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Back to The Crofters And The Second World War

Project Title: The Crofters And The Second World War

Exhibition: War comes to the crofters 3 / Buaidh a' chogaidh air na croitearan 3

With the increased wartime activity in the Skye and Lochalsh area, on land, at sea and in the air, it was inevitable that accidents would occur. Due to censorship many incidents went unreported until after the war and then sometimes errors would appear in the Press regarding dates and details. Leis cho trang ’s a bha an t-àite seo, air tìr, aig muir agus anns an adhar, ’s beag an t-iongnadh gun do thachair tubaist bho àm gu àm. Gu tric, ge-tà, cha do nochd naidheachd mu dhèidhinn na rudan seo gus an robh an cogadh seachad agus an uair sin nochdadh mearachdan anns a’ chunntas.

Assets in this exhibition:

Incidents and accidents / Tachartasan agus tubaistean

With the increased wartime activity in the area of Skye and Lochalsh, on land, at sea and in the air, it was perhaps inevitable that accidents would occur. Due to censorship and reporting restrictions many of these incidents went unreported until long after the event, or until after the war ended, and then sometimes errors were made. We are fortunate therefore to have eye witness accounts, some of which were recorded in personal diaries at the time or published afterwards. Occasionally, the oral testimony and the published record are at variance, and the oral testimonies themselves don’t always agree on detail, but the range of sources available reveals a fuller, more accurate picture. Here you can find out about several dramatic incidents which took place.

The first example describes how Kyle of Lochalsh and Kyleakin might have been ‘blown to smithereens’ in September 1941. The incident was not reported officially until July 1945. Another describes a fatal accident in Trotternish in March 1945, in which the premonition of one local woman was fulfilled. Other accounts record plane crashes and tragedies at sea.


Kept in school

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Description

Ishbel Cameron describes the occasion when she and her fellow pupils were kept in school during a wartime 'incident' in Kyle of Lochalsh.

Biography

Ishbel Cameron (nee Finlayson) was born in Kyle of Lochalsh in 1933, the oldest of four children. Her mother was from Duirinish and her father from Erbusaig. They lived in Church Road and she went to the local school during the war. She later taught at Duncraig Castle near Plockton and, after her marriage to Alasdair Cameron of Drynoch, settled in the crofting township of Drumbuie.

Transcript

We were actually in Kyle School the day that the Port Napier went on fire. And we couldn’t understand why we couldn’t get home. And they wouldn’t sort of tell us an awful lot, you know. And I remember the teacher saying that… “Oh, you can’t go home yet.” We used to get dried milk, it was lovely. It was just lovely, creamy, dried milk and she would put it in a big basin and put on the kettle and… with this lovely hot… it was like baby’s Cow & Gate milk, lovely and creamy. And she would make that for us, just to kind of pass the time. And then, maybe… did we play games? She kept us sort of amused, and then, of course, we were getting hungry and we weren’t getting home. And then she would make some more and the next time she would put some cocoa in it. And I think, eventually, when they realised that the danger was over, we were allowed… but I… we were kept at school about seven or eight, maybe nine o’clock at night.

People who lived down near the naval base were sort of evacuated away, you know, kind of out to Badicaul and these places because there was a lot of mines on the Port Napier and I think they were frightened that the whole thing would blow up and Kyle would just have been blown to smithereens.

Source

Date: 194-
Contributor: Cameron, Ishbel
Location: Kyle of Lochalsh / Drumbuie
Original Source: Mrs Ishbel Cameron Museum of the Isles Highland Council Archive Service (Skye & Lochalsh) TPYF Interview OH IC 16.07.09 Interviewed by Mary Carmichael


Coastal defences at Kyle of Lochalsh

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Description

Aerial photograph showing the costal defences at Kyle of Lochalsh. This is a German Luftwaffe aerial photograph, dated 1941, which shows the area on either side of the Kyle, or the narrows, between the mainland of Lochalsh and the island of Skye. This would have been taken as part of Germany's attempt to obtain information about strategic enemy positions on the coast. Key areas have been marked in black on the original image. At this time the Royal Naval base at Kyle had only recently been established. For civilian passengers the narrowest point between Kyle of Lochalsh and Kyleakin was crossed by ferry boat.

Source

Date: 1941
Contributor: SCRAN
Location: Kyle of Lochalsh
Original Source: 000-299-993-176-R, SCRAN


"We didn't get out of school that day"

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Description

Alasdair Fraser recalls the potentially disastrous incident that kept him and his class-mates, including Ishbel Finlayson, in Kyle school one September afternoon in 1940.

Biography

Alasdair Fraser was born in Inverness in 1933 and raised in Kyle of Lochalsh which he recalls as being an extremely busy place when he was a boy during the war. He and his younger brother, William, attended the local school and share many memories of war time in the area. Like many other families theirs had naval personnel lodging with them during the war.

Transcript

The thing I remember about it particularly was we didn’t get out of school that day. It was… we were in Kyle, still at primary school at the time of course in Kyle, and we were told that we weren’t getting home, and of course the people… well, Kyle was evacuated… the lower end of Kyle, so people were moved out and the pier and the station employees were all moved out. So the children weren’t allowed out of school and I was quite miffed because we lived quite near the school, you know. And I couldn’t… didn’t see why we… I wasn’t getting home but we had to stay in there for quite a while. I don’t know when we got out.

Source

Date: Sep 1940
Contributor: Fraser, Alex (Alasdair) J. M.
Location: Kyle of Lochalsh
Original Source: Alex (Alasdair) Fraser Museum of the Isles Highland Council Archive Service (Skye & Lochalsh) TPYF Interview OH AF 06.10.09 Interviewed by Mary Carmichael


Kyle School

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Description

Kyle School was built in 1905 and is situated on the outskirts of the village of Kyle of Lochalsh on the road leading to Plockton. At the time of the HMS Port Napier incident in 1940 the head teacher was Mr Tom McIver.

