Joan Capp obituary

Other lives: Nurse who dedicated her retirement years to helping the needy in poor and war-torn countries

My friend Joan Capp, who has died aged 89, was a passionate advocate of peace and justice for the poor, who raised and personally delivered thousands of pounds’ worth of humanitarian aid to more than a dozen countries, from Bosnia and Romania to Pakistan and Uganda.

I first spoke to her in 1996 when, having seen a TV report of mine about a devastated care home in the war-torn Chechen capital, Grozny, she contacted me to find out how she could help. Despite my advice that travelling there was highly dangerous, she filled a 40-tonne truck with blankets, bedding, food, heaters and other equipment, and set off in the passenger seat, with two drivers, to deliver it.

After a hair-raising journey across Europe, sleeping at night in the cab, she made sure that she personally handed over the goods to the Chechen woman who was in charge of the home. It took my breath away to imagine this frail-looking, white-haired pensioner wagging her finger at Kalashnikov-wielding thugs at checkpoints, refusing to take no for an answer. I called her the Angel of Grozny.

Joan was born in Prestwich in Greater Manchester, to Rosetta (nee Band) and her husband, Walter Bolton, a mechanical engineer. Joan’s schooling was limited, as she had to care for her ailing parents from the age of 12, after which she became a nurse at 17, first at Salford Royal hospital, then later as a district and surgery nurse in the village of Bootle in Cumbria. She worked there until she retired in 1987 and then immediately became involved in local charity work. But it was the televised wars of the 1990s, in former Yugoslavia and Chechnya, that sparked what became the defining mission of her later life. “I couldn’t bear to see people being evacuated from their homes,” she said. “I had to do something.”

Untrusting of established charities, which she suspected of being inefficient and bureaucratic, she set herself up in effect as a one-woman humanitarian aid agency. With a friend she founded Bootle Refugee Aid Cumbria UK and made her first aid trips to Croatia in 1992.

Her mission to help the needy became an obsession. Even in her later years, when she was blind and debilitated by illness, she would call me to tell me about her plans. In the darkness of her final months she wrote songs about peace, dedicated to the children of Mostar, Bosnia, whom she had met and helped 30 years before.

Joan was appointed MBE in 2012. Her husband, Alan Capp, a Ministry of Defence employee, whom she married in 1952, died in 2005. She is survived by their two daughters, Deborah and Linda.


Angus Roxburgh

The GuardianTramp

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