Angela Sinclair-Loutit,pioneer spirit

22 Sep

Angela Sinclair-Loutit: knows six languages, world traveler and as she puts it, “I’m a pacifist who is quite aggressive.”

Everyone in Islington has a story, so meet Anglea Sinclar-Loutit who has many tales to share – no surprise really as she was born in 1921. Interview by Nicola Baird.

 “To my amazement I’ve lived in Islington for 32 years,” says Angela Sinclair-Loutit (rhyme with “blue tit”), now 91. I knew nothing about Islington, I’d been living abroad for 30 years, but worked in London in Newham (as a medical and psychiatric social worker) after returning to London. I wanted a place close to the Piccadilly line with easy access to Heathrow for the airport. I bought a three-bed house here because I had three children and this one was cheaper than the alternatives. I was very pleased to find it was a progressive borough and the HQ of CND, Mines Advisory Group and Greenpeace.”

Pinning down Angela’s long life is not easy.The short version might include that she’s a Londoner – she was born in Kensington – and had a twin brother David (so named because the pair were born on St David’s Day), and two older sisters.

In 1939 war broke out while 18-year-old Angela was studying PPE* at Oxford, Somerville College*. Her mother had died two years earlier, and her military father was retired. “I wanted to study philosophy, but didn’t see myself studying this when there was a war going on. I was a pacifist, and left Oxford to do something practical, so I didn’t finish my degree. The choice for women was either medical, or working on the land. I chose medical. In 1940 I joined the Quaker Friends Ambulance Unit*, you mustn’t be misled by the name. The FAU had driven ambulances in World War 1, but more in hospital and social work during World War 2. I worked with the FAU during the Blitz in the East End. We worked in air raid shelters, did first aid, took round cups of tea, found out what had happened, and helped families who’d lost their relatives and houses in the bombing.

“I wasn’t frightened during the Blitz. I think mothers were especially frightened for their children, but I didn’t have children.” Angela laughs mischievously, confessing, “I thought it was rather exciting – and I knew all the planes by sight and sound. I lived with the FAU in the London Hospital students’ hostel in Whitechapel. There were 180 men, just two women – me, and another who one was lot older, she’d been a nurse in the Spanish Civil War. I was far too shy to get intimate with any men, it would have been embarrassing, it’s not like today.

“The Blitz came to an end before the summer in 1941 so I went to the HQ of FAU to work as a secretary. The Quakers sent people to do relief work abroad. People thought there might be a second front in the Adriatic so I got sent to Egypt to a camp in the Sahara Desert for 6,000 Yugoslavs who’d been evacuated from the Dalmatian islands. They were partisans, very poor peasants. Today it would be called social work with refugees. For instance, people in the camps didn’t have enough to wear. The Americans sent clothes which I had to distribute and I also had a go teaching literacy as very few could read. I managed to learn Serbo-Croat while working in Egypt. I was there for eight months until the camps were disbanded.

“We weren’t paid – we only got £12 a year pocket money. We were accommodated in tents and fed army food. The money we got was enough to buy a toothbrush and a few sweets ad chocolates. You could hardly buy anything because there was nothing to buy. And we wore a khaki uniform, we had to look like military staff.

“Some of the conscientious objectors were keen to be guinea pigs in medical research to justify themselves – because lots of people thought pacifists were trying to escape war service. I took part in tests on drugs to treat malaria. As it happened I was in the control group so was never given malaria. In fact (over the years) I’ve never had malaria – but I did get Hepatitis, so all my life since then I can’t give blood. I was in another research project on nutrition. For two weeks breakfast, lunch and tea was a particular sort of biscuit that was supposed to be nutritious and could be given to survivors on lifeboats. It was very boring.

“We were all sent on to Italy, where UN personnel, mostly American, were arriving with experts for reconstruction. I wanted to go to Yugoslavia. But the Tito government in Yugoslavia didn’t want any foreigners. The Americans wanted to get in to supervise as there was already East-West antagonism.

“I’d passed my army truck maintenance test by one mark, but I ended up driving medical supplies from the American Liberty ships* on the coast 800kms to Belgrade. There were no garages anywhere and the roads were very bad, so I had to do that maintenance. Later I transferred to the UN health division in Belgrade.

“My father and all my family before him were military people, so they’d always travelled. My family didn’t think it odd for me to work overseas.

“It was hard to keep in touch though,” explains Angela lighting another cigarette. “There wasn’t ordinary post – people wrote airgraphs. You had a special form from the Post Office which you wrote by hand. It was photocopied and minimised and then sent on by air to the recipient.

“I met my husband in Egypt – he was seven years older than me, a doctor in the Middle East Relief and Rehabilitation Administration which later became a UN department. He’d studied at Barts*.”  They married in 1946, back in the UK, at a Methodist church – “he had been divorced, and no other church was willing to marry us”. Once back in the UK Angela worked for the British Red Cross Tracing Service at St James Street, London “trying to unite families who had been split up by the war, mostly Jewish people. It was very useful because people were terribly anxious to find their families. But it was bureaucratic – endless chasing bits of paper.

“My first child, David, was born in 1951 n Bangkok, Thailand. My husband was moved there when he became the World Health Organisation adviser to UNICEF in the Far East. I taught English to Thai doctors going as students to Britain. I loved Thailand, Thais are very kind, smiling people – Buddhist, very royalist.”