Source

Contributor: Macpherson, Duncan
Location: Kyle of Lochalsh
Original Source: Duncan Macpherson Collection HCD00021, Highland Council Archive Service (Skye & Lochalsh)


Seeing smoke

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James Matheson recalls the autumn day in 1940 when some pupils from the local school climbed the hill behind to get a better view of the unfolding events of an incident in the narrow waters between the village and the shores of Skye opposite.

Biography

James Matheson was born in 1930 and was a schoolboy living in Kyle Terrace when war broke out. He had a bicycle and was given the responsibility of delivering communications to the local Air Raid Precautions squad if required. He has vivid recollections of Kyle in wartime. His older brother, Ian, joined the Navy where he worked aboard minesweepers.

Transcript

Well, … word came to the school that the ship was on fire and that we all would maybe have to go home and get re-directed. We were let out of the school anyway and just above the school, there was a hill there. We could see the smoke going away up into the air. It was just like a… It was a calm day, beautiful day. And we could see the line of smoke going straight up into the sky. And of course, we were waiting and waiting to hear an explosion but it… by good luck, there wasn’t as such. And there was an explosion but they’re not sure whether it was the boilers which had burst or was it the magazine, but had she gone on fire… she was ready to go away to sea with a load of mines and if she had blown up, there would be nothing left of Breakish. She went all day, went from say four o’clock until eight o’clock the next morning. That’s the length of time she was on fire. We were going up the hills then, of course, when the alarm about her going to go up… blow everything to bits, looking at the flames coming out of her. All the railway people had to clear out of the railway. As I say, they had a big store out at Duirinish there… a ‘siding’ I think is the word they’d be using. They used to have the mines in there. They used to take them down to Kyle and leave them there and have them all prepared for the ships when they come back in. And it was all done on the east side of Kyle pier, as I say, we couldn’t get in there anyway. They were taken out in barges. They were loaded onto the barges and then they would tow it with tugs out to the ships, alongside the big ship. She took them aboard. Then when they were all filled up, the whole four of them, off they went out.

Source

Date: Sep 1940
Contributor: Matheson, James
Location: Kyle of Lochalsh
Original Source: James Matheson Museum of the Isles Highland Council Archive Service (Skye & Lochalsh) TPYF Interview OH JM 11.09.09 Interviewed by Mary Carmichael


Map showing Kyle and Kyleakin

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Description

Ordinance Survey map showing Kyle and Kyleakin.


Evacuation to Erbusaig

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Vi Beaton's mother was busy catering at The Waverley when the 'Port Napier incident' occurred. Vi recalls being sent to fetch her aunt in order to bring her to be with the rest of the family. Although many people left their places of work and some followed advice to evacuate to Erbusaig or Plockton, others remained at home and waited.

Biography

Vi Beaton (nee Stewart) was born in Kyle of Lochalsh in 1935. During the war her father worked at the NAAFI stores in the village and her mother ran The Waverley which catered for both servicemen and local people in two separate restaurants. The place was always busy, she recalls, even though food might be scarce. Sometimes all her mother had to offer would be eggs, chips and doughnuts. As a child Vi saw all the comings and goings in Kyle and recalls many of the key events that occurred at this time.

Transcript

I remember having to go up to my, my granny’s to tell them all to come down to our house. Everybody else was evacuated to Erbusaig. But we stayed in The Waverley cos we thought it was safe enough there. I don’t think there was an awful lot to see because it was in at the pier. I think it was being refuelled or something like that. And then they took it… took it away and by the time, if I recall it, I think they had got rid of most of the mines and everything, or defused them. So when I was there, there probably wasn’t anything to see anyway.

Source

Date: Sep 1940
Contributor: Beaton, Violet
Location: Kyle of Lochalsh
Original Source: Mrs Violet Beaton Museum of the Isles Highland Council Archive Service (Skye & Lochalsh) TPYF Interview OH VB 15.07.09 Interviewed with Ruth Coghill by Mary Carmichael


"We were expecting an explosion"

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Dolina (Dolly) Munro recalls the day the 'Port Napier' caught fire. Her brother had just arrived home on leave from service in Africa when he was despatched with their father's car to assist with evacuating the village.

Biography

Dolina Bell Munro (nee MacKay) was born in Kyle of Lochalsh in 1918. Her grandfather had worked for the railway based at Stromeferry before moving to Kyle. Dolly went to school in Plockton. After the outbreak of war, for a couple of hours a day several days a week, she had a voluntary role listening for planes passing overhead. She then began working for the Post Office in 1941 and worked there all the years of the war.

Transcript

I remember the day, sadly, it blew up… the Port Napier. I remember the day very well. What was it on it? Was it mines that were on it? And my brother who was out in Africa, came home on leave, this day, and he was just in the house when he got a phone message to take the car and try and get as many people out of Kyle… to take them up to Erbusaig or somewhere out... the Port Napier has caught fire and it’s full of mines. So they got a fright.

I always remember it so much. My poor brother who had been out… to think this was the first job he got when he got home for a week’s leave. He was laughing. Having… never thinking the day would come he’d have to take people from Kyle and shift them out. So everybody was chased out of Kyle.

