Friday, 29 July 2011

Lewis Heroes of the Rawalpindi

Stornoway Gazette, 8 December 1939
In the House of Commons last week the Prime Minister paid tribute to the naval reservists and pensioners of HM auxiliary cruiser “Rawalpindi” whose heroic fight against two German pocket battleships has aroused the admiration of the whole world.
“These men might have known as soon as they sighted the enemy that there was no chance”, said Mr Chamberlain. “But they had no thought of surrender. They fired their guns until they could be fired no more, and many of them went to their deaths thereby carrying on the great tradition of the Royal Navy. Their example will be an inspiration to those who come after them.”
Twelve at least of these gallant men were fellow islanders of ours, and the whole community shares the sorrow of their relatives at home, a sorrow which may be lightened at times by the flickering hope that they are still alive, although prisoners in the hands of the enemy, but which which is more likely to be tormented by fears and doubts that are more poignant than certainty.

There may be those in the crowded cities, lying under the terror of air raids, who turn wistful eyes towards the peaceful islands of the west, out of the danger zone, a sanctuary in the midst of the storm. But while these islands may be relatively safe from direct attack, and there is no need to carry gas masks to one’s daily work, or dig air raid shelters in the streets, they are contributing more towards the defence of the Empire than most other communities of the same size.

In the “Courageous”, the “Royal Oak”, the “Northern Rover” and in other losses the details of which are not known, men from these islands have already forfeited their lives, and in many of the disasters which have overtaken our merchant fleet. Lewis and Harris lads have conducted themselves with tenacity and courage. There were three in the “Athenia”, ten in the “Lochavon” out of a total deck complement of sixteen and one in the “Arlington Court”, a modest youth from Calbost  who is now at home recuperating at home from the effects of six days’ exposure in an open boat.

No one would claim for these men least of themselves, that they are struck from a finer die than the rest of humanity or moulded of a nobler clay, but one can without any sense of boastfulness that when the nation is at war, the small crofting and fishing communities of the northern Scottish seaboard have a contribution to make to the fighting forces which is out of all proportion to their population or their wealth.

The name of “Rawalpindi” is in our minds today. In the past it was known as that of the largest garrison town in the whole of India, “the key to the British system of defence in the North-West Frontier”, but now the name has other associations for us and for the world. Let those who today feel pride in the gallant heroes of the “Rawalpindi” remember, when the strife is over and the wounds have healed, that many of those who died in that desperate encounter were men from another North-West frontier, which is seldom mentioned in the history books, but whose sons have done more than most to man the garrisons of the Empire”.

Historical note
The battle preceding the loss of the Rawalpindi has gone down in naval history as an incredible display of bravery on the part of its crew. After trying to hide themselves from the Germans in the North Atlantic fog south of Iceland, they were ordered to surrender by the Scharnhorst. In response, the captain of the Rawalpindi said: never. And he fired a shell at the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau to underline his point. Bear in mind that the Rawalpindi was a converted passenger liner, kitted out with a gun and some armour plating. The Scharnhorst had to reply in kind, and sank the Rawalpindi. The bravery was noted by the German admiralty (sic!). All but 37 of the Rawalpindi’s crew were lost in the sinking. Their sacrifice was not in vain; before battle commenced, the Rawalpindi had been able to signal the position of the German battlecruisers to back to base on the Clyde, and an armada of British warships was heading north to intercept. More on this story here.
The casualties from the Isle of Lewis were:

Seaman DONALD MACARTHUR (Dollan Mhurchaidh Alasdair), 10 Cromore
Seaman COLIN MACKAY, 31 South Bragar
Leading Seaman MURDO MACKAY (Mac Choinnich Dhomhnuill Alais ‘c Dhonnachaidh), 53 Back
Seaman JOHN MACKENZIE, 21 Swordale
Seaman NORMAN MACLEOD, 25 Swordale
Able Seaman WILLIAM MACLEOD, Marybank, Stornoway
Leading Seaman JOHN MURDO NICOLSON, 3 Marybank, Stornoway
Seaman DONALD SMITH junior (Domhnall a’Bhard), 52 North Tolsta

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Hostel closed

I visited the Gearrannan Blackhouse Village today, but was sad to see the notice in the window, advising all that the hostel there has closed permanently. The proprietors, the Gatliff Hebridean Hostels Trust have posted the following message on their website, which I copy below. If you are asked about hostel accommodation in Lewis, please do NOT refer anyone to Gearrannan.

