Thursday, 4 August 2016

A tale of two Donalds

On 9 June 1888, Annie Macleod, living in the village of Knock, Point (in Lewis), gave birth to another child, Donald. He was the sixth, and not the last child. Two more followed, and by the start of 1894, eight children, varying in ages from 1 to 15 years, crowded into the dwelling. It drove the father, Hector, to distraction, to such an extent that he ended his life in September that year. Three months later, Annie also passed away.

The eight youngsters were taken into the care of the Quarrier Homes in Glasgow, and emigrated to Canada two years later.

Donald signed up for the Canadian Expeditionary Force at Calgary in October 1914, and was injured during the Battle of the Somme. He was transferred to War Hospital at Napsbury, where he passed away on 4 August 1916, at 9.45pm.

Due to an error in the paperwork, his remains were transferred to Benbecula, rather than Lewis, and the next-of-kin notified. The next of kin was thought to be Alex Macleod of Gramsdale, but when Alex came to the quayside at Peter Port in Benbecula, he did not recognise the dead man as his son. Nobody came to claim the soldier's remains, so the authorities interred it at Nunton, Benbecula, after a week. Donald Macleod, son of Alex, was alive, also serving with the Canadian Forces, and under a service number that only differed from the Lewis man by one digit. The Benbecula Donald Macleod was 79119, the Lewis man was 79110. Donald Macleod, Gramsdale, lived until 1952.

It has taken a century for this mystery to be cleared up. This morning, three islanders stood by Donald's grave in Nunton Cemetery, and remembered his sacrifice. I did so from 64 miles away in Stornoway.

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