Source

Date: Sep 1940
Contributor: Munro, Dolina
Location: Kyle of Lochalsh
Original Source: Mrs Dolina B. Munro Museum of the Isles Highland Council Archive Service (Skye & Lochalsh) TPYF Interview OH DM 15.07.09 Interviewed with William Fraser by Mary Carmichael


'We noticed a pall of black smoke rising'

Extract from an email to Ishbel Cameron, Drumbuie, from a friend, Ronnie MacKinnon, in Australia. He lived near Balmacara as a child and was about 9 years old at the time of the Port Napier incident:

My brothers and I were walking home to Kirkton after school when we noticed a pall of black smoke rising beyond the Glebe. To see what was causing it we climbed up the hill directly opposite the Cemetery, and saw after a while a large orange flash, but nothing else. Contrary to the descriptions I've read on the internet that it happened in November, it couldn't have been as we got out of school at 4pm and by the time we walked home, got a ' piece and jam', then climbed up the hill, I’d safely say it would have been after 4.30pm and wasn't dark as it would have been had it been November. With regard to the Port Napier being tied up at the pier when the fire started and towed out to its final resting place [this] doesn't seem plausible to me for the following reasons: a) Why would it be taken closer to the other minelayers when there was a risk of it exploding? b) It would have been quicker to have taken it out past the lighthouse therefore reducing the risk to Kyle and Kyleakin.
[With thanks to Ronnie MacKinnon]


"Ablaze with 500 Mines on Board"

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Description

The Scotsman newspaper of 26th July 1945 describes the dramatic incident which took place in Kyle in 1940. Frequently such information was made publicly available only after the war was over and occasionally, as in this case, some details were reported inaccurately. We know from other oral and written accounts that the Port Napier incident did not take place in November 1940 but, according to one writer, on Wednesday afternoon of 27th September of that year.

Source

Date: 26 Jul 1945
Contributor: The Scotsman
Location: Kyle of Lochalsh
Original Source: The Scotsman newspaper


'The day was calm and sunny'

Mr Tom MacIver, who is now 102 years old, was headmaster of Kyle School in 1940. Ishbel Cameron spoke to him on Saturday 5th December 2009 at a social function in Plockton Village Hall. These were his comments on the Port Napier incident:
The fuses were not put into the mines until the mine layers went out to sea. So therefore there was no danger of them exploding while the boat was still anchored at Kyle. All the other minelayers were ordered out of the bay. The fuses were kept in a separate compartment from the mines. The fire reached the place where the fuses were before it reached the mines. This caused a minor explosion and holed the ship which later sank. Some of the sailors were asleep as they had been on night watch, some swum ashore to safety; others were taken off the stricken ship by boat. The day was calm and sunny and it was still bright when the children were allowed to go home, some time after 5pm.

[With thanks to Mrs Ishbel Cameron and Mr Tom MacIver]


Sabotage?

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Ishbel Cameron tells how long after the war she heard an intriguing theory about the damage sustained by the H.M.S Port Napier and suspicions that a German U-boat may have been involved.

Biography

Ishbel Cameron (nee Finlayson) was born in Kyle of Lochalsh in 1933, the eldest of four children. Her mother was from Duirinish and her father from Erbusaig. They lived in Church Road and she went to the local school during the war. She later taught at Duncraig Castle near Plockton and, after her marriage to Alasdair Cameron of Drynoch, settled in the crofting township of Drumbuie.

Transcript

I worked at Duncraig Castle before I retired. This would have been in the 1980s. A middle-aged couple came to the castle one day and the gentleman said that he had been up in Kyle during the war and that he had been in Duncraig while it was a naval hospital. He had also been in the Lochalsh Hotel in Kyle because that’s where most of the officers stayed, and I think they had a sort of signalling or radio station there, you know. And we got talking about the Port Napier. And he was in the Navy in Kyle at the time and he reckoned that it was a German U-boat that had slipped in and started the fire. And he said what happened, if you can visualise the pier in Kyle and the boat… you’ve got Beinn a’ Chaillich sort of at the back. You’ve got a very narrow strait at Kylerhea at one end. Then you’ve got Kyleakin and the Plock of Kyle and the lighthouse, very narrow again. And it seems there was always a reconnaissance boat which was going right out past the lighthouse, you know, as far as it could, just to make sure there was no enemy… U-Boats or anything out there. And then it would come back through Kyle. It would go past into Kylerhea and just check that there was nothing there. And this went on all the time. It was going back and fore. Now this naval officer maintained that there was a German U-Boat somewhere out beyond Raasay and it was watching the movements of our reconnaissance boat and it was timing how long it took for it to go from like, Raasay… out that way, to the other end and back. And that as the reconnaissance boat went out to Raasay and was on its way back to Kylerhea, the German U-Boat just came in and “ptt” and off out again before this one came back. Now that was his theory. How much truth there is in that I do not know. But that was what he said he thought happened.

Source

Date: Sep 1940
Contributor: Cameron, Ishbel
Location: Kyle of Lochalsh and Drumbuie
Original Source: Ishbel Cameron Museum of the Isles Highland Council Archive Service (Skye & Lochalsh) TPYF Interview OH IC 16.07.09 Interviewed by Mary Carmichael


"Deadly Cargo"

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Description

'Blazing Ship Threat to Two Highland Towns'. This is a headline of the Daily Record published on Tuesday June 12 1945. It refers to the fire which broke out aboard the minelayer H.M.S Napier at Kyle in 1940 and goes on to describe other wartime activities in the village. As with the other newspaper reports of 1945, this states that the incident took place in November and at night, but this is at variance with the first-hand and eyewitness accounts of the people of Kyle, including writer, photographer and pharmacist, Duncan Macpherson. He specifies precisely the day and date in his own account which you can hear elsewhere in this exhibition.

Source

Date: 12 Jun 1945
Contributor: The Daily Record


"Get under the stair, she said"

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Young Mary McCallum's aunt, Morag MacInnes from Lower Breakish, was District Nurse for the Strath area of Skye for many years. In 1940, as her niece recalls here, she was directly involved in trying to help the people of Kyleakin and Breakish escape the consequences of a potential major explosion.

