28 Nov

Independent Women?

Allanna Brough, Archive

I am still looking at the list of original shareholders of the Picture House and the thing that strikes me is that the majority were men. Several of these men were, without doubt, the “movers and shakers” of their time. You only have to look at their business interests and the diversification of their careers to see that. You can also look at the incredible wealth that some of the original shareholders undoubtedly had. This is evident from the value of their estates and also by looking at the magnificent houses they owned.

We are talking about 1912. We are talking about women in 1912. Is it any surprise then that there were very few female shareholders? Social constraints on women aside, it got me thinking about the constraints placed on women within marriage. How independent would a married woman in 1912 be? How financially independent would she have been? Was she allowed independent thoughts and opinions? Was she allowed to make independent decisions and choices or did she defer to her Husband? Especially if your husband was one of the wealthiest men in town…

From my research, one woman stood out. She was not an original shareholder of 1912 but she acquired her husband’s 50 shares in 1913. She was Marion McKersie, wife of William McKersie, a Distillery owner in Campbeltown. I have already mentioned Marion in a previous blog article but I wanted to explore her story a bit more.

Marion McCall was born in Ayrshire and married William McKersie in 1881. William had the architect H. E. Clifford design his villa “Craigard” at Askomil in Campbeltown. It was at Craigard that William and Marion brought up their five children: Marion, William, Jean, John Anthony and Victoria Isobel.

VICE PRESIDENT MRS MARION MCKERSIE (WWC D8-6-550) Vice President Mrs Marion McKersie MBE, British Red Cross Society. 

Marion quickly became one of Campbeltown’s most respected citizens and devoted her life to helping others. For over half a century, Marion gave her time and energy to the poor of the town and was involved in many charitable organisations. She worked unceasingly in the interests of the Cottage Hospital and Nursing Society. She became the President of Campbeltown Benevolent Society for the Relief of the Destitute and Sick. She was also a tireless worker for the Campbeltown Clothing Society. Marion was also a supporter of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the organisations responsible for administering the Free Breakfast Fund.

In 1914, less than a week after the outbreak of war, Marion organised work parties to knit and prepare comforts for soldiers. As Convener of the Equipment Committee, Marion and her volunteers provided countless garments for distribution among soldiers during the cold winter months of the war. Marion became Vice President and then President of the Campbeltown branch of The British Red Cross Society and was awarded the MBE in 1918 for her services.

It would be very easy to make assumptions. Did William McKersie encourage his wife to acquire such a position of esteem within the townsfolk of Campbeltown? Did he hope that her success would reflect favourably upon himself and his own standing within the community? Or was he a forward thinking man who supported and valued his wife’s actions and choices? Personally, I believe it was the latter.

One thing is for certain, Marion led by example and was an inspiration for her daughters.

Her two eldest daughters, Marion and Jean operated a Field Kitchen on the Italian Front during WW1.  In 1914, the Order of St. John Ambulance joined forces with the British Red Cross Society to create the Joint War Committee to assist in providing medical care overseas during the First World War. As well as providing vehicles to move casualties, the motor ambulance department supplied specially-equipped units with x-ray machines, dental facilities, soup kitchens and laboratories. Lorries and cars were also used to communicate between the Joint War Committee bases and services across France and Belgium.

Marion’s youngest daughter, Victoria Isobel also played an active role during the war. In 1917, aged just twenty, she became part of a VAD unit with the British Red Cross and was assigned work at Percy House Auxiliary Military Hospital in Isleworth, Middlesex.

As wounded servicemen began to arrive back in England in great numbers, the British Red Cross and other organisations established auxiliary hospitals to ease the pressure on the large military hospitals. The Percy House Auxiliary Military Hospital opened in October 1915 with 300 beds for sick and wounded servicemen.  It was affiliated to the King George Hospital and was the second largest Auxiliary Hospital at the time. The Middlesex  / 22/VAD worked with four other detachments at Percy House.

Victoria Isobel was awarded the British Red Cross medal for her services. This medal was awarded to members of the British Red Cross or its voluntary aid detachments who served in the UK but were not eligible for military medals. Those who were eligible had to undertake at least 1000 hours of unpaid service.

In 1914, just over 40,000 British Red Cross personnel were women. By 1918, this number has risen to over 66,000.

There is no question that Marion McKersie and her three daughters played their part in the War Effort. Strong, brave, determined, independent women? Unquestionably, undoubtedly, definitely, Absolutely!

Picture credit 1: Imperial War Museum archives

Picture credit 2: Daily Mail 1918

Picture credit 3: Victoria Isobel McKersie’s medal, with kind permission of David Mayo

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