Am Bratach No. 326
December 2018

Record year for veteran collector

Veteran poppy collector Babe Mackay broke a local record for last month’s armistice appeal, gathering £160 from door-to-door collections in Skerray and Borgie. Mrs Mackay (84) said this was the most she had ever collected in almost seventy years volunteering for the Scottish poppy appeal. She added her appreciation of the help provided by Irene MacLeod, Tubeg, who accompanied her on her rounds.

Looking back over a lifetime collecting for the fund, Mrs Mackay said: “When I started off, I was just a young girl and I wanted to have a poppy collection in Skerray. I remember writing to Edinburgh and asking, could I get a poppy tin. I was still at school and I was going round the doors then. I was very independent; I didn’t want anybody to help me.” This was shortly after the Second World War, when rationing was still in place, and the experience of wartime an immediate memory.

Mrs Mackay was born in the old post office in Skerray, where her father was postmaster. One of six children, she and her sisters continued to run the post office after him, keeping it in the family for over sixty years. Her mother, originally from Bathgate, met her husband through an unusual sequence of events. “My father was a baker with his father in Skerray,” Mrs Mackay recalled. “He wanted a rise, but grandfather — I don’t remember him — wouldn’t give him any money, so my father and his friend next door set off for Africa. He worked in the gold mines and his friend was in the African war. His friend John met my mother in Africa; she was eighteen and they got engaged.”

Tragedy followed when the young man was killed in combat. “The night he was killed in the African war, his picture fell off the wall,” Mrs Mackay continued. “His friend, my father, went to meet my mother and then they fell in love and they got married.” Three children were born in Africa before the young couple returned to Skerray.

“We had a great childhood,” said Mrs Mackay. “There were no mobile phones and games in those days. We were outside until twelve o’clock at night.” She remembers the post office being open all hours, with Christmas being a particularly busy time. “There was a parcel lorry that came over Christmas time and there would be ten or twelve bags of parcels, and then the bus would come with all the Christmas cards.”

In 2011, Mrs Mackay received a longservice badge for over fifty years collecting for the poppy appeal. “There’s not many people left here, but they seem to be giving more money,” she said. “Especially this year, because of the [First World War] centenary.”

The Scottish poppy appeal was founded in 1921 as the Earl Haig Fund. Field Marshall Earl Haig, the commander of the British forces during World War 1, began the appeal after witnessing a group of French widows selling silk poppies to raise funds for disabled ex-servicemen. The poppy, immortalised by Scots-Canadian soldier John McCrae in his poem, “In Flanders Fields”, swiftly became a symbol of remembrance. The Earl Haig fund, rebranded Poppy Scotland in 2006, continues to support current and former service personnel and their families with advice and funding.  

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