Agnes was born in Glasgow, the only child of a wealthy, widowed, retired auctioneer and property-owner who then married Agnes’ governess and had five more children. Aged 8 or 9, she went to live with a childless aunt in Dundee. A lazy pupil, in her own words, she enjoyed Dundee High School and won an essay prize (‘What I do with my leisure’, apparently eating toffee). She liked French, Latin and Science; fascinated by a rabbit dissection, she spent 3d pocket money on a rabbit heart and squeezed it to see how the blood circulated.

Agnes always wanted to be a nurse, but Papa said nursing was a charwoman’s job and Agnes was too short and fat for the uniform. In 1912, when a friend was going to London to train, Papa gave in, but died on the day of her appointment, and relatives dissuaded her from ever starting -”It would have been a slur on Papa’s character, and wealth, to have a working daughter.”

In 1912 she started working at Grey Lodge, helping to serve free dinners to schoolchildren, then in 1914 moved to the Red Cross – where she was examined for her first certificate by Dr Emily Thomson (plaque 4). The Dundee Red Cross had its own three hospitals, Caird Rest, The Lodge in Broughty Ferry and Cox’s half-time school (converted). Agnes, friendly with the Cox girls, served as a VAD at Cox’s. At a wedding that year a friend said she had enrolled on a physiotherapy course in London; Agnes on the spur of the moment said, “Put my name down too.” She said she’d qualify and return as a volunteer, which she did.

The exams were:- written, viva, pause and practical. During the pause Agnes married Willie, an architect whom she had known since childhood. He was a fine pianist who accompanied her when she sang. When in 1914 he returned from working in Bolivia through a torpedo barrage, Agnes went to join him in London, taking with her 7 lb sugar for other friends. Willie helped her study of anatomy by teaching her to draw. Her family did not attend the wedding because Willie was not a Catholic but, “I wasn’t bothered.” Agnes worked in a London hospital until 1918, then went to Staffordshire for about a year. Willie was still in the army, though a non-combatant on health grounds. They returned to Dundee in 1922 or 1923. In Dundee the Roman Catholic community cut her dead for marrying a Protestant, though she had had no problem being the only Roman Catholic person in Dundee High School or in the Red Cross.

The warden of Grey Lodge invited Agnes onto the Club Committee, of which she later became Chair. She ran the ‘Penny Bankie’ savings scheme, attending every Monday from 6 – 8 pm for eight years. This was a very successful scheme, with some women saving £100 by holiday time; the bank gave a penny in the pound interest, though no credit. In the evenings Agnes would walk alone and uninsured, taking the money to the bank. She also worked closely in Dundee Social Union with D’Arcy Thomson – “tall, well-built, a head like a lion with a big red beard and a shock of red hair.”

In 1919 she attended the Glasgow Police School course on high explosives and incendiaries. She wrote the Red Cross syllabus on chemical warfare in 1932-38, then the Glasgow HQ asked her to go to the Home Office school in Easingwold to train as an instructor. There were 60 on this course, the first to include women, where she worked from 9am to 10pm, and had to pass through gas chambers. Commander Ross told the women to wear undies which covered their shoulders because the protective suits were heavy, and rubbed – so Agnes bought a nightie and cut it down. On her return, she gave public lectures in the Public Health Institute in Constitution Road; these were well attended, as were sessions by four other lecturers in other parts of Dundee. In all she served sixty years in the Red Cross, active until the age of 90, and was County Director from 1939 to 1961. She organised huge Red Cross camps for people from all Scotland, where she would stand at the dining room door and greet all 300 or so by name, or at least by county.

She was involved with Grey Lodge for fifty years. Though often touring the country lecturing, she would drop in to meetings when possible, and was Patroness of the Grey Lodge Girl Guides. She fought a losing battle with one Grey Lodge warden who wanted to close the Saturday night club which the girls ran themselves. Miss Batting was a good warden, Agnes thought, but she got into trouble for sitting on the platform of a Socialist meeting. “People thought the Dundee Social Union was to do with the (newly created) Socialist party; that’s why they changed to ‘Grey Lodge’.” When Agnes resigned she left the meeting and got someone else to read her letter, to avoid fuss. In thanks for her service she was given a rocking chair.

Agnes Allan lived in Longforgan at one time. She served on thirty-six committees, on the Education Committee as RC representative, and on five sub-committees. She worked with Grey Lodge, Old People’s Welfare, Dundee Association for Social Service and St Mary Mothercraft. (Mrs Graham, wife of Bishop Graham, planned a mother and baby home, but changed her mind when a young woman was sent to prison by the Forfar court, and decided on a training home. Mrs Graham bought the premises for this out of her own pocket.)

Agnes was Convenor of Sidlaw Sanatorium from 1946-48 +, and Office-Bearer of Dundee Corporation in 1948. In 1950 she was awarded the MBE for services to the Red Cross. She was named Citizen of the Year in 1968, and in 1972 was awarded the Papal Medal for voluntary social work. She was known as ‘Dundee’s leading lady’ and ‘the committee woman.’