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Sheila Marie Phyllis Selkirk of Brodick lived most of her 91 years on Arran but was born and raised in the village of Hockley in the Essex countryside.
Walking in the woods and fields near her home with her father, Gilbert Page, a local government officer who had survived trench warfare at the Battle of The Somme, she learnt to love wildflowers and nature at a young age. It was a second marriage for her mother, Eleanor, who had returned to the UK expecting Sheila’s older half-sister Noreen after being widowed in Canada.
Sheila was just starting secondary school when the Second World War broke out. She was evacuated to Nottinghamshire for two-and-a-half-years, staying with a mining family in Mansfield Woodhouse. Ironically, she returned to Essex just in time for the doodlebugs or flying bombs whose droning engines cut out ominously just before they dropped and exploded.
She could see the silent V2 rockets as a plume of smoke as they were launched from the French coast. Once, during a Guide church parade, a loud explosion shattered the church windows as a rocket landed in a nearby garden and her Guide patrol had to put their First Aid skills into practice to help survivors.
The school sports field was carved up by the entrances to the deep and extensive air raid shelters, in which she sat one of her school certificate exams during an air raid alarm.
She adored her brother-in-law who was a Spitfire pilot and was at church with her mother for the King’s Call to Prayer when Noreen received the news he had been shot down. Sheila was wearing new white gloves which were turned green by her tears washing the dye out of the cover of the prayer book she was holding.
Noreen moved into the house with her two young children, Tony and Valerie, to whom Sheila became very close.
On VE Day and VJ Day, she danced all night in the street, singing and linking arms with soldiers, sailors and airmen from all the Allied Forces.
After leaving school she worked in a local sweetshop until taking a job recommended by a friend in the Royal Bank of Scotland in London. Just across the road was the Bank of Scotland, where John Selkirk worked. He was a minister’s son from the village of King Edward in Aberdeenshire.
They shared a love of acting and met through the Scottish Banks Drama Group. They married in May 1952 and briefly lived in the village of Stock, but John was keen to return to Scotland.
He had a family connection with Arran as his grandfather had been the schoolmaster at Shiskine, but it was Sheila who persuaded him to request a transfer here, having fallen in love with the island during a holiday in Pirnmill.
Their first child, Barry, was born in 1955, before they bought Ferniehirst, the house in which she would spend the rest of her life. Daughter Lesley came next in 1957, twins Christopher and Craig in 1959 and finally me, Laura, in 1965.
Another shared love was gardening and together they divided the sloping plot into terraces and beds, a lawn and a small orchard and planted trees and shrubs, Mum’s obsession. They would both spend much of their lives in the garden.
They remained active in drama, with dad producing at least one festival winner. He was a freelance photographer; mum painted landscapes in oils.
In 1972 my grandmother died and my grandfather came to live with us for nine years until his death. I left for college in 1982, but just weeks later, dad died of a heart attack caused by rheumatic fever contracted during his army training.
Widowed at 54 less than a year after losing her father, mum filled her life with her interests: painting, hillwalking, her garden and languages, including French, Italian, Russian and Spanish, completing a German O-Grade with students at Arran High School. She became an elder at Brodick Church and began to travel to Canada, Australia and later China with castle gardens volunteers.
She loved family gatherings and Tony’s and Valerie’s families visited regularly to walk in the hills. She had six grandchildren: Brendan, Ewan, Fin, Eva, Cameron and Iona who, with Lesley, lived here while at Arran High School. Barry returned home in 2016.
Nine years after dad died, I returned home, and for the next 28 years we shared many experiences: charity fundraising, acting together and travelling to Venezuela, Costa Rica, Tasmania to visit Craig and New Zealand to visit Lesley. But undeniably she sacrificed much of her life to supporting me: from learning to inject her five-year-old diabetic child, count carbs and treat hypos, through sight loss, kidney failure, cancer, stroke and epilepsy, she was there for me, despite her own impaired hearing and mobility, until the end.
Noreen, Tony and Valerie predeceased her. Tony inherited his father’s love of flying and died in a flying accident in the Alps in 1985. Valerie died of kidney failure in 2011.
She was adamant she wanted to end her days at Ferniehirst and returned from hospital in Lamlash just before Christmas, where she died five days later. She now lies at rest in Lamlash beside John and her father.
As she said in her own faithfully-kept diary: ‘What a time to have lived through!’ And she lived it bravely.
Sheila, with Freagh the dog, surrounded by the Arran hills she loved. NO_B22selkirk01
Sheila and John’s wedding on 24th May 1952. NO_B22selkirk02