Coigach Folk

COIGACH'S SACRIFICE IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR


Page 07

BATTLE OF ABBEVILLE CASUALTIES

Twenty four 4th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders are buried in Mareuil-Caubert Communal Cemetery, situated 6 kilometres south of Abbeville along the D503 (Rue de Genéral Leclerc).


 
Photo:  Clare Church

 

The Battalion suffered heavy casualties including five men from Coigach. Those whose bodies were not recovered nor identified are commemorated on the Dunkirk Memorial.

Two brothers, Alexander Macleod Maclean and John (Ian) Kenneth Maclean both died on the same day, 4th June 1940; what a tragedy for their father. Their mother had died when the boys were young.

Alexander was born on 12th April 1915 at Polbain.
John (Ian) Kenneth was born on 14th April 1919 at Polbain.

Alexander Macleod Maclean, Private, 4th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders, 
Service No. 2820078.  Died 4th June 1940, aged 25.  Buried in Mareuil-Caubert Communal Cemetery.  Plot 2, Row C, Grave 17.


Photo:  Clare Church

John Kenneth Maclean – (listed as Ian on CWGC site), Private, 4th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders, Service No. 2820598.  Died 4th June 1940, aged 21. 
Commemorated on Dunkirk Memorial on Column 125

Their parents were Roderick, a crofter, and Christy Ann née MacLeod of Polbain. Father, Roderick, born on 29th September 1875 at Achduart, was a member of a large family of John Maclean and Mary née Macleod. Roderick and Christy Ann née Macleod, married on 17th July 1913 in Coigach, Roderick aged 37 a crofter, and Christy 31 a domestic servant. Her address at the time was Polbain, her father, William, a merchant, and mother, Annabella Macleod née Mackenzie.

Christy, died on 10th September 1923 aged 42, at Culnacraig; cause of death Addison’s disease from which she had suffered for 4 months. She had given birth to another son, William, in 1922, hence on her death Roderick sought a second wife to care for his children. He found Morag (Marion) Mackay from Carloway, Insch of Uig, Isle of Lewis, whose parents were Angus and Christine, née Martin. The couple were married on 11th January 1927 at The Royal Hotel, Dingwall, Roderick now listed as a postman, widower, age 48, usual residence Culnacraig. Morag’s occupation was housemaid, spinster age 34. The ceremony was conducted by Thomas Campbell, Minister of the Free Church, Dingwall. Witnesses to the marriage were Simon Mackintosh of the Schoolhouse, Achiltibuie and Kenina McIver of 4 Upper Cottages, Stornoway.

There is a record of a Roderick MacLean being the tenant of croft 170 in Culnacraig in 1938. The family moved from Culnacraig to Elphin, probably that year as The British Postal Service Appointment Book for 1937 lists a Roderick Maclean as being appointed Postman on 26th January at the Elphin Sorting Office, Lairg. According to Eric Macleod, nephew of Alexander and John Kenneth, the family moved to the Urray area after WW2 where Roderick continued to be employed as a postman.

Roderick died on 25th March 1950, aged 74 at the Sawmills, Achterneed, Strathpeffer. Unfortunately his death certificate does not state his usual address. It is noted that his son William was the informant of his death, but not in attendance at the time. He must have travelled from his home in Leurbost, Stornoway to register the death on 28th March at Strathpeffer.

Morag (Marion) died six years later on 21st March 1956 aged 61 at Ross Memorial Hospital, Dingwall. Cause of death: mastitis. Her usual address was listed as Ivy Cottage, Muir-of-Ord.

The brothers had a sister Mary Annabella who was born in 1914. She married and settled in Dingwall where she took a great interest in the Achiltibuie children who attended Dingwall Academy. Some lodged with her before the school hostels were built for children from the west coast. She also taught Sunday school and was known as Mary Ella. She was a side-school teacher during the War and taught across different homes in the area including Letters and also in the Assynt area, where she met her husband at Reintraid. Her son Billy sat next to Mairi Thornton (née Macleod) at school - they had no idea their uncles died together on 4th June 1940 (her uncle being John Alick Macleod). 

Murdo Maclennan, Lieutenant, 4/5 Battalion Seaforth Highlanders, Service No. 67704.  Died 4th June 1940 aged 31.  Commemorated on Dunkirk War Memorial on Column 123.

Son of John, fisherman and Margaret née Cameron, who married on 7th March 1907 at Lochalsh. Murdo was born on 18th June 1908 at Plockton.

 

He was educated at Plockton Higher Grade School (his nickname was Plockie) and St Andrews University, graduating in Arts in 1931. His address at that time was 2 Harbour Street, Plockton.

Harbour Street, Plockton

Murdo was Headmaster of Achiltibuie School between 1931 and 1938 prior to his appointment at Newmore School, Invergordon.

 


Photo:  Courtesy of Ullapool Museum

 

This photograph, taken in 1938, shows pupils of Achiltibuie School with their teacher, Murdo Maclennan.

