Wednesday, 19 December 2018

An obscure centenary (continued)

A little more about
Margaret Isobel Smith/ Peggy Flett 19-12-1918 - 7-7-2015
as promised, although more briefly than planned.

Slightly rose-tinted
From the heyday of the fishing industry, as she described it, to the strategic importance of Lewis in the Second World War, Peggy's early life can be seen as reflecting in several ways the changing fortunes of the town of Stornoway more generally.
"In those days Stornoway in the summer months was a busy bustling town.  The harbour was crammed with herring drifters, the sea front lined with curers’ yards, and the smoke from the kippering sheds sending its aromatic presence far out to sea.  The population must have increased four fold at least with the influx of curers, coopers and fishworkers."

For a time her upbringing and that of her older sister and younger brother was, by her account:
'somewhat Edwardian with a nursemaid in attendance and a constant insistence on “manners” and decorum.  We wore “best clothes” for Sunday and paraded solemnly to Sunday School in flannel coats button boots, and black velour hats in winter and patent leather shoes and Panama hats in summer – and always our “collections” tucked into our gloves.'
Featuring John Maclean, towards bottom right
This was not the 'Sabbath School'of the Free Church, and the three children, decorous or not, would have escaped the worst excesses of repressive religion, at least as far as their home environment was concerned. Their late grandfather John Maclean, a well-known local shopkeeper and self-made man in his day, is on record as subscribing to the appeal for funds to construct a spire on Martin's Memorial Church of Scotland, just down the road from the family home in Francis Street.
Stornoway from the air 1932
A few years later, after a temporary sojourn in north-east Scotland (Buckie and Findochty, the stronghold of the Fletts), the now growing family returned to Stornoway. With the depression, money was scarcer and the living less gracious. The town was still lively in its way, especially for youngsters with the freedom to roam the streets. Peggy's brother won renown as a leader of one of the street 'gangs' of boys, his exploits recalled by at least one of his henchmen 80 years later.

Although her intelligence enabled her to benefit from her education in the prestigious Nicolson Institute, schooldays were not always happy at a time when most teachers still ruled by terror. Peggy's own 80+-year-old memories included still-resented incidents of bullying, unfairness, and victimisation, not usually of herself but of more vulnerable and worse-off pupils.

There were always compensations, and she was good at making the most of them. Membership of the recently re-formed Stornoway Girl Guides meant a lot to her, providing an escape from the chores and child-minding she was expected to spend so much of her time on at home.

Stornoway Guides, 1930s.
Peggy is the middle one of the three on the extreme right.
Unlike her older sister, who left school to work in the Post Office, Peggy stayed on and completed her secondary education with some success. She did not proceed to a university; it was not felt by the family that it would be financially viable for her to do so.

Instead her first employment was with the local Labour Exchange, the Burroo (Bureau of Employment), something of a growth sector in the 1930s. The story of how she heard about the job is told by Calum Smith in 'Around the Peat-Fire'.
Late  1930s 
The story of  how that job was ended and her subsequent work obtained is told by Peggy herself in a short memoir about Stornoway aerodrome in wartime.
On 19 November 1942 Peggy and Calum were married, quietly, in wartime Stornoway, after a courtship that featured many long walks in the Castle Grounds.
A path in the Castle \Grounds
Of course she continued to be very much an independent-minded individual in her own right, but their subsequent stories are intertwined.

Looking back at Stornoway from Holm, 2017
The present-day town: sites of change and continuity.

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