Biography

Mary Black (nee McCallum) was born in Glasgow, but her grandparents ran the family croft where she was raised during the war and which has always been home from home for her. She attended the local school at Breakish while helping her grandparents, Calum and Mary MacInnes, on the croft at 19 Breakish and she participated fully in all aspects of croft work. Her aunt, Morag MacInnes, was the Strath District Nurse. After secretarial training in Inverness, Mary returned to Skye and worked for the Lochalsh-based Home Guard under the direction of Sir Torquil Matheson.

Transcript

Auntie Morag was a District Nurse then so she was ferrying people out of Kyleakin, you know, because it was full of ammunition. So my granny got a phone call, “Get Mairi next door (the house down there) and get Alasdair, and get under the stairs,” she said, “Because there’s a chance this boat might blow up,” she said. And she was ferrying people. I suppose she would be ferrying them in her car to Broadford… back and forward to Broadford. So she said, “Make up a flask of tea and sandwiches and get under the stairs,” she said. That used to be a closet, as they called it then, a closet where they washed the dishes and everything. And she said, “Don’t get… don’t come from under the stair until you hear from me,” she said, “Till I phone you to come up from under the stair.” So we were there most of the day. So my granny and Mairi and, I think Alasdair went along to other, you know, other people along the shore to get… to take cover.

Source

Date: Sep 1940
Contributor: Black, Mary
Location: Lower Breakish, Isle of Skye
Original Source: Mrs Mary Black (nee McCallum) Museum of the Isles Highland Council Archive Service (Skye & Lochalsh) TPYF Interview OH MB 07.10.09 Interviewed by Mary Carmichael


'It caused a bit of a stir in the village'

H. M. S. ‘Port Napier’
The [Minelaying] Squadron had been reduced to four ships. For some reason I cannot remember, the ‘Port Napier’, although fully loaded with mines, had failed to sail on one of our operations. When we returned some ten days later it was to find her burnt out and on her side. Miraculously not one of her crew was lost. It caused a bit of stir in the village, particularly when they were advised to take cover. But where? Eva went down to the ‘Waverley Hotel’ which put at least another 400 yards between her and 500 mines that might possibly blow the village to ‘Kingdom come’. Some 61 years later the ‘Port Napier’ and her mines are still there; after the war I used to go over to her in a dinghy and fish around her.

From a personal history: 'I am going to be a sailor' by Lt. Cmdr. L. A. Roe (2003)


'The oil burned for days on the water'

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Isabel Moore reads from the wartime diary of her aunt Evelyn Loyd (1885-1962). Miss Loyd farmed at Tormore, Isle of Skye. This extract records the fire on HMS Port Napier and the aftermath. It is dated November 1940

Transcript

Up at Kyleakin a large new Minelayer, a ship of 16,000 tons was re-fuelling, & caught fire with 500 mines on board, they saved 300, but the ship was burnt out, & beached, some of the crew were slightly hurt, some had to jump overboard, all their kit was lost, & socks and woollies from the WRI were very acceptable for some long time. The oil burned for days on the water, & and had the wind put the fumes across to Kyle might have killed the whole place, as no mask could save from that variety of poison. A lot of the horrible oil drifted along the shore, & made our beach in a filthy state again, & poor oily birds were washed up dead.

Source

Date: Nov 1940
Contributor: Moore, Isabel
Location: Kyle of Lochlash
Original Source: Isabel Moore Museum of the Isles Highland Council Archive Service (Skye and Lochalsh)


The Last One

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Description

A war plane flies low over a calm sea by the dim light of an overcast moon.

Source

Date: Dec 1997
Contributor: Smulders, Gabriel
Location: Unknown
Original Source: IWM ART 16653, Imperial War Museum


Tubaist Bheinn Eadra / This terrible accident happened

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As a boy Lachie Gillies watched the American B-17 fly low over Staffin and Digg towards its fatal end in the mist-shrouded rock face of the Trotternish Ridge. Here he describes what he remembers of that day in March 1945.

Transcript

O, bha aon tubaist ann a sheo air a’ bheinn a bha sin, bha, shuas Beinn Eadarra. O, ’s ann aig fìor dheireadh a’ chogaidh a bh’ ann, bha mi dìreach ... bha sinn ... bha mise còig bliadhn’ deug aig an àm – cha robh buileach, bha mi gu math faisg air. Nineteen ... naoi deug, ’s a dà fhichead ’s a còig a bh’ ann. Toiseach a’… toiseach a’ mhìos Mhàirt a bh’ ann, ’s bha ’n ceò bha sin, latha a bh’ ann, bha e dìreach car ìosal, chanain gun robh e cho ìosal ri cùl an taighean a chì thu thall an sin mu do choinneimh ... agus bha thu faireachadh na plèanaichean mòra bha sin, bha iad shuas os …cinnteach, anns an adhar shuas os cionn a’ cheò, dh’fhaireachadh tu seachad iad, fuaim aca.. Och [ach] bha mi … bha sinn dìreach nar seasamh, dìreach air an fheur air beulaibh an taighe ann a shin agus thàinig an tè bha seo a-staigh eadar an t-eilean a tha sin, eilean Fhlòdaigearraidh a chanadh sin ris, agus tìr ann a shin, ’s bha i cho ìosal, o, bha i cianail fhèin ìosal, ghabh sinn iongnadh garbh dheth.
’S ghabh i seachad, suas an sin eadar sinn ’s na taighean a bha sin. Bha mise faicinn na daoine nan suidhe na broinn. Chitheadh tu far an robh an duine na shuidhe anns an deireadh, ’s a’ ghlainne, seòrsa de ghlainne timcheall air agus chitheadh tu na shuidhe aig a’ ghunna e, ’s chitheadh tu ’n fheadhainn a bh’ anns an toiseach aice ’s eile. ’S bha sinn a’ ràdh rinn fhìn, “Och, bualaidh an aeroplane, sa … anns a’ mhonadh”, ’s “Och, cha bhuail”, “Och, bualaidh”. Gann a bha a’ bhruidhinn sin a-mach às ar beul, nuair a dh’fhairich sinn fuaim mar gum biodh fuaim tàirneanach ann ... agus, o, thàinig an uair sin fhàileadh a’ pharaffin a-nuas às a’ ghaoth, o, cho làidir.
Thuig sinn gun do thachair rudeigin ...’s chaidh h-uile duine bha sin a mharbhadh, bhuail iad an aghaidh na creige bha shuas an sin, aghaidh na beinne. Well, thàinig an oidhche orra ’s eile, cha b’ urrainn dhaibh dad a dhèanamh, cha robh gnothaichean an uair sin cho ... cho soirbh ’s a tha e ’n diugh airson faighinn gu ruige àite. ’S ann air Là na Sàbaid a fhuair iad a-mach gun robh ... iad uile marbh. Chaidh oidhirp a dhèanamh a cheana, fhuair aon duine sìos oidhche, anmoch Disathairne, ’s bha e ’g amhairc timcheall. Bha e dhen a’ bheachd gun robh h-uile duine bh’ ann marbh.

