Community paper for Mallaig, Morar, Arisaig, Lochailort, Glenfinnan
Glenuig, Knoydart and the Small Isles
List of Issues online
September 2003 Issue
Contents of the online version:
Spanish John II rescuing the unit, Coruisk in the background. Photo courtesy of Zander Mathieson.
Three weeks after the new Skye ferry Coruisk was named in a ceremony in Armadale, the service is still beset by problems. After an accident to the propulsion unit, the vessel has returned to the Clyde for repairs, with stand-in ferries supplying the crossings.
To add to the disappointment, the incident left the area struggling with inadequate services over the busy August Bank Holiday period, with the people of Mull and Ardnamurchan adding their voices to the complaints as their ferries from Lochaline and Kilchoan were drafted in to help.
It was inevitable that Caledonian MacBrayne, courtesy of its new £7.5 million car ferry Coruisk would make the front page of West Word in what should have been a time for celebration and achievement turned into a time of confusion and disappointment.
A big problem! Coruisk’s damaged propulsion unit. Photo courtesy of Zander Mathieson.
‘Disappointment over the incident which made media headlines in the national press when on Saturday 24th August the Coruisk, just ten days after the naming ceremony carried out by Baroness Michie, lost power at the entrance to Mallaig Harbour causing her to strike rocks on the East bay shore. This knocked off the vessel’s propulsion unit and although the vessel made it safely to its berth on its other engine, the prop was clearly visible on the shoreline at low water.
The unit was subsequently recovered by divers from Oban and, via the assistance of the Spanish John II and Forth Construction, it was lifted on board the stricken Coruisk prior to its journey south to the Clyde for investigation, inspection and repair. This journey was undertaken when the Coruisk, accompanied by a tug, set sail for the Clyde on the morning of Friday 29th. August.
However, in the time between the incident occurring (Sunday 24th) and a replacement vessel being put on, the Skye Ferry service by CalMac (Wednesday 27th ), is when the confusion and resentment felt by members of the public and local tourist businesses kicked in and CalMac suffered criticism for the apparent lack of a proper back-up and continuity plan, and delay in the provision of a replacement vessel.
During the time that the Coruisk was off service, a limited passenger-only service to Skye was carried out by the Lochnevis, the Western Isles and the Grimsay Isle.
A replacement ferry, the Loch Fyne, eventually re-established the vehicle service between Mallaig and Armadale on Wednesday 27th August until it was replaced by the old but faithful Pioneer on Tuesday 2nd September.
Incidentally, the resultant oil spill that occurred when the Coruisk hit the shore was dealt with, very effectively, by the Harbour Master, Mr James McLean, and his team, who worked tirelessly and successfully to contain then clean up the spillage.
Mishnish racing for the finishing line
Seen on the left are the winners of the Most Imaginative Raft, Maid 2 Win, Maggie Kane (left) and Lorraine Crawley, receiving their prize from Mrs Helen Lamb.
Stewart Robertson won the dinghy race in a Laser, against opposition from a second Laser, a Wayfarer and a Topper. And in the raft-face, there were no less than nine entries, with the winning spot going to Highway Patrol and the most imaginative prize falling to Maid 2 Win under the command of two local ‘witches’.
In the offshore racing, meanwhile, Mishnish won the Bluewater Challenge Cup and the Arisaig Marine Trophy. Merrydancer of Glenuig won the Barr Construction Quaich and the Traigh Trophy for best local yacht.
Model Exhibition a draw in the Astley Hall
Photo courtesy of Iain Ferguson, The Write Image
POOL GALA DAY
After a rather wet week the sun shone down on Mallaig’s pier just in time for Mallaig and District Swimming Pool’s annual fundraising gala day on the 23rd. August. The Gala day’s aim was to raise funds for the Pool but also to provide a great community family fun day with entertaining stalls, sales of baking, books and bric a brac, a fantastic wheel of fortune, BBQ and displays from the emergency services. There was a great crowd of people having fun and spending heartily making the gala day a huge success and bringing in a grand total of £2 900.
One of the most memorable events of the day was the Staff “gunging”. People had the opportunity to put money into the staff’s collection boxes if they wanted to see a particular member of staff “gunged”. Third was Catherine McDonell who had water and ribena showered over her and second was Sarah Boyes who had a more substantial liquid and rice crispies put over her. Both were “Gunged” by Cathy Grant who won the pleasure with the highest bid. First was Sharon MacFaull who had everything from cold soup to tomato sauce slowly and agonisingly dripped over her by Stephen MacDonald. The event was taken in the fun spirit that it was intended and raised over £400.00. A big thank you to Louise Coull for organising the Gunging.
