World War 1

World War One Lochbroom  Collage

Men of Lochbroom 1914-1918

Peace and War

July and August, 1914.  Weeks of golden sunshine, and of cloudless skies 

It was probably with no more than an apathetic interest that anyone in Lochbroom had read, in these wondrous summer days, of the unrest in some of the States of Central Europe, which had been accentuated on 28 June 1914 by the assassination, at Sarajevo, of the heir-apparent to the throne of Austria and of his wife.

Certainly it was with an almost amazed incredulity that I received from my eldest son (at that time Adjutant of the County Territorial Battalion, 4th Seaforths) the confidential information that a European war was believed to be imminent, and that every preparation was being made for the war organisation in Ross-shire to spring into activity on the first word of intimation received from Headquarters.

My son was at that time sleeping by the telephone in his office at Dingwall, so as not to miss the first word of instruction.  In a few days it became apparent to the whole country that the question of "war versus peace" was an acute one, and that almost any moment might bring the grave proclamation.  But for a while no message came to relieve the suspense.  A whisper reached us, "The Government have begun to buy horses."  Words of grave portent, as always indicating the imminence of war.  Then came the information, "An order has been received in Dingwall from the Government for fifty miles of barbed wire."  And, finally, about half-past nine on the evening of August 4th (when we were gathered in the drawing-room at Inverbroom with windows open and blinds up, watching the last glow fading in the western sky, and the shadows of night were beginning to fall around us), my daughter sprang to her feet, exclaiming that she had caught a glimpse in the garden of a man in motor-cyclist's dress.  A few moments later he was delivering to her the expected message from her brother, and quickly were the necessary papers filled in, acknowledging receipt of the order to "Mobilise", and entries in mobilisation forms were rapidly completed, in accordance with instructions previously given by my son.

The motor-cyclist despatch rider, Councillor John Mackay, at once contrinued his forty-seven miles' ride from Dingwall to Ullapool (not pausing to accept proferred hospitality), and our young relative, Daniel Bayley (later a gallant officer of the Royal Artillery), mounted his bicycle and vanished into darkness, to deliver the necessary intimations of mobilisation to the various lads of the Territorial Force resident on the estate of Braemore.

Thus did the Fiery Cross come to Lochbroom.

In the county town of Dingwall, at 6.30 pm on 4 August 1914, the proclamation of war was made (by order of the Adjutant) at three different points in the town:  namely, at the Mercat Cross in front of the Municipal Buildings;  in front of the National Hotel on the eastern side of the town;  and again on the western side of the town of Dingwall.  The proclamation of war, necessary for "Mobilisation", was thus made by the sounding, by Drum-Major Hugh Fraser, of the bugle call "The Assembly", followed immediately after by the "Fall In", at the double.
Following immediately on the proclamation of war by bugle call in the streets of Dingwall, the county town became a scene of much activity.  The Rev Ranald Macdonald recalls those days in these words:
"Suddenly our streets became alive with men in khaki, and the humdrum sounds of civil life were drowned in the rousing strains of the pipes.  Boys, with new fire in their eyes, cast away their school books.  The farmer left his hay, the clerk his desk, the mason and carpenter his tools.  The crofters from the seaboards and the lone isles left their unfinished breakfast to don the tartan or the navy blue."

There was no panic or alarm, no fears expressed for the present or the future;  the lads wore smiling faces, proud that their military training in camp and field had prepared them for this hour.  On the western seaboard of Ross-shire there followed some days of quiet awe and breathless silence.  Not a leaf stirred the trees on the hillside for many a mile.

To quote again the words of the Rev Ranald Macdonald:  "Nature itself seemed to sympathize with our mood;  the wind was still, the hush of a terrible expectation was on every tree and blade of grass." 

From the motionless branches of the rowan trees hung clusters of berries glowing with a more brilliant scarlet than had ever been noted before.  The constant sound of motor horns and passing motors had ceased, hardly a vehicle was seen upon the roads.  No sound of gun or rifle rang upon the air, as was usual in former years.  The sunshine blazed on a country tense with expectation but which as yet gave no sign of a coming struggle. *

[ * It was in these early days of the War that Mr Duncan Davidson of Tulloch (whose family had owned extensive property in Lochbroom Parish between the years 1777 and 1880) raised, within a fortnight, a sum of between £700 and £800 by subscription from county gentlemen and private friends for the better equipment of the County Territorial Battalion in the matter of field guns.]

Among the residents in Lochbroom district the first to take immediate steps to place himself at his country's disposal was Major Fraser of Leckmelm, and his friend, Captain H Hewat, who cycled to the military centres in the north to ascertain where help was most needed, with the result that on the 2nd of August both Major Fraser and his scholarly son, Andrew, had linked their fate with that of the County Territorial Battalion (4th Seaforths), in which Major Fraser's previous experience of military service, and his own and his son's knowledge of the Gaelic language, proved of the greatest value.

It was during this week, and on the 5th of August, that the honour of firing the first shot in the Great War on behalf of Great Britain fell to the lot of Lieut. John Fraser,  RN (nineteen years of age), second son of Major Fraser of Leckmelm.

It was from his ship, HMS Lance, that the first of the six shots was fired which sank the German mine-sweeper (the Konigin Luise) in four minutes in the North Sea.

