Tuesday, 31 December 2013

95 years ago today - 23:59

The year 1918 is drawing to a close and Big Ben in London is about to start striking the midnight hour. Six hundred miles to the north, HMY Iolaire is ploughing her way north through the Minch, passing between Raasay, Rona and the Scottish mainland. The weather, which had been reasonable upon departure from Kyle, is turning increasingly windy. A heavy swell is beginning to rise in response to the strong southerly wind. The lighthouses, which serve as reference points for mariners in the Minch, blink their messages to Iolaire. Milaid, on the rocky cliffs near Kebock Head; Rona; Tiumpan Head on the eastern extremity of the Point Peninsula; and Arnish, near the entrance to Stornoway Harbour.

In dozens of houses in Lewis, glasses are charged to the New Year. The last year of war is ending.
Dry clothes are draped over beds, a stew is heating over the fire. In the blackhouses in Ness, and the town houses of Stornoway. A kettle is at the ready on the stove. A plate, cutlery and cups on the table. From Eoropie to Brenish, from Lemreway to North Tolsta, and between Manor Park and Newton, the same scene is repeated over and over. Only two hours to go, the boat won't make Hogmanay. But it does not really matter, the boys will be home soon.

The clock strikes midnight. It is 1919. 

To be continued

95 years ago tonight

It is Hogmanay 1918, and the war has been over for seven weeks. Survivors from the Western Front and the war at sea are flocking home. As are hundreds of sailors from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Three trains pull into the harbourside station at Kyle of Lochalsh, and hundreds pour onto the platform and adjoining quayside to join a ferry home. The Skye men can take the short hop to Kyleakin, or join the steamer north to Portree. The sailors and soldiers from the Outer Hebrides have a longer journey ahead of them.

The mailsteamer for Stornoway, the Sheila is alongside at Kyle, but it very rapidly becomes clear that she has nowhere near enough space to accommodate the hundreds that want to go home to Lewis and Harris. So, a cable is sent to the naval base at Stornoway, and Rear Admiral Boyle sends HMY Iolaire to Kyle to relieve the congestion. Iolaire, the former private steamyacht Amalthea arrives in the early evening, bumping into the pier as she docks.

A disorganised scramble occurs, where the throng of men divides between the Sheila and the Iolaire. No record is kept as to who goes on board which vessel. Some start off by boarding the Iolaire, then switch to the Sheila. Others do the reverse swap. Finally, at half past seven, Iolaire casts off and heads north. The Sheila follows suit in short order.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Second World War casualties from the Southern Isles

Completed the WW2 listings from the Southern Isles.

Barra & Vatersay: 55 (51 served in the Merchant Navy).
Benbecula: 6
Berneray: 4
Eriskay: 5
Grimsay: 3
Harris: 62
North Uist: 30
South Uist: 41
Total: 211 (there is a degree of cross-over between the islands)

1939: 4
1940: 44
1941: 36
1942: 25
1943: 19
1944: 20
1945: 11
and 4 died in 1946 and 1947
There are 48 casualties on whom I have very little information.

Of the 211 casualties:
121 were in the Merchant Navy
55 were in the Army, of whom 28 in the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders
13 in the RAF
19 in the Royal Navy or Royal Naval Reserves
4 were women

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Connecting Uist and Barra

I am currently researching the WW2 casualties from North Uist, but one query left me puzzled.

The North Uist war memorial refers to F/Sgt Donald C Maclean, RAF, late of Lochmaddy, who was lost in WW2. However, when I pass his details through CWGC, it would appear that he was the son of John MacLean, and of Margaret MacLean, of Castlebay, Isle of Barra. The Barra & Vatersay war memorial at Nasg, however, does not mention him.

Last known address in North Uist: Lochmaddy
Son of John MacLean, and of Margaret MacLean, of Castlebay, Isle of Barra.
Service unit: 279 Sqdn, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve
Service number: 1571094
Date of death: 7 November 1945 at the age of 21
Memorial: Runnymede Memorial
Local memorial: North Uist

Who will describe my delight when my posting on a Barra genealogy page yielded this reply from his niece Fiona:

He was my uncle although I never met my Uncle Donnie. The family lived in Lochmaddy, my grandfather John Maclean was from North Uist and he was the postmaster in Lochmaddy. My grandmother Margaret Maclean nee Macfadyen was from Barra. The family home was in Borve, my grandmother came back to Barra after my grandfather died which was about a year after Donnie went missing. I have the telegram (I think) the information my mother, Anne Maclean, gave me was the Lancaster bomber that Donnie was in went missing over the North Sea ( they flew from Teesside ) no wreckage or bodies were ever found, my grandfather died of a broken heart Mum used to say. My nanna is buried on Barra - John and Donnie are mentioned on her headstone.