Moving accounts in new book

THIS year has seen many acts of remembrance, given that 2014 was the centenary of the outbreak of the first World War.

But none can be more moving than a newly-published book on the events as they affected one island community.

The Going Down of the Sun is a beautiful hardback published jointly by Acair and Comunn Eachdraidh Nis (Ness Historical Society) and featuring a selection of first-hand accounts on the war from veterans. These precious survivor accounts were transcribed from interviews recorded on tape in the 1970s by the historical society.

A wealth of other historical information is also in it, including a new version of the Roll of Honour and an impressive timeline, which sets out the chronology of the war.

Touchingly, this timeline includes the deaths of individual soldiers and seamen alongside significant events such as battle victories and defeats and the losses of ships.

The book, written in both English and Gaelic, tells the story of the war as it was experienced by the Ness district from Skigersta to Ballantrushal.

Launched at an event in Ness on December 6th, it is accompanied by an exhibition at the Communn Eachdraidh, while a commemorative painting has been commissioned by Margaret Ferguson. Acair managing editor Agnes Rennie said it was a “hugely important” book and paid tribute to everyone involved.

It was edited by Donald Alasdair Morrison and designed by Graham Starmore. Funding came from Bòrd na Gàidhlig, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, the Scottish Government Gaelic Unit, and some smaller trusts.

Families — not to mention the Comunn Eachdraidh itself, which has official museum status — came forward with treasured photographs, letters and other memorabilia. A series of open days were held where this was all gathered together.

For editor Dòmhnall Alasdair, one of the trickiest tasks was making sure that the names of all the men who were lost appeared in the timeline in the correct place.

“It was a big checking operation,” he said, adding: “The numbers are quite staggering. From Habost, for example, I think there were 88 on active service. There are probably about eight men today who are in that age bracket. Of 900, 216 were lost.”

The whole story, told in black and white, is harrowing at times, with the loss of the Iolaire the most cruel blow of all. One of the accounts is from Donald ‘Am Patch’ Morrison, who survived the tragedy by clinging to the mast until he was rescued.

There are accounts of being left for dead on the battlefield as well as tales of bravery aboard the ships which sank the German submarines.

There is a roll call, at the start of the book, of the number of men from each village who were in each regiment. The new Roll of Honour is at the end and features personal information such as nicknames and subsequent marriages, in addition to the crofts and regiments listed in the original ‘Loyal Lewis’.

Another powerful chapter is the one featuring letters home. The exchange of letters between Roderick Murray, 20, and his family is especially moving. The last letter his father Norman wrote to him was returned, marked ‘killed in action’.

The book is dedicated to “the descendants of those who suffered” and Comunn Eachdraidh chairwoman Annie Macsween believes people will enjoy it “immensely”.

She added: “We were aware that we had priceless recordings. When I think that it’s one community… it could be any community. We wanted to document the facts. We just stated what happened and the effect it had on the community.”

The Going Down of the Sun is available from Acair priced £19.99.