She was born in 1932 in a village called Kazance tucked away in the mountains between Bosnia and Croatia, youngest of six, there were thirty years between her and her oldest sister. Grandma was fifty years old when she gave birth to my mother – she told her daughter that she never really wanted to have her at such an old age, but that she was the best of all her children.
My mother Milica (Melissa) didn’t go to school, although she should have. The war was on and the neighbouring city, Banja Luka, was under siege by the Nazis throughout World War II. She would often recall living through those years as a child and the fear that ran through her. As an adult she still didn’t like the sound of aeroplanes, was afraid of fire and had an ingrained hatred of fascism. One of her sisters taught her to read Cyrillic, but mostly she learned how to knit, weave, sew, make clothes and how to look after the farm animals.
Grandma, who was known for her love of fauna, would always chastise her daughter for not being kind enough to the farm animals. One summer’s day she was asked to tend to the bees by her sister Jela. Milica didn’t have the gift for handling them and soon they set upon her, entangled in her waist-long hair, nipping her scalp, neck and face. She survived of course, but never forgot. She never got on with snakes either and would run as fast as she could to escape angry jumping stripeys.
During the second world war, she survived typhoid when she was just nine – all her hair fell away during the fever – disease and chronic illnesses was spread by visiting armies engaged in guerrilla warfare in the forests and mountains. She was sent to hide high up in the hills many times along with all the other children when enemy soldiers passed through the village, crossing from Croatia to Bosnia and back. She would spend days tucked away in bothies dotted about the mountains, tending sheep and goats along with her friends. Mothers and the elders felt it was safer for their children and didn’t want to risk them being taken away by the Germans and Croats.
Both her brothers were murdered in a Nazi camp in Yugoslavia. They fought against the Nazis as part of an anti-fascist resistance movement hoping to free Banja Luka from occupation. They were neither pro-loyalist or communist. The political history during that time was very complicated. When communism came after the war life altered for the peasants living in the hills and they lost ownership of their land. They were visited many times by Yugoslav militia to be asked to work voluntarily in the cities to rebuild a new country. My mother would return to the tops of the mountains to hide, along with her female companions, to avoid going. She felt it was more important to stay and look after her parents. However, things changed. She had to decide whether she was going to stay at home or leave for good.
She was the last at home to look after her parents and came to England in 1962 with just one piece of luggage, to marry my father and to work at Salt’s Mill. She weighed seven stone when she arrived – farm work had taken its toll on her body – she was a tall woman. The other mill workers would try to fatten her up with fish and chip suppers from Saltaire chippy, but she stayed skinny for years.
My mother was a straight woman, with a dry laconic sense of humour. She didn’t drink alcohol, smoke or eat sweet food like chocolate. Sometimes she was vilified for speaking her mind – she had no fear of shooting from the hip at any man or woman. She was assertive with strong opinions on politics and culture and would engage in man talk at the table – she had little time for fishwife tittle-tattle.
Despite being a war child and growing up in poverty, she still had much love in her heart and was wholly and deeply committed to us. She loved completely. She loved children and they knew they were always welcome at our house. When times were tough, she fed the entire street of kids who would turn up hungry at lunchtimes. She always found it in her heart to give. For this we loved her too. She made the house welcome to everyone who came by and the living room would be full of people chatting away, drinking Turkish coffee and tucking in to gibanica.
She battled with illness all her adult life and was eventually diagnosed with a terminal cancer which took her away from us after two years of struggle. She was stoic throughout, still loving completely. An unforgettable woman: mother, daughter, sister, wife and of course, baba.
Published in Family Legends – A collection of special family stories from Scottish Book Trust’s national story project. Author: Jelica Gavrilovic
… and my somewhat totally peed off reply.
Your party is doing nothing in terms of addressing any issues but is only compounding them. I am ashamed to be a British citizen right now.
I sincerely hope we never ever have the tories leading our government again. And I hope Scotland manages to escape the inequality you have unleashed on all of us and the people of the UK vote out of the horror of your neo-liberalism which only serves you and your pals. I doubt very much that the tory party truly understands poverty and I am appalled to see that you do not take notice of reports like this by Oxfam or by the JRF.
If you have a conscience, then you will be living with it for many decades to come.
I say this as a single parent, working long and hard and I hope that we will never be darkened by your policies of inequality and favouritism of all your friends, ever again. I am hoping for the day that true reform will happen in the UK which is for the people and that all children have a just and fair childhood too.
You have put Attlee, and Bevan to shame. Remember who does all the hard work in the UK.
On Sep 04, 2013, at 11:31 AM, David.Bonsor@scottish.parliament.uk wrote:
Thank you for contacting Mary about the Oxfam Our Economy report.
She recognises that the report focuses on the often-complex needs of a number of the least well off in Scotland. There are many of our communities which suffer from the combined weight of low life expectancies, poor health, below-average educational attainment and a lack of aspiration.
It is a wide ranging document, crossing over numerous areas which touch the work of the Scottish Parliament on a day-to-day basis. Many of the issues within it have been debated extensively in recent months – both in the chamber and in committees. Some, such as health inequalities, have dedicated Cross Party Groups meeting regularly, bringing together politicians and other stakeholders to improve how we tackle various areas of policy.
We are always eager to see how wellbeing can be better measured, as the Oxfam Humankind index attempts to do. Mary’s colleagues in the Scottish Conservatives have worked with external groups to see how this may be better incorporated into our deliberations here at Holyrood as part of the on-going process of policy development.
Mary cannot, however, support a number of the report’s conclusions. Our economy does not work in isolation and while the report seems opposed to the normal process of economic growth, it provides little in the way of practical alternatives. It proposes, for example, a Financial Transactions Tax which, if applied to the UK, would simply see our financial services industry – which employs hundreds of thousands of people – leave for countries with more favourable tax regimes.
The UK Government has taken a number of realistic steps to reduce tax avoidance and close tax loopholes over the past three years. We have more jobs in this country than ever before and unemployment rates are low when contrasted against comparable countries in Europe. The problems with the welfare system which previously created little incentive for people to move into work are being addressed.
There have also been a number of other changes to help the less well off. Raising the income tax personal allowance means that someone on the minimum wage working 29 hours a week will no longer pay income tax and someone working 35 hours on the minimum wage will have seen their income tax bill cut by more than half since 2010. The low-paid will pay less and the government has taken 2.4 million people out of paying income tax altogether.
Mary acknowledges that times are difficult for many people at the moment but believes that we should be aiming for genuinely sustainable economic growth and the increase in jobs and wealth which that brings. In the meantime, we should ensure our public services work as well as they can for everyone and that we should continue to address issues such as educational and health inequalities.
A debate on the report has been scheduled for the afternoon of Wednesday 4 September. Unfortunately members’ business debates are time restricted and it is likely that only one Scottish Conservative MSP will be able to speak at length to present our party’s position.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact Mary.
David Bonsar on behalf of Mary Scanlon MSP (Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party)