On that note the staff of Mallaig and District swimming pool would like to thank Pimmy for use of the Fish market and Pier, Johnston’s for the Hire of the inflatables, The people of the emergency service and Police for their fantastic displays, everybody who donated items for the wheel of fortune and stalls and those who helped on the stalls. Catherine and Pam would also like to thank the staff for all their hard work in helping to put together such an efficient and fun day out.
Catherine - and Sonia - busy at the BBQ
ISLE OF RUM
It looks like lots of you have been following BBC’s Restoration programme, because we found out last night (Tues 2nd Sept) that Kinloch Castle has made it through to the finals. For those of you who haven’t seen it, Restoration consists of two very posh people (including a chap whose parents cruelly named him Ptolemy) who wander round dilapidated piles and say “amaaaaazing!” a lot. Each programme looks at three buildings, and the public has to ring in and vote for the one they like best, the winner going on to the grand final in London. The winner of that receives up to £3 million pounds to help in restoring the building to its former glory.
So, a huge thank you to all of you who have voted so far, and PLEASE could as many people as possible vote in the finals on Sunday 14th September. There is a dedicated phone line for registering your vote for Kinloch Castle - 09010 775 007 – calls cost a maximum of 30p and if you’re really keen you can vote as many times as you like.
Anyone who has been round Kinloch Castle knows it is a unique time capsule of Edwardian opulence, an extraordinary glimpse of how the privileged few lived only a couple of generations ago. However, time is running out – the building is suffering badly from damp, dry rot and water penetration, and if we cannot restore it in the next few years there is no doubt that this fabulous building will go into terminal decline.
If you want your children and grandchildren to have the opportunity to experience the weird and wonderful world of Kinloch Castle for themselves, please phone in your support – it is probably the best chance for survival it will ever have!
A very brief update on other news: Mandy Ketchin from Muck has been doing brilliant work collating all the results from the workshops that were held here earlier in the year. The first draft of the Rum Village Plan is almost ready – this will hopefully be the catalyst for the long awaited community development actually starting here. And up on the slopes of Hallival it is battle of the film crews, as groups from France and Australia compete to see who can be the first to film a red deer eating a Manx Shearwater. Bon chance, cobbers – you’ll need it!
The new surgery is taking shape at last, with a building appearing practically overnight. It fits very neatly under the hillock beside the swing park.
It’s good news that ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ - or whatever it’s going to be called - is under way again, it’s been a miss in the village this summer. Certainly by Father Donald! But no-one’s going to miss it now it’s been painted yellow and lilac….
The McCalmans made a welcome sell-out return to the Astley Hall. Since it’s almost an anachronism and since I feel you’re probably fed up of me banging on about the Hall or the Centre every month I thought I’d just fill up the rest of my space with the words of their famous local song! Not guaranteed to bring visitors rushing in though is it….
Toby and Katherine Robinson of Doune on Knoydart have a two year old autistic son, Coll.
The remoteness of where they live means that they are unable to access much help from Health or Education services, but they are valiantly following the Son-Rise Autism treatment programme to give Coll the best chance he has to live with the condition.
Here is the chance in a lifetime for volunteers to take part in an exciting if tiring programme (hence the need for volunteers) which can really benefit autistic children, and to enjoy a sample of life in the peace and beauty of the last wilderness of the United Kingdom.
If not you, maybe you know someone who would be delighted to take up this challenge.
Toby and Katherine are well known for their ceilidh-cruising boat, Eda Fransen, and the Ark, the boat they lived in before they built their house.
Enthusiastic Volunteers Needed
Well, I knew it was going to happen. You're entrusted with doing a write-up of everything that happened at the Games, and you go and forget….Te Pooka. These guys were fantastic, entertaining (confusing?) people during the day by wandering around on stilts, or by simply standing in the middle of the field doing nothing (sounds like some people we know). At night they came alive as pyromaniacal juggling performers, taking great delight in setting fire to things to a rhythmic beat emanating from the nearby marquee. Again, sounds like someone we know - when is the next rubbish burning day, so we can all re-enact the experience?
