Rachel Buchanan MBE

WW2 Nurse, a mother, a campaigner for people with learning disabilities
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Rachel McInness was born in Cardross on the 20th September 1915, to Donald and Margaret McInness, and educated at Cardross Primary and Hermitage School, Rachel went on to travel the world — and to change it.

Rachel began her nursing career in the 1930s with fever training at Belvedere Hospital, before general training at the Western Infirmary and midwifery in Perth. She joined the Queen Alexandria Nursing Service in 1944 and after serving in India she was one of the first nurses to enter a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Singapore.

She was one of the few witnesses to the surrender of Japanese war Generals to Lord Mountbatten. In her time in Singapore, she must have seen terrible things, but she rarely spoke of it, except to say that she went to a lot of dances and chased doctors.

In 1950, Rachel was married to William Buchanan. They went on to have four children: Mairi, Douglas, Donny and Robert. It was the birth of Donny, who has learning disabilities, in 1956 that had perhaps the most profound effect. Rachel, Donny and William joined the Dumbarton branch of the Scottish Society for the Mentally Handicapped, which later became ENABLE Scotland. They soon realised more had to be done locally and became founding members of the Helensburgh branch.

Rachel’s contribution to ENABLE Scotland and to people with learning disabilities across Scotland was legendary. She was a true pioneer who went out of her way to support others in similar circumstances. It was Rachel’s ability to enthuse others that really made a difference. She was involved in a range of groundbreaking projects, from the Stewart Home — the first respite home for children and adults with learning disabilities in Scotland — to daytime provision for children with significant needs, shared holidays and community housing.

She was awarded an MBE in 1986 for her work with ENABLE Scotland, but true to form, she insisted the honour should be for everyone involved at her local branch in Helensburgh, not for her as an individual.

Rachel died on the 25th May 2008.


This biography was taken from an appreciation of Rachel’s life by Norman Dunning, Chief Executive of ENABLE Scotland, and Professor Andrew Jahoda, ENABLE Scotland member.