Rae Woodland's Story

Rae Woodland was born in 1922 with a hare lip and as a result was sent away to a convent primary school for handicapped children. Her gifts as a singer emerged, particularly in secondary school, and after a wonderful solo performance at speech day, it was suggested to her parents that surgery might be able to help her.

In her own words: "There was no cleft palate, in my case, but the scar was very noticeable. I have always felt a little shy and sensitive of my disability. Of course, I was teased at school and felt a sense of inferiority, but always sought to prove my ability in spite of my disfigurement. My mother saved hard and, when I was sixteen, took me to the London Clinic of Sir Harold Gillies and Archibald McIndoe. These surgeons were pioneers in reconstructive surgery: their work on injured servicemen had such a reputation that my mother decided that they were the best, and that the best was what I needed.  I was terrified of course, but not as much as my Mum - she spent the night of the operation in the Catholic Church near the clinic.   I am afraid I looked pretty awful the next day. My mouth was all swollen, like a pig’s snout, but when the swelling lessened and the scar healed, it was evident that Archibald McIndoe had performed a transformation. He insisted I use almond oil every day on the scar, and it worked! Hooray! It was such a boost to my confidence that I never looked back."

Mr McIndoe had asked her what sort of mouth she might like, and showed her magazines of film stars to choose from. She explained that she wanted to be a singer - and emerged from the surgery as a strikingly beautiful woman. She was trained by Roy Henderson, who also trained Kathleen Ferrier, and was one of Benjamin Britten's most faithful and trusted collaborators. She sang at Covent Garden, Sadlers Wellls and Glyndebourne, and is considered the finest Queen of the Night. She also created roles for Gottfried von Einem, Nicholas Maw and Sir Arthur Bliss, and made many live broadcasts for the BBC, from the RAH Proms to Friday Night is Music Night. She retired from the opera stage in 1984. She then taught singing at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and at the Britten-Pears School in Snape Maltings on the invitation of Sir Peter Pears.