On his way to a Commonwealth conference, a few weeks after the birth of his third child, a son, Winston died with all other passengers in the 1954 crash of a BOAC Constellation landing at Kalang Airport Singapore.


[The Dominion, Wellington, Monday March 15, 1954]



Mr Monk




At Bidadari Cemetery, Singapore, a row of white flat graves, their uniformity reminiscent of war graves, was placed to commemorate the victims by the British Overseas Airways Corporation. Grave Number 129 was In memory of WINSTON FRANCIS MONK      Born June 7th 1912 at Kaikoura, New Zealand      Died March 13th 1954       Beloved husband of Kay and father of Sarah, Jane and Winston


Kay’s three children: Jane, Francis & Sarah, Wellington, soon after Winston’s death. 

BOAC paid for the family to visit London by Constellation late in 1954, and there was a full emergency on the return journey at Karachi when the undercarriage failed to come down and a belly landing had to be made. Cricket hero of the day Denis Compton was among the passengers, all too aware of Britain’s disastrous aircraft safety record that year, when as well as the Singapore Constellation crash, 2 Comet airliners had exploded at altitude.


On returning to Wellington, Kay drew on her skills as a lecturer in geography and current affairs to take up an educational job with the New Zealand Air Force. She was believed by some of her husband’s distant relatives to have had a hand in redesigning Wellington Airport in its transition from a sea to a land-based facility. “Rubbish!” she would strenuously deny.

She travelled to Singapore and was able to visit her husband’s grave in 1957, as part of this educational fact-finding trip. She first came into contact with the Society of Friends through her hospitable Singapore hosts the Elliots, who introduced her to Quaker views of life. She also stopped over at Rangoon and Beirut, and did some research at London.  Leaving her children in the care of a young friend Janice Dickson, she crossing the Pacific via Pan American in 1958, visited San Francisco, Washington, Boston and New York and the universities of Stanford, Cornell, Harvard and Yale which took an interest in South East Asia and her pre-war study of rice in Burma. Although made particularly welcome at Cornell and Yale, she finally decided to return to London and raise her family there.


Back once more at University College London, she studied planning under Lewis Keeble and passed with distinction, though it was a struggle to study, continue part-time work, and bring up her three children.  As a town planner she worked for Middlesex, LCC and the Greater London Council, and made a close friend of the poet-planner Bruce Castle and his wife Dorothy who worked in the Geography Department at UCL.

A switch to work for consultancy Freeman Fox and Partners brought her back in touch with Winston’s old pupil Oleg Kerensky and his parents (his father, the bridge designer, was a director of the firm). Oleg was by now deputy editor of The Listener, and became a good friend in the years before he moved to America. The move to Freeman Fox also took Kay and her family briefly to Birmingham, where she first met David Eversley, another good friend in the years ahead.

But the work at Freeman Fox was not congenial, and Kay yearned to take up teaching again. She returned to her house in Marham Gardens, Wandsworth, and joined the staff of the Brixton School of Building which later became the Polytechnic of the South Bank.  Teaching the principles and practice of town planning to aspiring planners and architects, she led regular field trips to Scotland and the North, making lasting contacts with such diverse people as Richard Hickman, Roger Jessop and her great friend David Willcocks in Scotland, and colleagues at the South Bank like Sally Adamson and Mervyn Miller.   She remained at South Bank till she retired to Penicuik near Edinburgh in 1980.  Here, sharing a house with her younger daughter’s family, she became an active chorister and member of the local Gestalt group and volunteer Secretary of the Community Council. In 1983 Kay moved close to her elder daughter in Cambridge.  She there joined the newly-started University of the Third Age and followed her interests in choir singing, opera, piano, drama, and watching sport.  Her book-lined flat at Shelly Garden brought new friends and neighbours like Prudence Jones, and a series of student visitors. It was to be her home till she died twenty-five years later.


Among Kay’s abiding interests in life were books, fashion, food, and furniture and shoes.  Cosmopolitan shops like Rowe & Co. had first beckoned in her prewar years of family financial hardship in Rangoon. Throughout her life, in London, Wellington, Edinburgh, Copenhagen (where her son married and raised a family) and Cambridge, she knew the shops and restaurants she liked.  She liked shopping alongside the dowager Queen Mary at the postwar Army and Navy Stores in Wastminster, and meeting Stephen Hawking at Heffers in Cambridge.   Her era was the era of department stores great and small; she enjoyed them all: Kirkcaldie & Stains , Harrods, Arding & Hobbs, Heals, Illums, Magasin, Jenners, Robert Sale, Eaden Lilley and Joshua Taylor.


She was aggressively competitive in sports, games and literary knowledge, with a prodigious memory for football, test match, and tennis facts and a storehouse of prose, poetry, quotation and anecdote. She was also intensely sociable, adventurous and opportunistic -and at times difficult and demanding. She led her family and friends into all sorts of unexpected engagements. She would plan and execute ambitious journeys and holidays; often with a large number of young adults squashed into her VW beetle.  Mind and spirit were unstoppable: she liked to quote Mrs Simpson’s favourite word for it --pep.



Kay Monk in Cambridge 1999


In loving memory of Kay Monk

(Kathleen Elizabeth Bruen)

Geographer, Town Planner, Teacher

Born Rangoon, Burma, 15 June 1915

Died Cambridge, England, 6 November 2008






 More LIVES & fragments


Kay Monk family tree and family contact




One of Kay and Winston’s grandsons Tom Kelly emigrated from Scotland to New Zealand in 2007, flying in from Singapore.

Tom Kelly film work



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