The tiny highland settlement of Inchnadamph hosts a whitewashed church at the edge of a loch in the mountainous landscape of Assynt.
On the summit of nearby Ben Mor Assynt, the young crew of an Avro Anson aircraft were killed when their plane crashed in poor weather on April 13 1941. The snow storm was so fierce the crash site was not easily discovered and the wreckage was reached by a shepherd some six weeks later. Ultimately the six man crew, from Scotland, England and South Africa, were buried on the mountain. A simple granite memorial was airlifted to the site in recent years to mark their mountain top graves.
Another memorial to the airman served prior to the more recent mountain memorial and this remains in the wall of the churchyard at Inchnadamph. On Remembrance Day local people – traditionally RAF cadets from Ullapool – place poppies at both sites, on the mountain and at the church.
The 1941 crash site is one of Britain’s most remote war graves. The site at the church is a more accessible way to honour the aircrew who lost their lives in the harsh and extended winter of 1941.
Crofters on the west coast of Scotland are gathering in their sheep to put them to the ram. All around the townships are pens, or fanks, where the ewes are safely gathered in. Some are curious and wonder what’s going on! A happy few enjoy being stroked!
The hurly burly of congested shopping streets and frantic online festive purchases is not for me, much as I love to be in cities, towns and villages when they are aglow with sparkling lights.
But when it comes to buying meaningful gifts, I do love to visit markets where local people have created unique treasures, whether it’s an exquisitely crafted piece of jewellery or daffodil bulbs in a pot individually painted by the community group.
Among the other treasures at yesterday’s Lochinver Winter Market were hand knitted socks and fabulous jewellery made by Barbara Macleod
November 2018 has marked 100 years of remembrance since the end of World War 1, which raged from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Much of the despair and brutality of battle rings out in the words of war poet Wilfred Owen who attended school in Birkenhead. And in the local library, a poignant window shows the experience of war. Helpless men, blinded by gas, lead each other into the unknown.
The artwork honours the courageous truth of the poet soldier who pulled no punches when it came to describing the experience of the front line.
The tragic beauty is the work of artist David Hillhouse. More recently, another visual telling of the Wilfred Owen story is The Burying Party, an international award winning crowd funded film.
I attended a screening of the film where the director, Richard Weston, described how the experience of seeing war memorials in small Scottish villages impacted him deeply. The wartime loss of many men ravaged rural communities especially.
The fishing township of Lochinver celebrates those who gave their lives for their country. The war memorial is in a seafront position, overlooking the bay from where boats steam to hunt in fishing grounds for many weeks at a time.
Many of those who left this remote landscape for fierce battle came from small and peaceful family crofts, like this one.
For many, there was no recounting the experience of war. Yet Wilfred Owen, much encouraged by fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon, treads fearlessly in his verse. ‘My subject is war and the pity of war.‘ he wrote. ‘The poetry is in the pity.’
A deeply moving new statue in Hamilton Square, Birkenhead, expresses that pity. A despairing World War One soldier is lost in futility and despair.
Might he have been one of the boys who attended school with Owen? One of those whose names are listed on the shiny memorial in the library where the Owen window dominates the staircase?
Close by the library is one of the Owen family homes. Here Wilfred lived with siblings Harold, Colin and Mary. His father worked on the railways, which caused the family to move several times, and his devoted mother was deeply protective of her children. Tragically, the news of Wilfred’s death reached his parents on Armistice Day 1918.
Birkenhead Institute was Wilfred’s school and The Visor, a history of the the establishment and pupils, recalls with pride the poetic boy who went to war. Dulce et decorum est.
This comes from one Owen’s most famous poems, the title is inspired by a line from the Roman poet Horace. The translation: ‘It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.’
Dulce et Decorum Est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs, And towards our distant rest began to trudge. Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots, But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time, But someone still was yelling out and stumbling And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.— Dim through the misty panes and thick green light, As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace Behind the wagon that we flung him in, And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin; If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,— My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.
My crofter friend in the northwest highlands has been rounding up his sheep to put them to the ram; tupping time. Over several days, with his sheep dogs Joe and Tess, he gathers the free roaming flock, herding the animals along single track highland lanes.
Here’s a brief meeting with him and Joe. Twelve year old Tess is weary and riding in the vehicle!