Obituaries: Margaret Sclater, Canadian-born nurse and community worker
Margaret Sclater was a remarkable lady who lived a very long, active and varied life, from her early days in Canada through wartime nursing experiences and later on her worldwide travels. Throughout her life she pursued a wide range of interests with her strong sense of civic responsibility central to her persona, manifested in extensive volunteering. In her late forties she had to cope with the sudden death of her husband, leaving her with sole responsibility for their four children.
Margaret Elaine Carroll was born in Macleod in south west Alberta, Canada, a stop for the Canadian Pacific Railway, to Robert and Margaret. Robert, who was born in Victoria, Australia, ran away to sea before settling in Canada, where he became an agricultural adviser to the Blackfoot Indians Confederacy. He served in the First World War with the Strathcona Cavalry and while on leave in London met future wife Margaret, an active Suffragette, some of whose ephemera the family still have.
Margaret, brother Jim and sister Alice were brought up on a farm at nearby Lethbridge before the family moved to Vancouver, where Margaret attended JW Sexsmith elementary School. In 1930 they emigrated to the UK, sailing from Halifax to Southampton to set up home in Bexleyheath, Kent. Margaret attended the Marist Convent School in Richmond prior to embarking on a nursing career shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War.
Based originally at Southern Hospital in Dartford, Margaret was transferred to an Emergency Medical Services Hospital near Gravesend, where she heard the declaration of war on the radio by Neville Chamberlain.
Following the Dunkirk evacuation her unit dealt with a massive work schedule exacerbated by coastal air raids and the Blitz, when she could recall being able to read at midnight because of the light from fires at nearby docks.
She qualified as Staff Nurse, becoming a member of the Royal Nursing College before, in late 1942, joining the “QA’s” – the Queen Alexandra military nursing service at Woolwich. After induction at Hatfield House near London, she was posted to Algeria as part of the North Africa campaign, spending weeks in hills under canvas as living quarters and wards, before going into Tunisia to work in the first line general hospital behind casualty clearing stations.
By 1944 she was in the slums of Naples in dreadful conditions in a base hospital in a converted school, coping with huge numbers of casualties awaiting hospital ships for return to the UK. Misery, hunger and fear pervaded the city but Margaret was able to enjoy some leave, which included a break in Positano on the Amalfi coast with future husband David, then based nearby with the Royal Artillery.
In 1945 she was moved to Belgium to provide hospital support for the crossing of the Rhine, based for a period in Ghent before transfer to Hamburg, where she witnessed terrible devastation, and then to Rendsburg on the Kiel Canal. There she swam in the Baltic, despite the severe cold.
After a “great party” to celebrate VE Day, she was surprised to be instructed the next morning to act as air ambulance nurse conveying a polio patient to the UK for emergency treatment. Flying in a small Hanson, there was only room for the patient’s stretcher, leaving Margaret to endure a very difficult journey seated across struts tending to the patient. Fortunately all ended well, with the patient eventually recovering.
While based at Dartford, Margaret met future husband David Sclater, then an officer with the Royal Artillery, and the couple married at Christ Church, Bexleyheath on 30 April 1946. He left the army as a Major, having been mentioned in Dispatches in the North African campaign.
The couple set up home in Blackhall, Edinburgh, where David became a successful chartered accountant as he and Margaret had four children, Malcolm, Morag, Fiona and Catherine. Their home also accommodated extended family members and offered regular respite and support to a disabled Polish girl refugee. Family holidays the length and breadth of Scotland were much enjoyed, but David’s sudden death in 1968 was a huge blow.
By then the family was living in South Queensferry as Margaret combined a return to nursing with involvement in various community activities. For many years she was a volunteer and volunteer coordinator at Hopetoun House, was a member of West Lothian History Society, did voluntary work on the restoration of the Forth and Clyde canal, and was the Girl Guides District Commissioner for West Lothian. She also attended history classes at Edinburgh University. In 1974/5 she travelled by sea to New Zealand to visit an old school friend and spent a year as a nurse in Wellington. Later there were trips to Russia, China and Cuba and visits to family in Canada.
In 1990 Margaret moved to Cupar, where she volunteered in the Age Concern Lunch Club and also as a guide in the Ceres Fife Folk Museum. In 1996 she was commended by Fife Constabulary for rescuing a person in distress in a pond.
Ever active, in 1998 she crossed the Arctic Circle during a cruise to the Lofoten Islands and visited Ireland to see the Tall Ships. As a Life Member of the National Trust, she went on cruises around Scotland. Living independently until shortly before her 99th birthday, she then moved to Culduthel Care Home, Inverness, near family.
Margaret lived an eventful life on her own terms; she was a resilient, kind lady who will be greatly missed. She is survived by her children, eight grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren.
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