Not only did I forget our fire-breathing friends, I also neglected to mention the sponsors of our hugely popular raffle in aid of Village Hall funds. They were (in absolutely no order at all): Johnstons, Travis Perkins, Highland Industrial Supplies, Cromag, the Pharmacy, Harbour Shop, Cornerstone Café, Spar, Co-op, Got-It, Ross Clark Salon, Mallaig Toys and Gifts, Keith Peel, Eclipse, Eunice Lord, and Tommy McManmon. Although I'm not sure how grateful someone out there is for my slightly second-hand glass chess set. The winning numbers were drawn by Ina Tarr.
Nine brave souls ventured out to St Kilda this month with the honourable Doctor Mark Woombs and his RIB. Possibly the first time anyone has travelled from the mainland to St Kilda in such a craft, the trip proved an exciting challenge - especially when trying to cling on up at the bows! The island was reached in under 5 hours, and proved a fascinating destination, with locals almost as bizarrely varied as our own. The Puff Inn was open for restricted hours only (the barman was on a "work to rule" policy as the drinks were too cheap). The aforementioned locals - easily divided into three camps: Missile Watchers, National Trust Volunteers, and "Sheepies" (monitors of native Soay sheep) - lost no time in downing their favourite drink, "Vomto", consisting of Blue WKD mixed with a double Port. For once, the Knoydartians found it hard to keep up, and were surprisingly reluctant to dance on the pool table, even once invited. Such exertions meant sound sleepers in the camp-site that night.
We did actually look round the island and environs, and were suitably awe-struck by the sheer size of nearby sea-stacks routinely climbed by the St Kildans for their gannet and fulmar supplies, right up until evacuation. The main island, Hirta, also proved fascinating, dotted as it is with thousands of "cleits" - small dry-stane constructions with turf roofs, used to dry meat, straw and anything else that required preserving.
The return journey proved slightly more uncomfortable than the outward one, and included an unglamorous stop in the township of Leverburgh on Harris - not, shall we say, quite as beautiful as St Kilda (although no doubt with its own attractions, before we start getting complaining letters from the Western Isles). You can read more about the epic in the Scotsman online - I take no responsibility for any factual errors, Dr Woombs.
We have a young lad here on Knoydart you may have already read about in the dailies. Coll Robinson, 2, is autistic, and many people in Knoydart are fundraising on his behalf in order to provide him with a specialised treatment program. On Saturday 27th September, two events are taking place. There will be a sponsored run of all three Munroes in Knoydart - Ladhar Bheinn, Luinne Bheinn and Meall Buidhe (participants: Drew Harris, Toby Robinson, Iain Fleming and Tommy McManmon). And, uniquely, a sponsored relay swim from Mallaig to Inverie (participants: Robert Beveridge, Sandy Sutherland, Grant Holroyd and Leon Harris). If you would like to sponsor either or both of these events, telephone Kath Robinson on 460147. Sponsor sheets may well be appearing in Mallaig in the very near future. You can find out more about Coll and his treatment at the following website: http://home.clara.net/joinerscroft/
Well, that's about it - except to let you know that the Campbells are laying well, and their eggs are lovely as long as they've been kept clean. Regular readers of this column should know what I'm wittering on about….
Our piece about Coll and the appeal for helpers (above) which appeared in last month’s issue was taken up by the national papers, with articles appearing in the Mail on Sunday, Sunday Mail, and the Sunday Post (two weeks running) as well as the Lochaber News. The Sunday Post reported ‘Huge Response to Sunday Post Appeal—the world wants to help little Coll break his silence.’
Katherine and Toby Robinson have received hundreds of e-mails from all over the world—even from Mother Teresa’s mission in Calcutta—with messages of support and offers of help. So many have been received that Kathleen has been re-directing people to the Son-Rise website in the hope that some can help families nearer to where they live.
The treatment will cost an estimated £70,000 and fund-raising is starting on Knoydart - as Tommy details in his column overleaf.
Incidentally, the whole story began because Katherine contacted Voluntary Action Lochaber to ask if the advert could go onto their webpage. The call was taken by Ann Martin, who is also editor of West Word, and who asked if the story could be taken further.
Now watch to space for news of Coll and the ongoing fundraising.
