Tribute to Margaret White, first female General Secretary of Woodcraft Folk

Monday, 5 August 2013

[With apologies for the late publication; the Woodcraft Folk website was down on the day Linda kindly submitted this article.]

As some of you may know, Margaret White, a former General Secretary of Woodcraft Folk for nearly 30 years, died last week. Today at her funeral I will be remembering her in a different light. She was my Elfin Leader, the lady who used to relay the message of the Folk to me as I in turn have tried to do for others that followed. My granddaughter will be in Catalonia on a woodcraft friendship delegation as a venturer and many others at Venturer Camp and I will be glad that so many young people have these opportunities to help to make a difference in the world because of Marg's teachings.

As you can guess, it was no ordinary group. We played games and met friends but I soon realised as a member of the Brownies too at that time, that Woodcraft had a different message and one which I could relate to. Every week at circle time Marg would educate us about the injustices of this world and how we as the new generation could make a difference. She made us feel valued every one of us, that we were part of the human race no matter how clever or poor or we were, we were just as important as anyone else. Our songs reflected this theme with the' Banks are made of marble' being a favourite of mine. The co-operative lady from the Guild always came to talk to our group and at camps we had mock elections for the village representative of the camp committee, who had a say in what went on (or so we thought). We always cleared away any litter and observed the country code on group hikes, which were at least once a month during the winter months. We learnt about the inhumanity of wars and wore our white poppies proudly.

I went on to become a Pioneer until 16 and a member of the Lodge until I went to college at 18 to become a teacher. On my first day at college there was a letter in my pigeon hole from Margaret wishing me well and reminding me of obligations as an individual to a greater society. Every holiday, I volunteered to help with camps organising the programme and singing songs with other members as I enjoyed it so much and also had learnt from her teachings.

I remember helping her at Folk House whenever I had holidays, going to various embassies to get visas for foreign delegations, and one time getting a replacement ticket when she had left it behind in London.

We had many heated discussions about the role of family, sex education, Woodcraft principles (she felt very strongly that it was and should remain a children not youth organisation) the east and west and the role of politics in our work. As with many who feel passionately about something as Margaret did, her views did not always meet with approval and her leaving her job marked the end of an era for her and the organisation. She carried on with her Elfin group (Trailblazers ) until well into her 70's and I am sure continued to educate for social justice at all times. She never expected any recognition of her work as many have today (MBE etc.,) although in my eyes she deserved them for her longstanding commitment to our organisation's core values, and society at large.
I visited her two years ago with her brother before she reached 90 in a home at Littlehampton, where we were able to sing some old favourites - and despite crippling dementia she was able to remember most of the words. Her parting lines were, 'we may have been poor but we had some great times didn't we?' 

At the end of every group meeting I had to say the farewell, and it has stayed with me all my life in times of joy and trouble. I will be saying it again today and hope that others will join me too in remembering Marg.

'Go ye your ways and may the spirit of Woodcraft help you in all your works. Be loyal to our cause and faithful to your fellows. Be strong, live kindly, love the sun and follow the trail!'

Linda Osborn


Doug Bourn, who followed Marg as General Secretary from 1893 - 1990, writes:

'Margaret White embodied everything that is so great about the Woodcraft Folk. Compassion and caring with a great personal belief in social justice and in wanting to make the world a better place. Her contribution as General Secretary from the 1950s until her retirement in 1983 was immense. To me, as her successor, I felt that her most important contribution was to ensure that the Woodcraft Folk gained wider approval and support, particularly in the youth service, whilst at the same time not betraying the principles upon which it was based.'