Source

Date: 3 Mar 1945
Contributor: MacGilliosa, Lachlan / Gillies, Lachie
Location: Staffin, Isle of Skye
Original Source: Lachlan MacGilliosa / Lachie Gillies Museum of the Isles Highland Council Archive Service (Skye & Lochalsh) TPYF Video Gaelic OH LG 16.09.09 Interviewed by pupils of Staffin Primary School with Mary Carmichael Camera: Dolina Munro

Translation

It was about the end of the War that this terrible accident happened, on the 3rd, or 4th of March 1945, a Saturday. In those days Flying Fortresses and Lancaster bombers coming across from the United States would have to make for Newfoundland first to take on fuel. After that they would re-fuel again in Iceland. Then some of them would have to land in Stornoway to get more fuel. Some days we would hear about 100 of them going past, heading south. Other days they would be going north, back to the States. But this day of low mist, around noon, we were hearing them going past continuously and then we saw this particular one coming in behind Flodigarry Island flying pretty low. She came in between the island and Flodigarry, then over the houses in Digg.

. . . she was really low, really very low, surprisingly low. When she went past I could see the airmen sitting inside her. I could see the fellow at the back of the aircraft through the window sitting at the gun, and the people in the cockpit and so forth. Some of the company said “Oh she’s so low she’ll hit the hill.” Others said “O no, she’ll be fine.” Hardly had these words been spoken when we heard this noise like a peel of thunder. Soon we smelt paraffin on the wind - the wind was from the south-west - a really strong smell, and we realised that something awful had happened. Everyone on the plane was killed when she hit the rocks on the side of the hill. Well, night fell and we couldn’t do anything to help. It wasn’t so easy then to make your way to isolated places like that and it was the next day, Sunday, when they got out to her, but they were all dead. An effort was made... someone had actually got out to the wreck late on Saturday night, but after examining the area he reported that the airmen were all dead.


Looking over Glasphein towards The Quiraing, Staffin, Isle of Skye

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Description

This view looks across the croft land at Stenscholl to the small township of Glasphein which is just south of Digg. It was from Stenscholl and looking in this direction that Lachie Gillies watched the American B-17 Flying Fortress flying into the mist. In the background rise the craggy features of the outcrop known as The Quiraing, part of the Trotternish Ridge.

Source

Contributor: Maclean, Cailean
Location: Staffin, Isle of Skye, Scotland
Original Source: Cailean Maclean


National Fire Service team members, Portree

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Description

Members of the National Fire Service team, Portree, 1940s. Members of this group participated in the attempt to rescue the crew of the American B-17 Flying Fortress which crashed on Beinn Eadra, Trotternish, Isle of Skye on 3rd March 1945 in thick fog. Also pictured are members of the U.S.A. Air Force who came to assist with salvage and to pay their respects at the site where their colleagues had perished.

Source

Date: 1945
Contributor: Photographer unknown
Location: Portree, Isle of Skye, Scotland
Original Source: So 1.7 (12), Highland Council Archive Service (Skye & Lochalsh)


"A few feet would have cleared the summit"

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In two separate diary entries Donald Gillies records the United States plane crash above Staffin on 3rd March 1945. On 3rd May that year he details the receipt of a letter of thanks to the rescue party and to the people of the area from the Commander of the U.S.A. Air Force for their efforts to assist in such difficult circumstances.

The extracts are read by Cailean Maclean

Transcript

An Aeroplane Accident in Skye. – A United States Flying Fortress when passing over Skye crashed on the top of Ben Eadra, Staffin. It appears that the Flying Fortress had fuelled on the island of Lewis, after coming from across the Atlantic, and was on its way south. As it passed over the townships of Flodigarry and Staffin it was flying very low, and by the unusual sounds from its engine it seems that things were not going well with the Plane. A few feet would have cleared the summit of the steep cliff on the crest of the ben, when the “Fortress” crashed. There was nothing left of the plane but twisted material. The crew which consisted of ten persons were killed. Some natives arrived at the scene of the accident and tried to give all the assistance they could, but of no avail. The bodies of the crew were carried down to the road at Uig through the township of Sheader. The accident happened on the afternoon of Saturday 3rd and on Sunday morning the young men from Staffin took part in the attempt to rescue the crew if any of them had survived the Shock. One of the most climbers to the scene of the accident was Mr Roderick Gillies son of John Gillies Esq J.P. Sartle. He managed to scramble down the face of the cliff and was the first to give a report and direction to the other rescuers who were lowered down the face of the cliff by means of ropes.