ISLE OF MUCK
With three fine weeks out of four August has surpassed even last year’s superb weather and on some of the hotter days the beach at Gallanach resembled that of a popular holiday resort, such were the crowds. The Craft Shop was crowded too with patrons arriving by every type of sea transport. One couple arrived from Coll by jet ski and another from Ardnamurchan in a pedal boat.
And all the time work has continued on the slipway with scour protection high on the list of jobs carried out. Unlike CCG who were to have used bags filled with wet concrete which would have set on the seabed; Briggs have used mats made out of blocks linked by stainless steel wire. The perches at the entrance to Port Mor are in place each with a ladder, a platform and a solar lighting unit. It will be interesting to see how they cope with one of the world’s most hostile marine environments.
On the farm it has been hay making time. This month any farmer could have made hay and we did to the sum of 300 small and 130 big bales mostly without any serious rain. This is more than we can possibly use this winter and for the first time for many years there will be hay for sale.
The ‘organic’ rape is growing well, though not as strong as past crops where fertiliser has been applied.
The first lamb sale at Fort William was very encouraging . The best 60 Suffolk crosses were only beaten by Kilundine and made £39 each This was £3 more than last year.
ISLE OF EIGG
The August heat wave has brought some unusual sights to our shores: a tropical Sunfish spotted off Kildonnan point on August 17th, but in pretty bad shap unfortunately, 3 or 4 Basking Sharks – 2 of them over 20 ft long – cruising between Eigg and Muck (and checking out the Loch Nevis off Muck, much to the delight of her passengers), whilst less clement weather allowed many sightings of breaching Minke Whales (they seem to really enjoy playing with the waves!).
Paddling in Laig bay was a delight, as for once cold currents felt refreshing rather than freezing, and everyone certainly made the most of the warmth, with beach barbecues, football games and boules tournaments.
Sailing round the island in An Sulaire, was a real treat for youngsters and grown ups: courtesy of Kenny Morrison of An Sulaire Trust and his team, we all had a go at dipping the lug and tightening the sheets in Niseach style. The Sgoth Niseach is possibly the most labour intensive vessel I have ever been on, but it was great fun to sail with the crew on to Tiree, with its impossibly long, dazzling white beaches and unusual vernacular architecture: built on sand, bothies have extra thick walls over there. An Sulaire won the classic boat regatta there and a great evening followed at Scarinish Hotel where local musicians succeeded each other to play a tune on the box or the pipes: a tribute to the work of Feis Thiridh.
Meanwhile on Eigg, the islanders welcomed the newest island resident: born on July 29th in Inverness, baby Catriona Ann Millar is the daughter of Stuart Millar (aka Scruff) and Kathleen Smith, Katie and Dougie MacKinnon’s granddaughter. Katie and Dougie are delighted with the arrival of their 4th great grand-child! Great to see a new link in an old island family!
Thinking of the island babies and toddlers, schoolteacher Sarah Watson has successfully applied for new educational toys and will be opening the school to mothers, toddlers and babies twice a week, since the nursery has closed now that young Kathleen Robertson has joined the three older children in Primary school.
Pier wise, completion is now scheduled for mid October. The old pier is fully refurbished and looks great: a shellfish keep is due to be added at the bottom and stone walls have appeared here and there, helping to smarten up the pier area a great deal.
The team of summer volunteers helped tidy up the Lodge gardens further and carry out essential work in the forestry, with a gruelling 10 days under hot sunshine, ploughing through a mile of trackless high heather, to carry out the damming of the Blar Dubh bog which should restore it to its former glory within the 6 to 18 months.
It was Maggie Fyffe’s pleasurable duty to list these improvements amongst all the others carried out on Eigg for the last 6 years at the gathering marking the 10th anniversary of the Assynt Crofters buy-out. It was heart-warming to see the young generation in Assynt taking an active part in the proceedings: it certainly is a testimony to the success of community ownership of land when a remote rural area manages to retain such young, active and motivated population! As to the official speeches that followed, the same message was reiterated: this is a time of great opportunities for communities, and they should make the most of it. On a personal basis, I was also heartened to see manifest support for the self-help community network which I have been helping to promote for the last few years: watch this space to learn more about CLAN, the Community Land Action Network!
Birthdays: David Kirk was 18 on the 1st of August!