Immediately too, on the outbreak of war, Colonel Blunt-Mackenzie (husband of the Countess of Cromartie, proprietrix of the Coigach district of Lochbroom) rejoined the Army, serving with distinction in Gallipoli and other areas of the war till the signing of peace.  Captain D Lawson, from Achnahaird, Coigeach, also took a very active part in military operations both at home and abroad.  Major Charles Blunt, brother of Colonel Blunt-Mackenzie, also rejoined the 4th Seaforths immediately upon mobilisation.  It will be remembered that for several years, while he was living at Badantarbat, Coigeach, he commanded the Ullapool Company of the Volunteer Battalion of Seaforths in Ross-shire.  He took a special interest in the rifle shooting of the Company, with the result that on several occasions they carried off the Seaforth Challenge Shield at the County Competition.  Major Charles Blunt served in 1914, 1915, with the 4th Seaforths in France but was later invalided home.

Dundonnell, also, was represented in the Great War by many lads native to the district, and by one of the sons of Mr Hugh Mackenzie (the Laird of Dundonnell), who, as is noted in the pages of this book, travelled with the Australian troops to Egypt and, after some months of training, took an active part in September 1916 in the important battle of Romani, and, with many of his compatriots, fell in the subsequent putsuit of the Turks, who put up a stubborn resistance, but were entirely defeated and driven back out of Egypt, where they had twice endeavoured to seize the Suez Canal.

Captain Alan Fowler, 79th Regiment Cameron Highlanders, was with his regiment in India on the outbreak of war.  His battalion, 2nd Camerons, together with many other battalions of British troops, left Bombay during days of intense tropical heat, in "a huge convoy of some 60 troopships" with an escort of men-of-war;  the wives of some of the officers, and their infant children, accompanying the troops.  The voyage was one of great hardship, accentuated by the extreme heat and scarcity of good food and water.

The 2nd Camerons reached Devonport from India in November 1914 and after being encamped for a month in tents, on the hills above Winchester, departed for Flanders on 19 December 1914, forming part of the 27th Division.

Except for a hurried visit of three days to introduce his young wife to his old friends and home at Braemore, early in December 1914, Captain Alan Fowler never again returned to his native land.  He and many of his comrades laid down their lives in the successful defence of Hill 60 during the second battle of Ypres.  Hill 60 (since partly levelled to the ground by bomb and mine explosion) at that time marked the outer southern edge of the Ypres salient, of which it has been written, "The salient of Ypres will be for all time the classic battle ground of Britain".

It will interest many readers of this Memorial Book to know that among those who were intimately associated with Lochbroom in the past, and who volunteered for service at the earliest opportunity, were the grandsons of the Rev William Cameron, who was for fifty years, up to 1895, the much-respected Parish Minister of Lochbroom.  The Rev William Cameron's sons, who were born and brought up at the Manse of Lochbroom, were the Rev Alexander Cameron, Minister of Sleat, Skye, residing later at Dolphinstone, Fort William, and Mr William Cameron of Guisachan Farm, British Columbia.

The Rev Alexander Cameron's only son, Lieut. William Cameron, had just completed a fine University career when, on the outbreak of war, he accompanied his regiment (1st Cameron Highlanders) from Edinburgh Castle to France, serving with this battalion continuously till, on the 25th of September 1914, during the fierce battle of Loos, he sustained wounds of so severe a nature that he shortly afterwards succumbed to the necessary treatment in hospital.

His cousins from Canada, Douglas and Iain, sons of the late Mr William Cameron, took a full share in the campaign in France, the elder brother returning after the signing of peace to Canada.  The twenty-three years of the life of the younger brother, Iain, were gloriously ended during the attack, in April 1917, by his regiment, the Canadian Gordon Highlanders, on the positionm known at the Vimy Ridge where, in the face of a blinding blizzard of snow, the Canadians showed the most magnificent bravery in their attack on the German position.

Major and Mrs Fraser of Leckmelm, who visited the battlefields of France in 1919, thought that no memorial could surpass in dignity that which at present crowns the shell-scarred summit of the Vimy Ridge, namely, a great white cross on which is inscribed one single word Canada.

RCHS note:  At this juncture it is thought appropriate to insert photos of the front of the memorial and, at the rear, "Mother Canada weeping for her children". 

Both photos RCHS 2014.

It should also be noted that, among those whose memorial records appear in this book are ths sons of two fathers who, in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, left an indelible impression for good on the hearts of the rising generation of that day.  These parents were respectively the late Rev John Macmillan, Free Church Manse, Ullapool, and Mr John Cameron, Headmaster of Ullapool School.

The Rev John Macmillan was not only a constant visitor to, and minister among, his flock, but was gifted with such power as a preacher that he drew to his church a regular and large congregation which, at the summer sacrament services, was numbered not by hundreds but by thousands, who attended the open-air services from districts far and near.  His distinguished son, the Rev Robert Macmillan, DD, not content with the work of a chaplain to the troops, laid down his life as an officer of the Seaforth Highlanders at Arras in France. He and his friend, Roderick Cameron, (Mr John Cameron's son), were educated at the Ullapool Board School, noted as one of the best secondary schools in the north.

The musical training there was a very good one, and the Free Church choir, trained by Mr J Cameron, has for half a century been pre-eminent in the Lochbroom district.  It is no exaggeration to say that from that congregation and school went forth a band of young men and women whose lives were an example and influence for good wherever their lot in life was cast.

Continued in page 03
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