Coll The Coll Magazine

Article by Robert Erskine (1996)

COLLachs/Elizabeth Stewart Flett and William Flett
Elizabeth Stewart Flett and William Flett.

Elizabeth Stewart, who died on May 26th 1995, was born in 1898 in Lochgelly.

She came to Coll as 'relief' District Nurse in 1946 and later returned for the permanent position, already with a decoration presented by Princess Mary, the Princess Royal, for her sterling years as a District Nurse in Devon.

In 1946 the District Nurse was an active midwife and most Coll children were born at home. Elizabeth did her rounds on foot, sometimes on bicycle and was legendary for the calming influence she had on mothers as she delivered their babies. All five of Barbara Galbraith's family were delivered by Elizabeth at Cliad: .. When I heard the clomp of her boots through the clover at Cliad and the sound of her voice, I knew my troubles were over." She claimed ownership of all the children she delivered.

After nursing the elderly at home until their death, Elizabeth would dress the remains with sensitive loving care, 'to make them bonny on their last journey'.

District nursing on Coll is a very demanding job requiring huge reserves of professionalism, energy and compassion and Elizabeth had all these qualities in abundance. Today many middle aged Collachs remember with affection how she gave her 'children' sweeties with an incomparable twinkle of delight.

Marriage to William Flett in 1975

Elizabeth's father never encouraged his daughters to marry and Elizabeth tied the knot when she was 75. After a twenty year romance she married William Flett.

Son of Bruce Flett from Buckie he became a time served joiner and later a 'jack of all trades'. He was soon promoted by his employer, Alexander Hall of Aberdeen, to be the managing agent for the firm. Wherever there were important contracts to be done, WiIliam would be sent on site to manage them through to completion.

In 1955 he arrived on Coll. There were two big contracts. The first was to bring water to Arinagour village and build the big tank; the second was to build the first batch of council houses in Carnan Road.

When this work was finished he remained on Coll and for many years he was the principal builder on Coll. He lived in Arinagour and Elizabeth became his good friend - she lived in one of the houses he had built.

He built a new byre at Cornaigbeg and the big silage pit in the West End. William's skill with his hands knew no bounds - for a short time he practiced impromptu fillings to islander's teeth while they waited to see a dentist on the mainland. He did such a good job that they often cancelled the appointment...

Elizabeth was also an entrepreneur, introducing Coll to a fleet of holiday caravans. The flagship was affectionately known as 'Buckingham Palace', complete with an enclosure big enough to be a croquet lawn. Today many incoming Coll families owe their introduction to the island to those entrepreneurial days.

Elizabeth the Organist, William the Preacher.

Latterly, after 26 years as District Nurse, Elizabeth continued to be a staunch supporter of the Church of Scotland. How she did love to play the organ one Sunday out of three, always wearing a stunning hat and outfit. She practised the organ at home and a visit to 'Windswept' would reveal that she had the faith to move mountains. You could never depart without some unforgettable rendition of organ music and accompanied song.

William died two weeks after Elizabeth. As a couple they had kept Coll Parish Church open despite long periods of vacancy. As lay reader, William would preach and his sermons were well planned and delivered with feeling and grace. He also attended to the fabric of the church, waterproofing the 70 foot tower from scaffolding when he was well into his eighties.

In 1993 when the Moderator of the Church of Scotland visited Coll, William was presented with a medal in recognition of his long service and commitment in the parish.

All in Coll mourn the sad loss of this much loved couple. As the unforgettable 'Nursey Pursey', memories of Elizabeth will live on and William will also be remembered for his many contributions to the community of Coll.

Robert Erskine
Images associated with this article:-

An early brush with Royalty for Nurse Stewart, pictured here close to the Prince of Wales
Coll Magazine - Article by Robert Erskine

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