Coastal Ranger Report
What a month! Can you remember when the children last had a summer holiday with weather like that? Gee whiz! You have to be really sorry for the poor souls that went abroad and missed all these days that were verging on being too hot (certainly for working!) but just stayed within the realms of being perfect! Of course, we were not allowed to forget what should have been the “Glasgow Fair” weather as the wind and rain greeted the return to school, and the pessimistic panic “is this the winter started already?” brigade glowered at the clouds! But fret not, we will get what we deserve, won’t we??!! As I sit here typing this, with my racing brain seeming to clog somewhat, the sun is streaming through the window, the ideal precursor to the week before I go on holiday. Yes, don’t look so surprised! Why shouldn’t I try to catch a few rays before a weeks’ hard graft making a fool of myself on a golf course (it’s the annual pilgrimage to the “Heart of Down Tournament” in the Emerald Isle).
But business first! Has the Ranger earned his bread this past few weeks? Hard to say! Certainly there is no doubt that I did manage to entertain quite large numbers on the walks, but on the other hand, I did in fact (I think for the first time) actually completely cancel a walk because of bad weather. In these days of “Health and Safety” and the famous “Risk Assessments” I deemed it unsafe to walk on an exposed shore as the waves were driven by a wind which was trying hard to reach gale force, and the large raindrops were making my spectacle assisted vision pretty gruesome! On the bright side, I was able to pacify the punters by adding a non-programmed walk as soon as the weather improved, so hopefully they might still return next year!
Talking of visitors, wasn’t it great to see so many happy people gaily swimming in the sea at all the beaches! All the camp sites were full to capacity (at least!), and I don’t think I have ever seen so many tents pitched in unusual places as there were in the first couple of weeks in August. I am reliably informed that at one point there were thirty seven tents spread along the shore at Tougal, and it created quite a sight in the evenings as all the little fires glowed in the dark sending the lovely smell of wood smoke drifting round in a vain attempt at keeping the midges at bay!
It’s been a funny year for the fierce little brutes, I would say that on the whole we have been very lucky, as for long enough there was sufficient south-easterly breeze to beat them down, and of course we didn’t see them at full capacity earlier on in May and June as the weather then was fairly grim. Mind you, I would certainly admit that the nights that they have had the chance, they have been at real record breaking levels! with those that dared to move in the outdoors exuding a wonderful range of odours as the repellents vied with one and other for supremacy!
As the published walks programme draws to a close, I would just reiterate that should any of you fancy any particular walk out of “season”, please feel free to get in touch and state your preferences (one day, two day, three day, I’m flexible!!).
Finally, on a slightly sad note, do you remember I was quite excited last month at sighting a badger in the daytime? Sad to say, on doing the walk again, I discovered the same animal dead, very close to where I had first seen it. This would explain my previous sighting, as the poor animal must have been on it’s last legs to be found roaming in broad daylight. Seemingly a daylight sighting usually means that the animal is sick or is close to death (from old age). Ah well, you learn something every day.
I’m very impressed with all you people walking and cycling on the new cycle track, keep it up and keep healthy, - maybe I should try it too? Passing the Sept. walks list to the Ed. to print if she has room, but lists up in all the usual places anyway.
“In the Spirit of the Thing.”
We had just listened to the local inshore weather forecast broadcast by the Coastguard and were discussing various options for the next few days. Someone suggested that we pick up our vehicles and use them to transport our kayaks further up the coast. “No,” I retorted (far too sharply), “that’s not in the spirit of the thing!” A silence descended, whilst I thought to myself “Silly ass, what did you go and say that for?” Goodness only knows what the rest of the group were thinking, but it was probably a rude version of “Pedantic fool!” The moment passed; we made the necessary decision and moved on from the mutual embarrassment of the moment. Or so I thought... at every available opportunity in what was left of the week, I was asked (in the nicest possible way, of course) “Is that in the spirit of the thing, Roger?” Thus it was hardly surprising that in the long empty spaces, when I was paddling along, viewing the wonderful scenery and watching out for the waves, I got to thinking exactly what did I mean by “in the spirit of the thing.”
