WITH a twinkle in her eye and a quick sense of humour, anyone meeting Kelso resident Barbara McLeod would never guess that today this remarkable lady will be reading a card from the Queen congratulating her on her 100th birthday, writes Mark Entwistle.
Born on August 18 in the year before the ocean liner Titanic slipped beneath the freezing waves of the Atlantic and Antarctica’s icy wastes claimed the lives of Captain Scott and his comrades, Barbara, or ‘Babs’ as she is affectionately known by many, drew her first breath in Liverpool.
In the years before the First World War, the port was one of the shipping hubs of the British Empire. But it was not long before infant Barbara and her family were on the move.
They settled in Cumbria and it was here that Barbara grew up, receiving her education at the tiny Millburn School at the foot of the Pennines.
When the Second World War broke out, Barbara was living in Edinburgh. She took a post as a registered helper with five evacuee children from the city, who had been sent to the Borders, out of harm’s way and the Luftwaffe’s bombers.
“I came to the Borders in 1939, as a registered helper with five evacuees from Edinburgh. But I loved Kelso so much, I ended up giving up my house in Edinburgh and settling in the area permanently,” Barbara told TheSouthern this week.
“I was first with the children at James Stormonth Darling’s house at Edenbank, then at Morebattle, and we finished our days at Makerstoun with Mrs Bell Irvine.”
Barbara says Kelso was a much different place when she first encountered the town during the war years.
“There were fewer houses and very little in the way of traffic. People never locked their doors either, and you seemed to know one another better. Nowadays everyone seems so busy and you can go for a week or a month without seeing a neighbour. But Kelso’s still lovely – I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
As well as looking after evacuee children, Barbara also worked at the munitions factory at Charlesfield during the war and spent time in Hawick packing parcels for prisoners-of-war.
After the war she spent 27 years working in a local fish and chip shop and restaurant, as well as periods at both the Ednam House Hotel and Floors Castle.
“I did a lot of these kinds of wee jobs. Sometimes jobs where no brains were required!” laughed Barbara, now a great-great-grandmother.
Well-known local Kelso businessman, Archie Hume, proprietor of gentleman’s outfitters, A Hume, in the town’s square, is Barbara’s grandson.
Barbara’s late husband, Alexander, who was a native of Invernesshire and had been an army officer when the couple met, passed away in 1998.
She joined the congregation of St Andrew’s Church in 1942 and has been a member of its choir since 1948.
“I still clean all the church silver and set out all the cruets on a Wednesday for the Sunday – oh, and I wash up the cups after coffee as well. I’ve had such a long connection with the church and have made a great many friends through my involvement, as well as all the different rectors’ wives and the rectors I have served under.
“I would say that’s been the main part of my life socially.”
A special birthday party on Saturday is expected to be attended by 150 people to help Barbara celebrate reaching such a milestone anniversary.
Barbara can recall her early years in Cumbria, attending the little village school and the local church.
“I can also remember the great big German Zepplin that came over Leith docks. And I can remember when I was about 11 being with my mother – we were down in Leith – and seeing all the unemployed men hanging about, waiting to get work.
“That’s something that has stuck in my memory all these years – the amount of men who were without jobs back then.”
Among the countless numbers of birthday cards that have been arriving at her home this week, one of the most prized has been one made by the children at Millburn Primary School where she was once a pupil so long ago.
Asked for her secret to a long life, Barbara says she feels she has been very happy and content over the last few years, surrounded by family and friends.
“I also enjoy a glass of wine in the evening – oh, and a gin and tonic before lunch is always very nice too!”