The only problem was that as an employee’s wife Angela was not permitted to work for the UN, although she kept finding volunteer work, and also did some editing of her husband’s reports or doing a little teaching.

“My other two children were born in Paris – they all went to French schools in Paris (and later in Morocco), then universities in England. We lived on a boat in the Seine. Outsiders thought it was romantic, but it was very difficult with small children – but more difficult to find a place to live.

“I still speak French and Serbo-Croat but I’ve forgotten Thai, and I can speak a smattering of German and Spanish.”

Back to the UK
Anglea came back to London when her children were university age. “My husband had retired and subsequently left me. At first I stayed in Hampstead with a friend, and looked for a house. I had qualified as a social worker – by complete coincidence up Highbury Hill at the Polytechnic of North London*. First I worked in a hospital mostly with poor people in Tower Hamlets. I think they found my middle class accent a problem, and people in London found my overseas life a bit bizarre because by the time I came back I didn’t know anything about English social organisation or benefits.  I find most of my friends are people who have also travelled a lot.”

“Hospital patients have problems arising from their illnesses, but also other problems as well, particularly financial. I helped get them the allowances to which they were entitled. It’s always very complicated but the same problems as everyone faces – housing, poverty and emotional problems.

“I used to think my sons were rather jealous of my living through exciting times,” admits Angela as we have another cup of tea. “One of my sons now works for the UN High Commission for Refugees* – he’s in Ghana right now; one son is a businessman in Kazakhstan, and my daughter is a language teacher in Coventry.”

Few people live into their 90s, or are so articulate and spirited as Angela. She writes for the Islington Gazette and the Tribune and was also secretary of the Islington Pensioners Forum*. While in the borough she’s participated in many campaigns such as Save the Whittington Hospital A&E department; she was one of the original team who helped save the land for Gillespie Park – and she’s campaigned with Islington-based CND* against the production of nuclear weapons, including Trident, at Aldermarston.

“All my life I’ve been interested in social justice,” she says. “I don’t mind about being famous. I’d just like to feel at the end of my life that I’d been useful.”


Somerville College –founded in 1879 to give women the opportunity of an Oxford education. It began admitting men in1994.

PPE – degree in politics, philosophy and economics

Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU) – The Quakers created organisations to enable men to avoid military conscription. Women were not conscripted until 1943 so did not need alternative war service.

Tito – “benevolent dictator” of Yugoslavia, from 1945 until his death in1980. See more

Liberty ships – standardised cargo ship. Between 1941-1945 more than 2,700 were built in the US.

Barts – St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London see here

Polytechnic of North London – has become a branch of the University of North London, and then London Metropolitan University. The main hubs are at Moorgate, Aldgate and Holloway.

UN High Commission for Refugees, see here

Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) – more about CND’s campaign against Aldermarston here,

Islington Pensioners’ Forummap and contact details 

REQUEST: Angela is looking for a neighbour who would be willing to make a fairly regular date to drive her to Waitrose and then shop with her, or wait while she shops and chats with any friends she bumps into. If anyone is able to do this please contact Nicola <> who can pass on your details.

Over to you
What do you think of this wonderful woman’s long life? By the way, if you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know. Thank you. And yes, this blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.


6 Responses to “Angela Sinclair-Loutit,pioneer spirit”

  1. Nicolette September 22, 2012 at 8:40 am #

    Angela is one of my heroines. Such an honourable life, and so interesting to talk to.

  2. meg rosoff September 22, 2012 at 11:34 am #

    Hi Nicola — you should put the request higher up on the blog, I nearly missed it. And also might be useful to add “in the region of xxx Street.” Islington’s a big place. Great interview.

  3. nicola baird October 10, 2012 at 6:21 pm #

    via email: Andy Hull: “nice piece. I love angela – total (Labour) legend”


  1. Diane Burridge: local activist | Islington Faces Blog - March 7, 2013

    […] that saved Gillespie Park, just behind Arsenal tube. Not only did she and others (including Angela Sinclair-Loutit, Pat Tuson, Chris Ashby, Sue Jandy and Rev Stephen Coles) guarantee a green space for Islington […]

  2. Sue Jandy: volunteer | Islington Faces Blog - June 12, 2013

    […] Country v city Sue was brought up in Swindon – her granddad was a train driver for the Great Western Railway and had a pigeon loft. Her dad was a newsagent with a couple of greyhounds in training. She played darts in one of the local pubs, and even learnt to ride horses across the Wiltshire countryside. But Sue explains that it’s nothing like The Archers. “Swindon is a huge sprawl. It’s a very odd place. I lived in a house there for two years before I moved to London and though I knew the neighbours by sight I never spoke to them. Everyone drives or commutes. It’s not an especially friendly place. We came to Islington in 1987 when the Save Gillespie Park and sidings was kicking off and straight away my neighbour Noreen Wilson (who has now moved to Loughborough to be nearer her son) took me along to a meeting where I met Chris Ashby and Pat Tuson, Diane and Dave, the same old gang, and Angela. […]

  3. Pat Tuson: urban nature photographer | Islington Faces Blog - August 29, 2013

    […] If you’ve enjoyed this piece about a Gillespie Festival committee member you might also like to look at interviews with other committee members – Diane Burridge, Stephen Coles, Sue Jandy and ex-committee member Angela Sinclair-Loutit. […]

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