As a sea kayaker it becomes easy to fantasise about being Nanook of the North and to imagine hunting for seal amongst the Arctic ice. And yes, the reality is that we, like the Eskimo, pit our skills and stamina in paddling our small, narrow craft against the strength, and sometimes fury, of the sea. But beyond that the comparison rapidly breaks down. We are only too happy to accept all the technological advantages of modern materials: plastic or glass fibre in the place of wood frame and sealskin for our kayaks; carbon fibres and cranked shafted paddles rather than the straight, skinny bits of wood carved by hand into paddles and breathable, waterproof Goretex paddle jackets in the place of sealskin anoraks. Then there are the marvels of our lightweight tents: domes of aluminium poles and double skinned nylon, in the place of ice block igloos. Not for us raw seal meat: we are never adverse to the idea at stopping off at hostelries to sample good food and ale. On the other hand, we do travel prepared to fend for ourselves and, if push comes to shove, we have the means to support life and soul for getting on for a week all packed into our small craft. So what is acceptable and what is not? Just what was it that stimulated my peevish retort?
To go back to the beginnings of the trip, earlier in the year when it became clear that our chairman and his wife would be unable to join us for the club’s summer cruise, I was asked to assume sole responsibility for planning and leading a trip in the Inner Sound. This is the stretch of sea between the east coast of the Isle of Skye and the mainland, taking in the triangle from Kyle of Lochalsh to Portree and across to Gairloch, if you prefer. Although the club’s summer cruise was only in its third year, the tradition of loading up with all we need, launching our kayaks and heading off into the wilderness for a week seemed firmly established (in my mind, at least). But to collect a viable group for this year’s cruise it had been necessary to have very flexible plans, for only three paddlers could manage the whole seven days, whilst a further six wanted to join for part of the journey. Luckily, the mainland roads made it possible for us to drop off and pick up paddlers, always provided we could keep to a reasonably tight schedule. For those of us aiming to paddle the whole week, we had a journey which started and finished in Kyle. On the second day we would cross to, and camp on Rona. By the mid point we would paddle back to the mainland and north into Loch Gare. Finally, we would return to Kyle, via a detour into Loch Torridon. That was the plan. Whether we could carry it out would depend, above all else, on the weather.
Now although it may sometimes seem like it, we are not totally daft. If we get into trouble and get pinned down by the weather, we recognise that we may have to camp for a day or two to wait for calmer conditions. And we do know that at the end of the week we might need to collect our cars to enable us to pull out; or, alternatively, arrange or accept assistance from a power boat, where there are no roads. But until the decision to pull out becomes inevitable, we endeavour to complete a self sufficient journey under our own power, without the assistance of internal combustion engines, waiting, when necessary, for adverse weather to abate.
And this, it seems to me, is the spirit of the enterprise. Next month I’ll let you know how it all went.
A Little Genealogy by Allan MacDonald (email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
MacDougalls of Glen Nevis, Duisky and locally.
I was interested in this family because of my memories of Isabella and John MacDonald of Inverosie in Meoble; some family members can still be found in Morar and Fort William.
Isabella MacDougall was the third youngest of nine children, and after talking to Helen MacDonald, née Pringle, and with some input by Tearlach MacFarlane, the family was thus:
Dougald MacDougal was married to Mary Rankin, daughter of Allan Rankin and Isabella MacIntosh and they appear to have been living at some time in Glen Nevis.
Their children were:
John: b. 1884 in Kilmallie Parish, no other info.
Ann: b. Moidart 1855, was not married and lived in Ratagan.
Donald: b. Duisky 1887 was married with at least two children, Ian and Mary, and is thought to have been around Oban.
Margaret: b. 1889 Glen Nevis, was not married and moved to Rugby, thence to London.
Angus: b. 1891 Duisky, married Isabella MacPherson and moved to Invergarry. They had a son Allan and a daughter, Hughina, who married Duncan Stewart and ahd three children; Ian, Douglas and Ewen.
Allan: b.1893, no other info.
Isabella: b. 1897, married John ‘Inverosie’ who belonged to Moidart, son of ‘Raghnall Bàn, Iain Raoghall Iain’, to give him his patronymic. With the families’ consents, I will do an article on a future edition.
Christina: (Teenie) b. 1899. Married Roderick MacDonald of Bunacaimbe; there were no children of the marriage.
Catherine: b. 1901 Glen Nevis, married Willie Pringle. Their children were Marion, Helen and Chrissie. Marion married Michael Kane and had five children, Helen married Alan ‘Hetty’ MacDonald and had 2 children, and Chrissie married James MacDonald and had three children.