Source

Date: 3 Mar 1945 and 3 May 1945
Contributor: Maclean, Cailean / Gillies, Donald
Location: Staffin, Isle of Skye
Original Source: Donald Gillies Diaries: The Annals of Skye, 1945-46 Museum of the Isles Highland Council Archive Service (Skye and Lochalsh) TPYF Audio DG/CM


An open letter to the people of Staffin

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Description

Donald Gillies (1881-1973) was born at Peinmore, Isle of Skye, later moving to Glasgow where he ultimately became Chief-Deputy Harbourmaster. In 1925, he began a journal of news and events relating to his native island, mainly culled from contemporary newspaper sources. The diaries continue throughout the Second World War period and were kept up after Donald Gillies retired to Peinmore in 1946. The series closes in 1965.
This entry is dated May 3rd 1945 and records the contents of a letter from Commander of the U.S.A. Air Force addressed to the people of Staffin in appreciation of their efforts to rescue the crew of the B-17 Flying Fortress which had crashed in March of that year.

Transcript

At County Council Meeting held at Inverness, Locheil paid tribute to the heroic work done by the people of Staffin in the rescue of the Aeroplane wrecked on the top of Ben Edra in the north end of Skye. The following open letter to the people of Staffin and Portree had been sent by the Commander of the U.S.A. Air Force to those concerned:- On behalf of the United States Army and Air Forces, I wish to express our gratitude and sincere appreciation for the splendid services you – the town people of Staffin and Portree rendered March 3rd 1945, and shortly thereafter – at the time one of our American Aircraft met a disaster. The men of my command who were active in the particular operation will forever remember your generous and untiring efforts in connection with this unfortunate accident. To the members of the Home Guard and the school children I extend our appreciation for the impressive Guard of Honour which they so considerately formed. The members of my command who worked with you, and I, will forever be cognisant of your grand co-operation – Signed, Ralph E Spake – Colonel Air Corps, Commanding. Two signed copies of the letter had been received continued Locheil, and he suggested these should be sent to the Skye District Council for disposal.

Source

Date: 3 May 1945
Contributor: Gillies, Donald
Location: Staffin, Isle of Skye
Original Source: Donald Gillies Diaries: The Annals of Skye, 1945-46 2002.1.10, Highland Council Archive Service (Skye & Lochalsh)


“A Skye Tragedy”

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This extract from “A Skye Tragedy” by D.E.G. Morris appeared in the Scots Magazine in 1977 and describes in vivid detail the Beinn Eadra air crash of 1945. It pieces together the last hours of that fatal journey and tells the story of a premonition which one of the local island women had had many years before.

The extract is read by Mary Carmichael

Transcript

SCOTS MAGAZINE
Vol 106, No 6, March 1977

Extracts from: A SKYE TRAGEDY
D. E. G. MORRIS

One night [over a] century [ago], Annie McPhee of Duntulm, Isle of Skye, had a dream. It was so vivid and distressing that she felt compelled to tell it to her relatives and friends and to impress upon them the prophecy she claimed it held. In her dream she had seen, coming down the mountainside behind the village of Uig nearby and through the glen, a slowly-moving line of lights shining in the darkness. They seemed to come from lanterns carried in a sad procession and melancholy filled the air. As the lights approached the waiting village the people there grew sadder and sadder and many were seen to weep.

Years after her dream, Annie McPhee became Annie Campbell and went to live in Uig. She never forgot what she regarded as a premonition of some catastrophe that one night would plunge the community into mourning. It would, she said, be “a terrible thing” that was to happen in the hills. Her warning was all but forgotten as the years went by and eventually she died in 1960, only a month short of her hundredth birthday, having lived long enough to see her dream fulfilled.

On Saturday March 3rd, 1945, a solitary American B-17, a Flying Fortress, droned its way southward from Iceland to the island shores of Western Scotland. It was a brand new aeroplane, clean and clinical from the maker’s shops. . . . .

Earlier that day it had left its staging stop at Meek’s field, near Reykjavik, where it re-fuelled for the last leg of its journey to touch-down on the R.A.F. station at Valley in North Wales. . . . Just before one o’ clock the navigator, Lieutenant Charles K. Jeanblanc, ringed the town of Stornoway on his map as the tip of Lewis slid beneath them. He noted the time against it, jotted the next course on a slip of paper and passed it over. They continued on over the shoes of Lewis and out across the waters of the Minch. Visibility had been deteriorating rapidly as they reached the Outer Isles and the cloud was coming down to below a thousand feet. To stay under it the B-17 steadily lost height. . . . Ahead of them about thirty miles away on their present course lay the Isle of Skye. . . . At about 800 feet they levelled off and held that height.

On the east wing of Skye, up near the north tip, lies the village of Staffin, a community of crofts and cottages, scattered over a flat coastal plain about three miles wide from the sea. . . . At the back of Staffin, to the west of the coastal strip, sheer cliffs of weathered rock rise hard to the sky, climbing up and up into the clouds that so often cover them. Their higher points have names well known to those who come to find grandeur in a Scottish mist: the Quiraing, Ben Edra, The Old Man of Storr.

That afternoon a damp mist had been thickening all day, reducing visibility around Staffin until only the bottom slopes of the rising ground could be seen. Low cloud shut out the precipitous heights above and gave no hint of what the whiteness held within itself. The B-17 made its landfall over Skye just south of Flodigarry and flew on down the coast. Just above Staffin it was seen to veer inland, climb slowly into the cloud above and disappear into it. Watchers on the ground saw it go, leaving only its roar to prove its passing. Seconds later, high among the hidden crags, form up within the clouds, came the sound of a great explosion, thundering down the mountainside, reverberating again and again through gully and rift, echoing and re-echoing across the village. All who heard it stopped in their tracks; head after head turned towards the source. A red glow was seen rolling slowly down below the mist to spread and flame itself out now in silence among the rocks. The B-17 had flown straight into the face of Ben Edra, about twenty feet from the top.

[Pilot] Lieutenant Paul Overfield and his crew died instantly. If they had glimpsed at all the rock in front of them, at that speed the micro-second to impact was too short for the mind to grasp what the eyes might have seen.

