Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Harris sailors and the RNR in the 1930s

When trawling for tributes to those from the Western Isles who fell in the Second World War, I came across the story of Malcolm Macaskill, late of 24 Northton, Harris. He was one of several islanders (from Lewis and Harris) that were lost when the destroyer Exmouth was sunk off Wick on 21 January 1940.

Reading through the tribute to Malcolm in the Stornoway Gazette of 12 April 1940, it would appear that he was instrumental in bringing enlistment in the Royal Naval Reserve to the men of Harris. As the tribute states, sailors from Harris were debarred from joining the RNR on account of the fact that they were too far from a seaport. To those of us who know the islands well, this is ridiculous. Any point in Harris is not more than a mile or two from the sea - at the most. However, some bureaucrat in London must have thought that Leverburgh nor Tarbert qualified as a seaport, and that therefore the nearest seaport is Stornoway - at least 30 miles from any village in Harris. It took the intervention of a former MP to make the London penpushers see sense and allow the sailors of the southern part of the Long Island to take their rightful place in the defense of the realm.

Malcolm's tribute can be read here.

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