Mary Rankin was related to a family of Rankins who emigrated to Nova Scotia in themid 1800s, of whose descendants are the famous Rankin Singers who toured worldwide and who were in Fort William in the 1970s. Any more information on the Rankins would be appreciated: - did they have connections to Father Donald Rankin who encouraged 500 Moidart people to emigrate to Australia between 1852 and 1855 when he joined them as he had promised in earlier years. I think they were a Moidart family.
Does anyone know of any descendants of John or Allan MacDougall?
When Mary Rankin died in 1901, the three younger girls were taken to Achnahully in Arisaig and were raised by ‘Granny’ MacMillan, who was MacDougall by birth, and probably a close relative of Dougald.
The two older girls were off working by this time and the boys seem to have been raised in Duisky.
Corporal Charles Lyons M.M. & Bar, S-9937 (Lochiel’s) Cameron Highlanders (1891 - 1941)
(Over the next few months we will be serializing the life of Charlie Lyons as researched by Tony Leszczuk )
His Early Life to 1914
Charles Lyons was born in Possilpark, Glasgow, on 30th January 1891. It would appear that his early life was unsettled and probably, most unhappy. By 1901, he was not living with his own parents and, in the Census of that year, he is shown as the ‘adopted son’ of a family in Alloa.
Shortly after this, as a boy ‘boarded-out’ by Glasgow Corporation, his connection with Morar began. In the 1900s, Morar was a very small settlement in Inverness-shire, just south of Mallaig.
Charlie Lyons was a Roman Catholic and this would have helped him blend in to an area which, not having been greatly touched by the Reformation, was still strongly Catholic. He came to be referred to, by one and all, as ‘Charlie ‘ Lyons.
At some stage before 1914, he took up employment with the North British Railway Company as a ‘Railway Surfaceman’. This meant that he, with others, had responsibility for maintaining a length of line in the Morar area.
2) With Lochiel’s Camerons, August 1914 to May 1915
Charles Lyon responded quickly to the declaration of war against Germany, in August 1914. on 18th August, he attested at Inverness into the 5th (Lochiel’s) Battalion, Cameron Highlanders. At this time he is described at 5 feet 9 and three quarter inches tall, with blue-grey eyes and black hair: he was posted to ‘C’ Company. Thereafter, he became part of a proud battalion – though, as shall be seen, his early service with the 5th. Contains some less than impressive episodes.
By March 1915, the 5th Camerons were at Bordon Camp, preparing for active service. On 28th March, however, Private Charles Lyons was found to be ‘drunk and incapable’ in the Greyhound Public House, Guildford. For this offence, he was tried by the Civil Power the next day and fined ‘two shillings and sixpence.’
His battalion charged him with (also on the 28th) ‘urinating in a Public House Bar at 4.30 pm’, for which it deprived him of 7 days’ pay and sentenced him to 10 days confined to barracks. Whether this incident reflects an habitual problem with drink, or a reaction to a strict upbringing, can only be guessed at.
A month after the end of his 10 days’ C.B., he was heading for France…
3) Active Service — and a Court Martial. May 1915.
On 10th May 1915, as part of the 9th (Scottish) Division, the 5th Camerons - Private Lyons included - embarked at Folkestone and landed in Boulogne. The battalion marched in stages to Bailleul where Charles Lyons next fell foul of authority.
In his Soldiers’ Papers he is said, on 19th May, to be ‘awaiting trial’. On 21st May, he was tried by Field General Court Martial ‘for disobeying a lawful command given by his superior officer...’
The exact details of what he did or, more correctly, would not do - will never be known. However, what is beyond doubt is that, as a result, he was ‘sentenced to one year’s imprisonment with hard labour’. This sentence was confirmed and then ‘commuted to 3 months’ Field Punishment No.1’. There seems no doubt that his punishment was carried out and so, until 21st August 1915, he must have been tied to a wagon wheel or a post, for most of the day
It is impossible to know whether his offence elicited sympathy, or distaste, from the men of his battalion. By the time of his return to normal duty, however, preparations were underway for a major offensive...
4) The Battle of Loos. and a Victoria Cross Action— September 1915
In all, five battalions of the Cameron Highlanders took part in the disastrous Battle of Loos. The 5th Battalion attacked near Vermelles at 6.4O am on 25th September, with ‘C’ Company in the third line of advance. Little Willie trench, amongst other positions, was captured in the area of the Hohenzollern Redoubt. Casualties were heavy, though, amongst Lochiel’s men since ‘the whole line of advance was enfiladed by heavy machine gun and rifle fire’.
