Obituary: Bertha Forrester, 81

Bertha Forrester helped found the charity SOS Children's Villages UK. Picture: comp
Bertha Forrester helped found the charity SOS Children's Villages UK. Picture: comp
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A GIFTED teacher and wordsmith who won the coveted Scotsman Prize Crossword three times has died aged 81.

Bertha Forrester taught at schools in Edinburgh and London, living for many years in the English capital.

Born in Newington in 1931, she attended the Preston Street Primary School until she was evacuated to Kelso at the beginning of the war.

Her teaching career started at the old “tin hut” Burdiehouse school, before she moved into the new state-of-the-art building – now demolished – when it opened.

Mrs Forrester taught there for several years, but moved to London with her husband Jim when he left The Scotsman to join Reuters news agency in London.

Working in a tough east-end school, she exposed a racket being run by some older boys, which involved stealing brewery bottles and returning them to local pubs and shops to claim the cash deposit.

She then took a job in Camden Town to be closer to home in Hampstead and rose to deputy – and later acting – head at a school.

Her final teaching post, as head of St Saviour’s Church of England school in Little Venice, was challenging because pupils from many different backgrounds were enrolled there.

At one stage the school had pupils from 29 different countries with children of diplomats and affluent local residents sitting alongside those from homeless families housed in a run-down hotel.

Her husband Jim was posted to Hong Kong after 18 years as Reuters’ night editor – she continued at St Saviour’s, but even though they lived separately for five years, the couple were never apart for more than six weeks. At holiday time, Bertha went straight from school to the airport.

She became involved with the charity SOS Children’s Villages UK after being asked to help found a UK branch.

SOS Children’s Villages UK began with a powerful committee headed by Lord Caccia. With Jim as secretary it included Lady Brabourne, now Countess Mountbatten, Lady Sophia Schilizzi, and two MPs – one Conservative and one Labour.

A chief executive was appointed but dismissed after about three months and Jim was asked to take over on an unpaid temporary basis. Bertha helped extensively during this “temporary” period, which stretched to ten years.

Her 53 years with Jim encompassed much travelling, many concerts and operas and some exciting encounters, but her career as a teacher was paramount.

On returning home to Edinburgh, Bertha remained active until struck by a rare complaint which left her housebound for the last two years of her life.