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Barbara the red-haired rebel’s centenary

August 29, 2012

Barbara the red-haired rebel’s centenary

A guest post by Kate Ashbrook

Posted on on 28/08/2012

Today, 28 August, Barbara MacDonald would have been 100 years old.  Founder of the Dartmoor Livestock Protection Society, she campaigned for Dartmoor’s livestock and landscape – and much else.  This is what I wrote in the Western Morning News shortly after her death in 2002.

Forty years ago, Barbara MacDonald, who died last Sunday [15 September 2002] shortly  after her ninetieth birthday, founded the Dartmoor Livestock Protection Society.  She was angered and appalled by the suffering of sheep and ponies on Dartmoor, which reached a peak during the terrible winter of 1962/3.  Many of the issues she fought then, outwintering of stock on the moor, overgrazing encouraged by subsidies, and the export of live animals, are only being resolved now.

Barbara was fearless and articulate in her battle for moorland livestock. She suffered the obloquy of farmers and even welfare bodies like the RSPCA who claimed there was no problem.  But she collected the evidence and rallied support and, through the DLPS, ran brilliant campaigns, meeting and lobbying ministers, delivering petitions to Parliament and writing constantly to the press, her direct and cutting letters spiced with irony and humour, and always written in turquoise ink.

Born in Totteridge near Barnet, on 28 August 1912 with flaming-red hair, Barbara was a wonderful communicator who knew how to make best use of the press.  This was perhaps not surprising given that she was a niece of the two newspaper barons, Lords Northcliffe and Rothermere.  She was also a rebel.  She was expelled from St Margaret’s Bushey for playing ‘Tea for Two’ instead of hymns in chapel, and for locking her hated gym mistress in the gym.  Charlie MacDonald, an Australian rancher and RAF transport command pilot, whom she married at the age of 21, was definitely not her parents’ choice for husband.

She lived in New   Zealand, Australia and Canada, undertaking a dangerous and illegal flight with Charlie and her young family during the war, from Australia over hostile Japanese territory to San   Francisco in the gun turret of a bomber. She moved to Sanduck Farm near Lustleigh in the early fifties and although she had never farmed before, took on a dairy farm with 40 pedigree Friesian cattle which she painstakingly hand-reared.  It was then that she became involved in both animal welfare and the preservation of Dartmoor.  She and Dartmoor campaigner Lady Sayer were a formidable pair.

Barbara fought threats to Dartmoor at many public inquiries and Parliamentary hearings: the Swincombe and Meldon reservoirs, military training, china clay and the Okehampton bypass.  She was able to speak there as a farmer as well as a conservationist which added weight to her case.  The flooding of the Meldon valley so sickened her that she wrote a pamphlet ‘What shall we tell our children?’  She was a member of many organisations, representing the Open Spaces Society at Dartmoor meetings and she was a committee member of the Ramblers’ Association Devon Area.

Barbara’s life was not easy: her only son died in 1966 but she kept her immense grief to herself.  She was in constant pain for 60 years following a severe back injury.  She never burdened others with her worries, she never complained.  Her family meant the world to her and she was always ready to help her two daughters, Carley and Jill, her five granddaughters and 11 great grandchildren.  She was enormously kind, generous and loving to her family and friends.

And her daughters reciprocated, by enabling her to stay at her home in Ford Street, Moretonhampstead, after a stroke earlier this year until she died peacefully last Sunday.

She was a communicator to the end: only last week I received a card from her.  How I shall miss the turquoise ink.

Kate Ashbrook is the general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and president of the Ramblers. Please do look at her blog

John comments: I first met Barbara in about 1970 and grew to know her well in the years that followed, as we served together in the Ramblers Association’s area council for Devon. She was an enormous support to me during my years as press officer and then chairman of the Dartmoor Badgers Protection League, and my years in the Dartmoor Preservation Association. We used to have long confabs on the telephone, or sometimes in Moreton, plotting strategy, often working out how to circumvent the weak reeds who were supposed to be on our side! We need more campaigners like Barbara.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 29, 2012 4:35 pm

    She sounds a truly great woman and a real character! I try to be like her, especially the constant campaigning against animal cruelty. Having studied agriculture to Farm Business Manager level (NVQ 5), I find it really does help in arguments against animal cruelty when farmers and suchlike know you actually do know what you’re talking about! Live export, unfortunately, still continues… I hope we manage to stamp it out one day!

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