War Diary 25th February 1940: Whilst at Ecquedecques “Lt M Maclennan reported for attachment to other units in the BEF to study the construction of defences, and will rejoin the unit on Saturday 2nd March. 
4th March: Move of Advance Party to Forward Area near Lille. Lt M Maclennan will command the column.”

Murdo died alongside his batman John (Johnny) Alick MacLeod. Both were killed when a mine exploded. Johnny was tending to a hand wound suffered by Murdo.

Murdo is also commemorated on Lochalsh and Plockton (below) War Memorials.



Alexander Macleod, Private, 4th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders, Service No. 2822660.  Died 4th June 1940 aged 23.  Buried in Mareuil-Caubert Communal Cemetery.  Plot 1, Row C, Grave 16.

Photo:  Clare Church

Alexander was the son of Duncan (1883-1958) and Isabella Macleod née Mackenzie (1882-1954) of Achiltibuie, who married on 26th January 1912 at 70 Church Street, Inverness (a commercial hotel run by Lachlan Cameron). Their marriage certificate reads thus:

Duncan Mcleod, crofter and fisherman, bachelor, age 28 (signed), 

Usual residence Dornie, Loch Broom.  Father: Alexander Mcleod crofter (deceased), Mother: Margaret Mcleod née Mcleod

to Bella Mackenzie (signed) domestic servant, spinster age 28. 
Usual residence Polbain, Loch Broom.  Her father: Alexander Mackenzie, crofter. 
Her mother: Christina Mackenzie née Mackenzie. 
Officiated by Murdo Mackenzie Minister of Free North Church, Inverness. 
Witnesses: John Beaton, Isabella Mackay

Alexander was born in 1917. He had an older sister, Margaret, born on 23rd September 1912. Margaret married Albert George Watkins in 1940 in Devon. Albert also died in WW2 (pp. 69-72). A sister Chrissy died age 5 on 18th May 1929.

This gravestone is in Badenscallie Burial ground.

Photo:  Roderick Macpherson

John (Johnny) Alick Macleod, Private, 4th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders. 
Service No. 2820676.  Died 4th June 1940 aged 26.

Son of Hugh (1872-1946), crofter, and Mary, née Macleod (1875-1946) of Polglass, who married on 5th February 1903 at Achiltibuie. Johnny was born on 17th December 1913 at Polglass.

Photo:  Courtesy of Coigach Community Heritage Group.  Taken at Billings, Montana, c.1910.  L-r: ? from Gairloch, Angus Macleod, Murdo Maclean and Hugh Macleod.  Angus and Hugh were brothers.

Johnny was one of 6 children. Willie (William), Abie (Abigail) and Jeanie May were born before their father Hugh went with other Coigach men to shepherd in Billings, Montana. Willie was born on 9th January 1905 at Polglass, Abie on 17th November 1906 at Polglass, and Jeanie May on 13th November 1908 at Achnahaird.

A passenger shipping list reveals the following person on board the ship Furnessia from Glasgow, departing on 4th March 1908 and arriving New York, U.S.A on 15th April.

McLeod, Hugh, 35, married, Shepherd, last residence Polglass, Achiltibuie, final destination Billings, Montana.

While her husband was away, Mary took her children to live with her mother in her old home at Culneorn, Achnahaird.

A possible date of his return to the UK was 1911 with a Hugh McLeod, labourer on board the Cunard Steamship Co. ship Campania, which arrived at Liverpool from New York on 23rd August.

Johnny, Chrissie (Christina Ann) and Dina (Murdina) were born in the years after Hugh returned from America, Johnny on 17th December 1913, Chrissie on 2nd September 1915 at Polglass and Dina in 1918, Ref 075/2 6.

Johnny was musical and played the melodeon. He also had a fine sense of humour and liked to tease his sisters.



Johnny with his mother at Polglass 1920s.  Photo:  Courtesy of Mairi Thornton and Una Macgregor.

Early in 1940 he was appointed batman to Lieutenant Murdo MacLennan who had been the local schoolmaster in Achiltibuie. In the army this was usually seen as a desirable position, as confirmed by Johnny in a letter home. A batman was normally chosen by his officer and was exempted from more onerous duties, often receiving better rations. Senior officers' batmen might receive fast promotion to Lance-Corporal, with many becoming Corporals and Sergeants. The position was generally phased out after WW2.

Both men were killed when a mine exploded next to where Johnny was tending to a hand wound suffered by Murdo. They had been in France for only a few months. Johnny was listed as ‘missing in action’ and despite much correspondence with the War Office and the Red Cross it would be two years before the family had confirmation that he had died.

Johnny is commemorated on the Dunkirk Memorial on Column 125. After the war his brother Willie met a soldier who had served with Johnny and Murdo. This man told him about the explosion and that they would have died instantly without suffering. Had they known, this might have been a comfort to Johnny’s parents.

Photo:  Courtesy of Mairi Thornton and Una Macgregor.

Both parents, Hugh and Mary died within months of each other in 1946 and are buried in Badenscallie Burial Ground. It was said his mother died of a broken heart having lost her son and husband.

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