Coigach Folk


Page 04


The story of the soldiers of Coigach must be viewed in two separate phases: the unfortunate fate of the 51st Highland Division on 12th June 1940 brought an end to their initial involvement in the War, and sadly to the lives of five of the soldiers named on the War Memorial who had been killed at the Battle of Abbeville. The story begins again with the rebirth of the 51st Highland Division in 1942 and the untried 5th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders. One local man appears in both stories.

But first a brief look at the home they sought to defend.

Coigach was a protected area and travel was restricted. The boundary for the Highlands was at Beauly where officially persons wishing to either enter or depart needed to produce a permit. Civilians were dissuaded from travelling on trains because they were needed for the troops and freight. Thus tourism was much reduced to distant locations such as Coigach.

Home-guard: In 1940 Local Defence Volunteers, later to be re-named the Home Guard, was formed in fear of threat of invasion. The Lord Lieutenant of Ross and Cromarty, Sir Hector Mackenzie of Gairloch appealed to ex officers and members of the British Legion, and others aged 17-65 with knowledge of firearms, to join at their nearest police station. Howard Seth-Smith was the officer in charge of the local area Home Guard and billeted at the Hotel, as apart from the Post Office this was the only phone in the township. The Home Guard operated 24 lookout points for ships and planes with 6 veterans in a hut with a wind up phone on the hill above Polbain, also on the look-out for enemy parachutists. Fraser Muir’s father and Fraser Darling from Tanera were coastguards, operating at Polbain.

The Women’s Land Army (Land Girls) served on Tanera Mòr hired by Fraser Darling who owned and managed the island. Between 1939 and 1943 he reclaimed derelict land to agricultural production. In 1942, the wartime Secretary of State for Scotland, Thomas Johnston, asked him to run an agricultural advisory programme in the crofting areas of the Scottish Highlands and Islands. He agreed, and for two years he travelled, taught and wrote articles that were later published in book form as Crofting Agriculture.

From the summer of 1940 everyone was required to carry a National Identity Card and urged to carry a gas-mask. In 1940 fishing ceased to be designated as a reserved occupation, so fishermen were now liable for conscription.

Firing Range: Build in 1914, this was known as ‘The Target’ at Achlochan. There were four firing stances (rifle rests). The range was used at least up to the end of WW2 by the Home Guard and possibly up to the demobilisation of the Territorial Army units a couple of years after.  Both the Drill Hall and Firing Range were relinquished in the 1950s.

Achlochan Range (before renovation). Photo courtesy of Achlochan project.

And after.  Photo:  Clare Church

The Drill Hall, established in 1914 for the Seaforth Highlanders had a miniature cartage range, within the hall for .22 calibre rifles with a steel plate forming a stop butt for the 20 or 25 yard inside range. The number of volunteers had to be over a prescribed number in order to allow it to be built.

Drill Hall (Piping School Café 2017)   Photo:  Clare Church

Crofting: Croft work revolved primarily round oats, hay, potatoes and livestock. The wives and mothers of those who had joined the army worked on the land, but they were used to it because their husbands were often working away from home during peacetime. The fishermen were away in the herring fishing areas by the first week in May. Before departure they would have prepared the land and sowed the seed late March, the cattle put out to the hill, dykes, fences and gates repaired and closed. At the beginning of May potatoes were planted by hand by the whole family, hence often children were absent from school during this period. When lifted, the potatoes were taken in creels and stored in a potato pit. Oats were harvested at the beginning of September. Little barley was grown as a fodder crop.

Before the introduction of tractors horses were used. Tractor ploughing commenced in about 1942.

Sheep: Lambing and dipping took place at the end of April, clipping in June and July, and the lambs were taken away in September.

Badentarbat was the centre for seasonal bag-net fishery for wild salmon. The ice was collected from man-made ponds during the cold weather and thrown in through a rear chute into the ice house and kept there until packed round the fish for transport to the urban markets during the salmon season in May.

Achiltibuie Post Office: Margaret (Maggie) Macleod (inset below) was the postmistress.


Achiltibuie Stores: In 1933 William Sinclair bought the shop. Later he had a van which travelled from house to house. At times naval blockades at sea stopped the shop boat sailing to Achiltibuie because of German mines laid in the waters of the Minch. The community ran out of paraffin and candles.

Electricity had not come to Coigach yet.

William Sinclair c.1942 at the Manual Petrol Pump.  Photo:  CCHG

Achiltibuie Public School:
1939: The school closed for one week on the outbreak of WW2 on 3rd September. Evacuees started to arrive a fortnight later from Glasgow and Inverness.
1940 and 1941: Several evacuees returned home.  Attendance suffered when the potato planting took place in April, and also in June for peat lifting.
1941: Catherine Campbell - Headteacher
1943: 13th January – The first supply of milk under the Milk in Schools Scheme was issued to the children at the morning break.
5th November: A portion of jam was issued to pupils daily – sugar (4 lbs. per child) granted by the Ministry of Food to all children living in the country.

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