Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Face from the Lewis War Memorial

This is Private MURDO MACKAY

Murdo last lived in Lewis at 2 Achmore,
He was the son of Norman and Catherine MackayHe served in 1st Battallion, Cameron HighlandersService no: 3/5432He died on 22 December 1914RIPHe is remembered on the memorial at Le Touret, on panels 41 and 42His name is mentioned on the Lewis War Memorial, under Lochs on plaque 1
Murdo Mackay is a casualty of the First World War. His name ranks amongst about 1,200 on the Lewis War Memorial, which stands just north of Stornoway, on a prominent hill - you can’t miss it when you enter the town from another part of the island.

When the Great War broke out, some 6,000 islanders entered service with His Majesty’s Armed Forces. That is every second man. One out of every five or six who joined up made the ultimate sacrifice. They were lost in the mud of the trenches, to the U-boats or in the heat of the Arabian desert of what is now Iraq. Another two hundred were lost at a stroke when the Admiralty Yacht “Iolaire” foundered on the Beasts of Holm on 1 January 1919, the third worst maritime disaster in peacetime in the 20th century.

Faces from the War Memorial“ shows the casualties from the Great War, who originated from Lewis, with a portrait where available. Work is still in progress, and about half of the 400 portraits currently available still need to be incorporated. Additional details are also still being compiled. A claim to completeness cannot be made. A list of maritime casualties is available until the end of this week at the Maritime Exhibition in Stornoway Town Hall. I have been advised that army casualties are not possible to totally verify, as some have fallen unbeknown but unto God.

The “Faces” project was compiled from Loyal Lewis, Roll of Honour 1914-18, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and with help from Stornoway Historical Society and allied researchers.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

This statue, entitled Exiles, was unveiled by First Minister Alex Salmond yesterday, at Helmsdale on the east Sutherland coast. It shows a family, leaving their homes for a new life overseas. Helmsdale lies at the mouth of the Strath of Kildonan, one of many valleys in Sutherland cleared of their residents in the 19th century. The full background story can be read here.

Whilst I applaud the efforts of Mr Macleod (who initiated the project) to keep the memory of the Clearances alive, I somehow find the positive gloss being cast on this appalling episode in Scotland’s history very, very difficult to stomach. Particularly, bearing in mind Mr Salmond’s political hue, I would have expected to hear rather stronger language than “deplorable”.

Thousands of people were forced by means fair and foul to leave their homes - the practice of burning the thatch over people’s heads is well documented. The Isle of Skye, 35 miles south of here, has been the scene of some atrocious evictions. Late last year, the assertion was being made that the Isle of Lewis had suffered relatively lightly under the Clearances. Well, I couldn’t disagree more.

The below map shows the district of Eishken and the 27 villages which used to be there until 1820.

They were all cleared, mostly to other places within Lewis. But still a forcible eviction.
I agree that the people who were cleared out of northern Scotland did make a contribution in the areas where they settled. But I think it is a stinging indictment that their contribution was not appreciated in their homecountry, and I am waiting for the First Minister to say something about that too.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Gloup Disaster

I was listening to a program on BBC Scotland about the Gloup Disaster. This occurred on 20 July 1881, and claimed the lives of 36 fishermen from the Isle of Yell in Shetland. As the 126th anniversary is coming up, I would like to dedicate this entry to their memory. Although I am obviously blogging from Lewis, the theme is common to many island communities.

Following a period of bad weather, a clearance prompted the fishermen of Gloup to take to the fishing grounds, 40 miles out to the west. Unbeknown to them, a summer storm raced towards Shetland and fell ont hem with hurricane force winds. Many boats were found overturned with no sign of life.

Fifty-eight fishermen drowned, 36 of whom came from Gloup. They left 34 widows and 85 orphans.