Christine Witcutt (1941-1993)

Until the Spring of 1993 Christine had taught schoolchildren in the small Scottish town of Wishaw, about 30 km from Glasgow. She and her husband Alan had brought up two children, Paul and July, then 20 and 18. Alan had been a coal miner and then the driver of a large mobile library bringing books to the outlying towns and villages. Both were staunch adherents of the Christadelphian Church. Neither had travelled much abroad, except for occasional holidays in France, and neither had been involved in national or international bodies concerned with politics, protest, or relief. But Christine in particular was very aware of events in the Balkans - her best friend Sheena had married a Muslim doctor from Kosovo who had been jailed, beaten and sacked from his hospital job by the Milosovic regime. In the latter half of 1992 the horrors of massacre, rape, concentration camps, ethnic cleansing and the siege of Sarajevo were constantly on view through the world’s television and newspapers.

When Edinburgh Direct Aid sought volunteers to drive convoys to Bosnia, Alan and Christine were amongst the first to come forward, and Alan’s licence to drive large trucks assured that they would be amongst the first chosen. In March 1993 they joined an EDA convoy to Travnik and Zenica, and were escorted to some dangerous and difficult places by British UNPROFOR based in Vitez. Far from deterring Christine, the experience of fire only reinforced her bravery and determination.

The June convoy to Sarajevo was Edinburgh Direct Aid’s third to reach the city through the checkpoints of the beseigers outside Kiseljak and on the airport road at Sarajevo. After being made to leave 1/3 of the load of the three trucks at a warehouse in Ilija (supposedly for the Serbian Red Cross) and an incident or two on the airport road the convoy reached Sarajevo safely. The arrival of an all-volunteer “private” aid convoy in Sarajevo was a rare event, and the EDA party were made much of by everyone they met. The aid went to the children’s wards at the Kosovo hospital and to families in extreme need selected by Maureen Cerkez (Maureen Lyons) of UNHCR’s social services. The last evening the party sat in the gathering dark on a balcony on one of the hilly streets of old Sarajevo watching the sunset and the flashes of the bombardment, while the great ex-footballer Risto Bukvic strummed his guitar and sang songs of love and death, of sadness and of hope.

Next day there was a police action by the Bosnian government to bring irregular forces in Sarajevo under its control. As a result clearance from UNHCR operations was late in coming, but at about midday the convoy was told that it was OK to proceed. On the last stretch of “snipers’ alley” before joining the airport road, a shot rang out from buildings in a disputed area on the left. Christine, although sitting between two others in the cab in the middle truck, was hit. Lifting her down from the cab in the shelter of a flyover bridge a little further down the road Alan and the other members of the convoy realised that she had suffered a fatal wound. A CNN van had stopped, and drove her straight back to the nearby French military hospital but to no avail: the bullet had severed a major artery and Christine was dead.

This terrible event might have been the end of Edinburgh Direct Aid: many wondered did we have the right to take people into such peril? The question was answered by Alan Witcutt, who after time to recover and reflect announced that he was going to redouble his efforts to seek donations of goods and money to send more convoys. He felt that this is what he had to do to be true to what Christine stood for, and to what her wishes would have been - that is, to forgive the attackers but to work ever harder to help those under attack.

Christine worked wholeheartedly at everything she did. As a teacher she brought out the best in children, especially those with learning difficulties. She loved music, and helped many of those she taught to share its joy. She loved the outdoors, and took her classes to the Highlands of Scotland to introduce them to hill-walking and camp-fires. She was dynamic and enthusiastic, efficient and conscientious. She worked hard both inside and outside the classroom to improve education in Scotland. All who knew her in Edinburgh Direct Aid remember her enthusiasm and willingness, her indomitable spirit and her wonderful smile. Her death brought great sadness. And of course underlined the seriousness of the risks run by the convoys, and the magnitude of the commitment required. Christine set an example of goodness, devotion, caring and courage which many others were stirred to follow.

The Opening of the Christine Witcutt Centre in Sarajevo is a tribute to Christine's life-long commitment to helping people, especially children and even more so those who are disadvantaged in life: with the help of contributions from people worldwide, the evil of her death will be translated into good.