Charles Lyons survived this attack unwounded and the 5th Camerons were relieved the next day, 26th September.
However, on the morning of 27th September, a crisis began to develop. The Germans began to press determined bombing attacks, and artillery fire, against the Hohenzollern Redoubt and the 73rd Brigade, which was holding the Redoubt, was gradually forced to give ground. Around 10 am, the 26th Brigade was asked to send about 100 men to the Redoubt, to stiffen the defence. Of these, 30 men (‘all that could be spared’) came from the 5th Camerons, led by Lieutenant J.H.F. McEwen.
What then followed is now history. Corporal J.D. Pollock was one of this party of Camerons. As his subsequent recommendation for the Victoria Cross states, ‘after obtaining permission [he] got out of the trench alone’ and ‘with the utmost coolness and disregard of danger’ he attacked and repulsed a German bombing party coming up Little Willie trench.
This superb act of bravery is rightly known and celebrated. But, what has been airbrushed out of history, is that he did not start this action alone: someone else was with him...
The ‘Historical Records of the Cameron Highlanders’ shed some light on who this other man was:
‘It was at this moment, when the German bombers, heavily reinforced, were slowly approaching the neck of the Redoubt, that Corporal Pollock of ‘C’ Company, one of the thirty who had gone up that morning, asked for permission to cross the open from the Redoubt and take the advancing bombers in the flank. Permission having been given, he and Private Lyon [sic], also of ‘C’ Company, stripping off their equipment and provided with bombs only, climbed out of the trench. Private Lyon was hit as he rose from his knees on the parapet, and fell backwards into the trench; but Pollock continued alone…’
Could this Private ‘Lyon’ be Charles Lyons? His Soldiers’ Papers show Charles Lyons to have been ‘Wounded in Action’ on 25th September 1915 but being admitted to 28th Field Ambulance on 27th September. The first date surely is a mistake, since he would not have been kept waiting two days to be admitted to the Field Ambulance. So Charles Lyons was wounded on 27th September, the day of the V.C. action.
Complete confirmation is contained in an article in the ‘79th News’, the Regimental Magazine, of April 1916:
‘It would perhaps be not out of place here to bring before our readers the names of two men in the Battalion who distinguished themselves at the battle of Loos, but whose deeds were never properly brought before the public, but whose bravery will never be forgotten by their comrades. Pte. 9937 C. Lyons (of the famous No. 11 Platoon) volunteered to go with Corporal Pollock and bomb the Germans. They went over the parapet together, and Corporal Pollock, who so deservedly received the highest distinction, succeeded in bombing the enemy. Poor Lyons was not so successful, as he was killed [sic] soon after getting over the parapet. He was a fine fellow, perhaps a little misunderstood, but always ready to do anything, however dangerous.’
After going on to record the bravery of Pte. J. Harrington, the same article ends:
‘It may be some comfort to the relatives of these two men to know how bravely they gave their lives for their country.’
So, Charlie Lyons undoubtedly took part in this V.C. action and was only prevented from doing exactly what Corporal Pollock did by a ‘Gunshot wound, left hip’.
All this leads to his award of the Military Medal. It was gazetted in October 1916 —on the face of it, a very long time after the Battle of Loos. In the above article, Charles Lyons is said to have been ‘killed’, though he was listed as ‘wounded’ in the January issue of the same magazine.
It would appear, therefore, that no reward was given to him since he was believed by his battalion - wrongly - to have died during this action.
However, an article in his local newspaper, from November 1918, suggests that his Military Medal was for Loos:
‘Corporal Lyons won the Military Medal at Loos when he undertook a most dangerous bombing expedition in company with Corporal Pollock, who was afterwards granted the V.C.’
Though this is not absolute proof, it would appear that Charles Lyons received his M.M. for his ‘Bravery in the Field’ at Loos, with Corporal Pollock. As his subsequent career may show, it is possible that he felt a sense of injustice for not being rewarded for his bravery sooner. It is also possible that, given his previous misdemeanours, the powers-that-be in the 5~11 Battalion were reluctant to reward his bravery.
Anyway, following his wounding, Private Lyons was admitted to hospital in Etaples on 1st October 1915 and returned to England on S.S. Brighton the next day.
Next month: Charlie saves the life of Father MacNeil at Passchendaele and how he gained the Bar to his Military Medal
Watch this space for extracts from next month's issue!
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