The Isle of Lewis has, to my knowledge, four hostels, namely at:
Stornoway (Heb Hostel and Fairhaven)
Kershader (Ravenspoint)
Galson (Galson Farm, South Galson)
Please use a search engine to find further details - I do not (as a rule) promote commercial enterprises.

It is with regret that the Gatliff Hebridean Hostels Trust announces that the hostel at Garenin is permanently closed.  It will not reopen.

We apologise for any inconvenience and disappointment this will cause.
Our lease on the building expires on 31 March 2012 and we have to vacate the building on that date, leaving the building as it was when first leased to us.  This closure will allow us to fulfil our lease obligations.

If you should hear from any other source that the building is open, please inform us immediately so that all sources may be made aware of the correct position.
Please note that the SYHA hostel handbook for 2011, which states that Garenin hostel is opening from 1 April 2011, is not the current information in respect of the hostel.  (The SYHA handbook was printed before the heating issues arose.)  The SYHA is aware that the hostel is closed.

Please also note that Garenin village continues to operate normally.  Details are to be found at the Gearrannan website.

This notice was issued on Monday 23 May 2011.

Please note that the Gearrannan Hostel reopened in 2012, as part of the Gearrannan Blackhouse Village. 

Friday, 15 July 2011


I am pleased that the decision was taken not to close Stornoway Coastguard Station as a 24/7 operation, similarly Shetland. It is deplorable that the Forth and Clyde stations are going to be axed. Only goes to show what a bit of pester power can achieve.
Stornoway Coastguard Station, December 2007
Stornoway Coastguard Station, December 2007

Tall ships


Dar Mlodziezy

The Swan (R) and Alba Endeavour (L)

Pelican of London

Lord Nelson
On board the Mir

Monday, 11 July 2011

Delivery and charges

Two and a half years ago, an e-petition to the Prime Minister was launched to complain about delivery charges to the Highlands and Islands. This was ignored by the then PM, Tony Blair, quoting the introduction of free market competition. I have no confidence that the current government will be any more sympathetic to our plight, but nonetheless I would like to invite anyone who reads this and who is resident in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland to write to both their MP and their MSP.

Today, I spent a frustrating couple of hours on the Internet, ordering a pack of 100 index cards, measuring 3″ by 5″. As soon as I had entered my postcode, HS1, the company involved would decline the order, saying they did not deliver to that address. Or would treble the delivery charge.

Although the Arnish Lighthouse stands at the end of a rough track, mail is known to get delivered there. Including items up to 20 kg in weight, and with length and girth adding up to not more than 3 metres (just under 10 feet), this according to the Royal Mail website. This will get you delivery at standardised rates right across the United Kingdom, excluding the Channel Islands.

I am angry at the discrimination against residents of our region, just on account of our geographical location. Any item within the constraints of the Royal Mail rates should compulsorily be delivered at those rates or less, irrespective of location

Sunday, 3 July 2011

South Lochs

Your blogger was off island for most of June, so I am restricting myself to some observations regarding the developments regarding the Pairc buy-out. There is now going to be a delay of two or three years before the buy-out can progress further, due to more legal manoeuvering by the sitting landlord, Mr Lomas of Warwickshire. He is claiming that his human rights are being infringed by the right-to-buy legislation, under which the people of Pairc are moving to buy parts of their estate.

I don’t think it is the legislation that Mr Lomas is finding fault with. He has a problem with the Pairc Trust, the body that is working on the buy-out, and specifically some if not all of its directors. A few days ago, he announced that he was prepared to engage in an amicable buy-out with the people of Pairc, as long as it doesn’t have to go through the Pairc Trust.
Over the past couple of years, there has been acrimony between the Trust and Mr Lomas, which is most unfortunate. If Mr Lomas is prepared to allow the amicable buy-out of parts of his estate, which apparently has been in his family for 87 years, I would like to suggest the Pairc Trust and himself put their differences aside and work towards the common good.