Obituary: Nancy Currie Hoile Wykes MRCVS, veterinary surgeon

Nancy Wykes (nee Donald)
Nancy Wykes (nee Donald)
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Born: 3 August, 1921, in Montrose, Angus. Died: 6 April, 2013, near Lincoln, aged 91

Educated at Montrose Academy, she also enjoyed drama, hockey, riding and was a Girl Guide. In 1937 she was the Guide chosen to represent the county of Angus at the George VI ­Coronation camp near London and had a seat on the route of the royal procession.

She was particularly fond of large animals and was intent on becoming a veterinary surgeon, a fairly unusual, although not unknown, occupation for a woman in those days.

Her father, however, was resolutely opposed to the idea and he telephoned local vet WJ Rice and asked if he could do something to convince his determined daughter to look for a more suitable career.

W J agreed to take Nancy out with him one day when he was going to be castrating calves, a bloody, messy business. If that did not put the young woman off, he reckoned, then nothing would.

Not long after Nancy had gone out with WJ on his rounds the vet had another call from Mr Donald. The cunning plan had misfired badly as Nancy had thoroughly enjoyed her “work experience” and returned home even more determined than ever to be a vet. She eventually attended Glasgow Veterinary College and qualified as a vet in 1944.

Having qualified, she was something of a rarity, as few women vets worked with large animals, but she was offered a position in a practice in Lincoln.

Practising in a strange area during wartime had its own problems as the lack of signposts and the need for hooded headlights in the blackout meant that it was difficult to find one’s way about. She also had problems with the local dialect and references to “’osses’ ’eads” confused her until she realised that the farmers meant horses’ heads.

A small but steadfast lady, she soon overcame the difficulties of being a woman in a man’s world. One farmer asked her to put a ring in his bull’s nose. The farmer had no cattle crush and the animal was secured by a chain around its horns, tying it to a post.

Despite the fact that the beast was obviously not in co-operative frame of mind – it was tossing its head and frothing at the mouth – the young vet did not hesitate and soon had the job done. The young vet’s standing in the farming community was no doubt greatly enhanced by her ability to cope with such physical challenges.

Not long after setting up in practice herself, she met a young farmer, David Wykes, who had checked on his sheep’s symptom in Black’s Veterinary Dictionary. This meant that the two were able to compare notes, but they soon realised that they had far more in common and were soon married in Fettercairn in 1947.

Like most women in those days, Nancy gave up work when she married but, unable to be idle for long, she kept hens and made butter from the milk from her two cows. She later returned to work as a Ministry of Agriculture vet for a spell after bovine tuberculosis testing of cattle became compulsory. When that work stopped she went back to the farm where she continued to keep herself busy looking after her family, reading or taking part in Scottish country dancing, her other great interests.

She and David bought an old farmhouse in Argyll in 1968 and in 1988 they decided to replace it with a new bungalow which would be their home in retirement. Sadly, David died just a year later, before the building work was complete.

Nevertheless, Nancy decided to spend as much time in Scotland as she could and she drove back and forward to Argyll, a distance of more than 350 miles, even in her seventies and eighties, to spend the summer months there.

The family had reservations about this by then frail old lady travelling on her own to a place where her nearest neighbour was five miles away along a track and eventually convinced her to let them put her car on a trailer and take her up.

By that time, she had an artificial hip and had had laser surgery on an eye, but that still did not deter her. A friend and neighbour, a few years younger than Nancy, had never learned to swim and Nancy took her in the car to the nearest swimming pool, some 13 miles away, so that they could both have a dip.

When she was no longer able to make the journey north, she settled at home in Lincolnshire but her physical and mental health deteriorated over her last few years, although with support she was able to remain in her own home.

Nancy is survived by her sons Hugh and Brian, daughter Anne and her grandchildren and great grandchildren.