It was the following morning before the search party reached the scene, and they toiled all day preparing to bring the bodies down. The less difficult approach to Ben Edra is from Uig, up Glen Conan. . . . At dusk that Sunday they were ready for the sad slow journey down the glen. . . .

It was well after dark when they began to arrive, and if a watcher had stood at the foot of the glen he would have seen, for the first time ever, a moving line of lights along the track . . . down towards the village. If he were a local man he might have remembered the story of Annie Campbell’s dream.

Source

Date: 3 Mar 1945
Contributor: Morris, D. E. G. / Carmichael, Mary
Location: Staffin and Uig, Isle of Skye
Original Source: The Scots Magazine Vol 106, No 6, March 1977


Beinn Eadra, the Trotternish Ridge, Isle of Skye

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Description

This long view of the Trotternish Ridge includes its highest point, seen in the distance, Beinn Eadra, site of the 1945 American plane crash. The view looks southwards, from near The Quiraing and the road between Staffin and Uig which climbs steeply from the crofting townships at sea level. The undulating spine of the ridge is flanked on its east side by sheer cliffs and rugged rock faces which are often shrouded in mist.

Source

Contributor: MacGregor, Michael
Location: Trotternish, Isle of Skye, Scotland
Original Source: Michael MacGregor Photography


OS Map showing Achnacloich

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Description

Ordnance Survey map of south Skye showing Achnacloich near the site of the crash of the US transport plane in July 1945.


B-24 Liberator

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This photograph shows British ground crew bidding farewell to the veteran B-24 Liberator "Glory Bee" when at the end of the war the United States Eighth Army Air Force left Britain.

This was the model of plane which crashed near Achnacloich in Skye on 25th July 1945 with the loss of her crew and military passengers. The B-24 Liberator 41-29369 was flying from RAF Valley, Anglesey, in Wales to Meeks Field (Keflavik) in Iceland on its return to America at the end of the war

Source

Date: 1945
Contributor: Imperial War Museum


"Plane crashes in flames"

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The Scotsman newspaper of 28th July 1945 records the tragic incident which occurred after the end of the war, when an American transport plane on its way home crashed not far from the village of Achnacloich in Sleat, with the death of all on board.

The air crash victims were subsequently identified as follows:
Pilot: 1st Lt. William Bell
Co-pilot: 1st Lt. Theodore Lundell
Navigator: 1st Lt. Albert Harmonay
Passengers:
Flight Officer Eldon Eads
Flight Officer Newton Stanley
Flight Officer Edward Ruszaia
Flight Officer George Baker
First Officer Edward Grzesiek
2nd Lt. Arthur Vogel
Flight Officer Wilbur Titus

Source

Date: 28 Jul 1945
Contributor: The Scotsman
Location: Achnacloich, Sleat, Isle of Skye
Original Source: The Scotsman Newspaper


Achnacloich and Tarskavaig

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The United States Air Force B-24 Liberator probably flew within sight of this bay at Achnacloich before it hit a hillside nearby in the Sleat peninsula of Skye. Beyond the headland of Tarskavaig the peaks of the Cuillin range can be seen.

Source

Date: 2008
Contributor: Carmichael, Mary
Location: Achnacloich, Sleat, Isle of Skye
Original Source: Mary Carmichael


Seaplane lost off Avernish

Ishbel Cameron recalls that her school received a visit from one of the Naval officers stationed at HMS Trelawney. He was a naval doctor, Dr Blyth, and a personal friend of the teacher, Miss Laing, who had arranged the visit. It interested the children greatly to meet someone from the Naval base, but the occasion was etched indelibly on their minds when, only a day or two later, they were shaken to hear the news that Dr Blyth had been killed along with three others in a seaplane accident off Avernish.

Ronnie MacKinnon now living in Australia also recalled this incident:
There was another war time incident on Loch Alsh which doesn't seem to get any publicity; that was of the crash of a naval seaplane which apparently was on a joy flight and crashed opposite Bob Avernish’s house in Avernish. Though Bob rowed out he found nothing. Bob worked as driver for Willie Finlay. Further to that event, in 1980 in Geelong, my late wife and I went to a function and were allocated seats at a table with two other couples, whom we didn't know. One of the men, on finding that I was brought up in Scotland, as he was also, asked me from what part, when I said Kyle of Lochalsh. With that he said "That’s where my Father died in a seaplane crash, during the 2nd World War.”

[With thanks to Mrs Ishbel Cameron and to Ronnie Mackinnon]


Seaplane accident April 1945

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Cailean Maclean reads an entry from Donald Gillies's diary of 30th April 1945 in which he describes this tragic accident.

Transcript

Monday – Kyleakin – Seaplane Accident:-A Seaplane belonging to H.M.S. “Phalante”, stationed at Kyle of Lochalsh returning from a flight was lost, as the plane descended on the Kyle near the Ship. The cause of the accident is not known. It sank to the bottom immediately it touched the sea. There were seven officers of the ”Phalante” on board the Seaplane, and all were lost. These were:- the Pilot of the plane; the navigator; Lieut-Commander Mitchell – who was the son of Admiral Mitchell, and three other officers including Lieutenant- Surgeon J Blyth. Dr. Blyth was a native of Glasgow, where his father and mother reside at Byres Road. His mother is a native of Stornoway.H.M.S. Phalante was formerly a yacht owned by Commander Sopwith, the famous American Cup Yacht Racer; and was commanded by Captain MacKillop. Later on – in the week a funeral ceremony was held over the spot the Seaplane was sunk, when the Officers and crew of the Phalante placed several wreaths on the sea.

