Garstang midwife’s book forged out of friendship

Elizabeth Swarbrick set up midwifery training at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary
Elizabeth Swarbrick set up midwifery training at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary

Midwife Elizabeth Swarbrick has enjoyed a life full of new beginnings.

Obviously, she’s brought a fair few babies into the world.

But Elizabeth can also claim credit for setting up midwifery training at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary,being the first matron of St Catherine’s Hospice in Lostock Hall in 1984, and playing a key part in an education programme tackling HIV and AIDS in Africa.

Her latest baby is a book she’s released about the life of her friend, Ugandan Bishop Gerresom Ilukor.

Elizabeth, who lives in Garstang, first went to Uganda in 1970 as a newly-qualified midwife. She was one of a team of eight from the Anglican Church Missionary Society working at Ngora Hospital, a Church of Uganda facility in the Teso District.

She said: “I expected it to be bush land but we had running water, electricity, reasonable facilities. We didn’t have incubators but we had oxygen and everything we did was to a good standard. There’s nothing really primitive about their culture; it’s all at the correct standards.”

Elizabeth, now 70, first met Bishop Gerresom Ilukor when she was taking her Ugandan language exams. She said: “When I was doing my language studies Gerresom was the diocesan treasurer and I used to sit on the doorstep of his office and we got to know one another.”

But in 1976, Elizabeth was removed from the country because of political unrest under the dictatorship of Idi Amin. She returned home and began midwifery work in Lancaster but did not lose touch with her Ugandan friends.

In 1984, around the same time she was helping to set up St Catherine’s Hospice, she was invited to return and has been involved in medical and education work ever since, during visits of up to three months at a time.

She said: “I feel fully accepted by the community in Uganda, it’s very special.”

Elizabeth’s friendship with Bishop Gerresom Ilukor developed further during her regular visits, and when insurgents started carrying out attacks in the late 80s and early 90s, he made sure that she remained safe.

She said: “At that time it really wasn’t safe to travel in the area. There were only two vehicles that neither the insurgents would fire on – the hospital vehicle and the Bishop’s. I used to travel on the hospital vehicle and the Bishop lent me the use of his as well.”

On a trip to Uganda, helping with community education work, Elizabeth decided that she wanted to write a book about the Bishop’s life and tentatively asked him for permission.

She said: “He was a very humble man who had gone back to live in poverty after he retired. When I asked him if I could write about his life he said no and then after a while he gave me what he’d written down about his experiences.”

Elizabeth quickly scrambled to find a friend’s laptop to start typing up the notes into a book form and asked the bishop to look over her progress.

Sadly, Bishop Gerresom Ilukor died two weeks after Elizabeth’s return to the UK, after being bitten by a cobra while he went to get millet from a storeroom for the needy.

To honour his memory, Elizabeth continued to type up his life story, and with the help of his family and a Ugandan scholar, has completed the work which is now available online.

lFor information about Elizabeth’s book – priced £5 – visit or email info@