Margaret Erskine, b. Alton, Hampshire, 31 July 1925; d. Elgin, 21 May 2006. Club: Birmingham Atalanta Ladies AC. Unheralded long jumper who became the first Scottish woman to compete at the Olympic Games.
MARGARET ERSKINE (LUCKAS)
By Fraser Clyne
When Elgin's Margaret Erskine set off for Birmingham in 1947 to take up a post with Cadbury's chocolate company at its Bournville factory, she could never have imagined she was on the cusp of becoming a Scottish athletics trail-blazer. She was 22 at the time and had spent the previous two years as a probationer teacher at Keith Grammar School after graduating from Dunfermline College of Physical Education, which had been relocated to Aberdeen for the duration of WW2. Less than a year after arriving in the Midlands, Erskine became the first Scottish female track and field athlete to compete in the Olympic Games, representing Great Britain in the long jump at London's Wembley Stadium in 1948.
Although she failed to reach the final, after clearing 5.14metres, it was still a proud moment and capped an impressive season. Erskine was selected after finishing second in that year's WAAA championships at the White City, clearing a personal best of 5.55 metres, a distance which remained a Scottish record until 1959 (although never recognised as such as performances outwith Scotland were never considered).
The following year she became the first Scot to win a WAAA title (5.37m) and she defended her crown in 1950 (5.45m) before taking bronze in 1951 (5.40m). Among her other accomplishments were a sixth-place finish (5.29m) at the 1950 European championships in Brussels and two more Great Britain representative outings (finishing second, 5.32m, against France and the Netherlands at the White City in 1949 and placing third, 5.25m, against France in Paris in 1950).
Erskine has perhaps flown under the radar in Scotland, both then and now, because her successes came when she was based in the Midlands where she won a number of long jump and sprint titles.
She appeared to have enjoyed her time with Cadbury's. The company provided a wide range of leisure and recreational activities for its employees and Erskine was based in the Physical Training Department. She competed for the company team, Bournville Works Girls Athletic Club, and for Birmingham Atalanta AC.
Erskine showed talent in a variety of sports including netball, squash and tennis. She was also praised by Cadbury's for the Scottish country dancing displays she produced. Her son David, who now lives in the Assynt area, recalls that Cadbury's were very supportive of his mother's athletics career. He said: "They gave her time off to go to competitions and even built a long jump pit for her to use at Bournville. She was involved in many sports activities and sometimes took the factory girls away on trips throughout Britain and even overseas."
Luckas revealed that his mother was born in Hampshire where her father, a Fifer, was based with the Black Watch. She was an infant when the family moved to Moray,firstly to Lossiemouth then Elgin. She was a sports champion at Elgin Academy and continued her interest at college in Aberdeen before heading south.
Erskine appears to have retired from competing just before her marriage, in 1953, to childhood sweetheart Stanley Luckas who lived in the same street as her in Elgin when they were at school. She left Cadbury's at the same time. Stanley, a doctor, died in 1963, aged 36, when he was working with an electric drill in the house they had just moved into in Yorkshire. The wiring was faulty and he was electrocuted.
It was a devastating tragedy as the couple had two young children at the time, David and Jennifer. They moved back to Elgin where her parents and extended family could offer support. Erskine subsequently worked as a peripatetic PE teacher covering primary schools across the Moray area. She died in 2006, aged 80.
Elgin's Margaret Erskine was privileged during her successful athletics career, to compete against Fanny Blankers-Koen who was widely considered to be the greatest female athlete of the 20th Century. Blankers-Koen, from the Netherlands, was the undoubted star of the 1948 London Olympic Games, winning gold medals in the 100m, 200m,80m hurdles and 4x100m relay. She was also a world-record holder for the long jump, the event in which Erskine represented Great Britain at the Games, but the Dutch woman couldn't fit that into her busy schedule.
However,Blankers-Koen and Erskine did go head-to-head in early summer 1950, competing in the 100 yards at the Coventry Godiva sports. The Olympic champion was in outstanding form, equalling her British all-comers record when posting a time of 11.9secs, while Erskine finished third.
A couple of months later they were both on duty at the European championships in Brussels where Blankers-Koen pocketed another three gold medals - in the 100m, 200m and 80m hurdles. She also earned silver in the 4x100m. Erskine was sixth in the long jump. They weren't to meet again until both travelled to London in 1998 for a 50th anniversary reunion of athletes who competed at the 1948 Olympics.
Blankers-Koen was without question a remarkable athlete. Her quadruple success at the first post-war Olympics is credited with helping promote more widespread participation by women in sport. She was 30 years-old at the time and a mother of two, earning her the nickname of 'The Flying Housewife.'
Margaret Erskine, Scotland's first track and field female Olympian, shared her experiences of the 1948 London Games with her colleagues at the Cadbury's factory. The Elgin athlete gave a talk to the company's girls athletics club, extracts from which were published in the Bournville Works Magazine. She recalled how the white berets issued as part of the team uniform, were envied by competitors from many other countries.
Erskine said: "The Americans, particularly, were willing to exchange all sorts of things - even nylons and cameras - for our berets, but we wouldn't part with them for anything." However, she admits the team tracksuits were less impressive: "those shapeless garments... we came to the conclusion that they had all been made the same size, probably to fit Alan Paterson, the 6ft 6in high jumper, or Moody, one of the discus throwers, who was about three times as big as any of us."
She also recalled how, despite rationing still being in place in post-war Britain, the food offered to athletes was "excellent." Erskine said:"On the day of our competition we could have whatever we liked to eat. Although some of the girls survived on fish and boiled eggs, most of us preferred a big juicy steak. We had a double sweet ration."
She spoke of how her room-mate, Dorothy Tyler, introduced her and her team-mates to many of the overseas competitors, including Fanny Blankers-Koen, the renowned Dutch athlete who would go on to win four gold medals.
Erskine also vividly described the excitement of the opening ceremony. "I could never convey adequately the thrill of entering the arena, with the cheering reaching a crescendo as the British people welcomed their own team."
©Fraser Clyne 2021
** Grateful thanks to Margaret’s son, David Luckas, and to the staff at the Cadbury Archive, Mondelēz International (especially Sarah Welch) for assisting with the preparation of this article and for permission to use the photos. Thanks also to Arnold Black (Scottish Association of Track Statisticians) for informing me that Margaret was the first Scottish female Olympian, and for supplying additional details.
|100 metres||12.5||Birmingham||12 June 1950|
|Long jump||5.55||Chiswick, London||26 June 1948|
|1948||18' 2.75"/5.55||1949||17' 10"/5.43||1950||17' 10.75"/5.45|
|Long jump||5.37||White City, London||9 July 1949|
|Long jump||5.45||White City, London||8 July 1950|
|Long jump||5.55||Chiswick, London||26 June 1948|
|Long jump||5.40||White City, London||7 July 1951|
|1948||Long jump||20, qual||5.14||London, GBR|
|1950||Long jump||6||5.29||Brussels, BEL|
|GREAT BRITAIN & NORTHERN IRELAND INTERNATIONAL APPEARANCES (4)|
|1948||Olympic Games||Long jump||20, qual||5.14|
|1949||France & Netherlands||Long jump||2||5.32|
|1950||European Championships||Long jump||6||5.29|
|SCOTTISH BEST PERFORMANCE|
|Long jump||5.55||Chiswick, London||26 Jun 1948||16 Jun 1959|