Source

Date: 30 Apr 1945
Contributor: Maclean, Cailean / Gillies, Donald
Location: Avernish and Kyle of Lochalsh
Original Source: Donald Gillies Diaries: The Annals of Skye, 1945-46 Museum of the Isles Highland Council Archive Service (Skye & Lochalsh) TPYF Audio DG/CM


Seaplane accident

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This picture shows a page from the diary of Donald Gillies dated 30th April 1945. It records the tragic accident in which naval officers attached to HMS Philante based at Kyle were killed when the seaplane they were flying crashed in to the water off Avernish. Only a few days before, one of them, Dr Blyth, had visited the pupils of Kyle School where teacher, Miss Laing, was a personal friend.

Source

Date: 30 Apr 1945
Contributor: Gillies, Donald
Location: Avernish, Lochalsh
Original Source: Donald Gillies Diaries: The Annals of Skye, 1945-46 2002.1.10, Highland Council Archive Service (Skye & Lochalsh)


Tragedy at sea

HMS Curacao was a 4,000 ton British light cruiser deployed during the Second World War and was an escort ship on the north Atlantic convoys. It was in the capacity of escort that she was to meet and accompany the Cunard White Star liner the Queen Mary to port. The liner had been refitted as a troop ship and was crossing the Atlantic to Britain with 15,000 American troops on board. It was on the 2nd October 1942, about 20 miles off the coast of Donegal, and according to some reports a watch on board the HMS Curacao thought he sighted an enemy submarine. But, having given the warning, the escort failed to judge the speed of the Queen Mary which was following a zig-zagging course. The Curacao cut across her bows and was sliced in two by the huge liner. The Queen's captain dared not even slow down due to the potential risk from the enemy to his thousands of passengers and he continued on his course to the Firth of Clyde. The Queen Mary's crew felt little more than a bump although her bow was badly damaged. Of the 432 crew aboard the HMS Curacao 338 were lost. It was not uncommon for tragic incidents like this to occur where large numbers of vessels were making their way to or from Britain's west coast ports. Many losses were incurred in these waters and bodies were often washed ashore along the coasts of Donegal and the Inner and Outer Hebrides. So it was that several crew members from the HMS Curacao came to be buried in the small cemetery at Ashaig on the Isle of Skye, an occasion recalled by Mary Black (nee McCallum) of nearby Breakish.


HMS Curacao

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Postcard of HMS Curacao.
The Curacao had been on convoy duty in the northern approaches. She had met the liner Queen Mary, then being used as a troopship. As the Queen Mary was so much faster than most merchant ships, she travelled on her own, not in a convoy. Standard anti-submarine tactics of the time included sailing on a zigzag course. This is what the Queen Mary was doing. Unfortunately the Curacao miscalculated the Queen Mary’s course. The two ships collided, and the liner cut the warship completely in two. Over 300 officers and men were drowned. Some of the bodies were eventually washed ashore on Skye. Those found on the beaches at Dalavil and Tarskavaig were taken to Isle Ornsay where the meal store was used as an impromptu mortuary. They were then taken to Ashaig for burial.

Note: The escort vessel was most likely named after an island off the coast of South America called Curacao. However the spelling 'Curacoa' often appears in print as with this postcard.

Source

Date: 194-
Contributor: Clouston, Caroline


Isle Ornsay stores

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Bodies from HMS Curacao washed up in Sleat were initially brought here. The meal store, which is the building on the left of the picture, was used as a temporary mortuary. Memory of the smell that hung over the area stayed with local inhabitants for a long time.

Source

Contributor: Museum of the Isles
Location: Isle Ornsay, Isle of Skye
Original Source: Museum of the Isles


Burial at Ashaig

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Mary Black recalls the funeral at Ashaig Cemetery, Isle of Skye, of several of those lost from HMS Curacao, or Curcoa as it is more often written. The photograph shows their graves. In all 20 bodies from the anti-aircraft cruiser were washed ashore on Skye and of these 17 were buried at Ashaig, three of whom were unidentified and whose graves are marked "Unknown Sailor". The others are listed below:

S Garget
G A N Whitelaw
A H Gozzett
P F Clark
H Anger
P Beaton
H Egan
J T Hooper
F J Wells
K R Barrett
P V Cornell
H M Hawkins
A H S Cox
J H Newton

Biography

Mary Black (nee McCallum) was born in Glasgow, but her grandparents ran the family croft where she was raised during the war and which has always been home from home for her. She attended the local school at Breakish while helping her grandparents, Calum and Mary MacInnes, on the croft at 19 Breakish and she participated fully in all aspects of croft work. Her aunt, Morag MacInnes, was the Strath District Nurse. After secretarial training in Inverness Mary returned to Skye and worked for the Lochalsh-based Home Guard under the direction of Sir Torquil Matheson.

Transcript

My aunt was the District Nurse and the Queen Mary rammed the Curacao, the boat. And Auntie Morag had to go over to Elgol for the bodies and I think it was Mr Sutherland who owned the Broadford Garage who took her over there to get the remains of the sailors and soldiers and… And then I was at the funeral in Ashaig Cemetery. I don’t remember anything being in the church but there was a big funeral in Ashaig Cemetery and I was at that funeral. I don’t think there’s anyone left in this village… the lady… you know, the women that were at that funeral. And the relatives were informed and they were, they were down in Ashaig. And there was a Church of England minister. There was a Church of Scotland… a Free min… a Free Church minister, and all the different denominations. And there was a… I don’t remember a piper being there, but I remember the bugle and soldiers there. And they fired guns up into the air. It was quite a large funeral. And, em… it was very, very sad. We were all in tears. But I don’t think there’s anyone left in the village now, any of the elderly people, that were at that funeral.

Source

Date: 2 Oct 1942
Contributor: Black, Mary R.
Location: Ashaig, Isle of Skye
Original Source: Mrs Mary Black (nee McCallum) Museum of the Isles Highland Council Archive Service (Skye & Lochalsh) TPYF Interview OH MB 07.10.09 Interviewed by Mary Carmichael