"The Red Cross was the catalyst for our new lives"
Linda's connection to the Red Cross spans decades and oceans. Here, she describes how she’s been giving back - 60 years after the Australian Red Cross supported her family.
Last updated 29 June 2023
Please note that this story contains references to suicide.
Linda was just three months old when, in 1959, she and her parents left Franco’s Madrid for a new life in Australia.
The journey took three days, and little Linda cried non-stop. The family were supposed to be met at Sydney airport, but no one showed up. Exhausted, they spent what little money they had on a night in a hotel.
The next day, they walked into the nearest Australian Red Cross office and asked for help. They were given shelter and solace in a Red Cross hostel.
When they arrived in Australia, my parents were at breaking point. The Australian Red Cross was their saviour. My father says the Red Cross was the catalyst for our new lives.
By some coincidence, the Australian Red Cross also helped Linda’s future husband, Robert.
He was working on an oil rig near Darwin in 1974 - some 15 years after Linda's arrival. On Christmas morning, Cyclone Tracy tore through the city. Nearly every house in Darwin was destroyed - including Robert’s.
“Robert came on shore with just his rig bag and the Red Cross gave him some clothes. He’s never actually voiced it, but I don’t think he minds all the hours I spend working with the Red Cross, because he’s seen it in action.”
After working in Singapore, Egypt, Nigeria and Texas, Linda and Robert finally settled in northern Scotland, near Loch Ness.
Now a primary school teacher, Linda did a first aid course with the British Red Cross. Remembering how the Red Cross had helped her family nearly 50 years earlier - she signed up to volunteer.
"There are some call-outs you never forget"
After volunteering at several first aid events, Linda moved into Emergency Response. She started working with SARCOM, our all-terrain search and rescue communications support vehicle.
In 2010, she and ‘a brilliant 4x4 driver’ called Nigel were on call in a Land Rover in heavy snow when they were diverted to a village in the west of Scotland.
They’d been called to a young woman who had tried to take her own life. Her children had found her when they’d arrived home from school.
She was treated by the local ambulance service, and then Linda and Nigel’s job was to get her safely to a specialist hospital – five hours away.
As Nigel battled horrendous driving conditions, Linda sat in the back of the Land Rover with the young woman. She redressed her wounds and offered as much emotional support as she could.
“I remember this young mother handing me love notes of goodbye that she’d written for her children,” says Linda.
“In those situations, you don’t know what happens later. We dropped her off, but I never found out if she made it back to her children.
"You do your best at the time, you breathe at the end of it, and you hope. You hope that as a Red Cross volunteer, you did enough to give this person hope.”
"Everything I have done has been through the support of others"
Linda's experience with the young mother was good training for what came next: Covid-19 and lockdown.
With her husband needing to shield, Linda had to volunteer from home. Over the next few months, it's no exaggeration to say that Linda spoke to hundreds of people in need.
Many of them lived in remote parts of Scotland and were very lonely. Others were older people, and people with underlying health conditions.
What kept her going? The thought of her parents. Now living in Versailles, France, they couldn’t leave their flat during the pandemic. Far away in Scotland, Linda felt powerless to help them.
Fortunately, members of their local community stepped up.
“In a way, I felt that if I helped others by volunteering, it was my way of saying thank you to those people in Versailles who were helping my parents,” says Linda.
“It didn’t quite appease my guilt, but it helped.”
Reward and recognition
As well spending hour after hour on the phone, Linda also helped Glasgow City Council and the British Red Cross to distribute thousands of food parcels.
So it's no surprise that in Autumn 2020, Linda was awarded a British Red Cross 150th anniversary Royal Mint coin.
Her manager had put her forward for the award, citing the countless hours she’d spent on the phone and the many people she’d supported during the early months of the pandemic.
Linda keeps her coin in a special wooden box along with other medals she’s been awarded throughout her volunteer career.
She was typically modest about the award, saying: “Everything I’ve done has been with the support and help of many other people. So this commemorative coin, although given to volunteers, is also for the staff members who have made it happen.”
"This is me - Linda speaking"
Linda currently volunteers with the British Red Cross’s National Support Line. She feels that giving her name goes a long way to building trust.
Past experience has taught her that some people are lonely and just want to talk. She finds herself chatting about anything and everything: the family they no longer see, their love of opera (Linda is a heavy metal fan herself) or their job.
On Christmas day in 2020, Linda spoke to one caller for three hours. “We talk about Christmas being a wonderful family time, but it's also a very bleak time for a lot of people – particularly that year.”
Other calls aren’t easy to forget. She knows that she saved the life of a man with diabetes who had a hypo while she was speaking to him. Later, the ambulance crew got in touch to thank Linda for her quick thinking.
Sixty-three years after the Red Cross helped them build a new life in Australia, how do Linda’s parents feel about the extraordinary way she’s given back?
“My parents brought me up with the idea that you have to give something back to your community,” says Linda.
“One of my first memories of volunteering is when I was 13, and I measured the long jump at a local paralympic-type event.
"So my parents are very pleased that I still volunteer. I think it makes them very proud.”
Give volunteering a go
If you’d like to support your local community, we need volunteers nationwide. Just search for roles near you.
You might also like...
Emergencies in the UK
We respond to an emergency in the UK every four hours. People are at the heart of what we do. If you’re inspired by what you’re reading on Stories, please consider donating to make sure we’re ready to spring into action.Donate