Reay was born in Edderton Farm House some 93 years ago in July 1923 and on Wednesday 17 May 2017 he passed away in the same house. During those almost 94 years he was away from the house only three times, to school, to war and then later, in 1978, when he worked in Ribigill, Tongue, for almost a year.
But let’s go back to that pre-war period.
His father was Reay Falconer Clarke who unfortunately died at the early age of 41 leaving his mother Eva Mary to bring up the 8 year old boy and his older sister, Fiona. His education started at Tain Royal Academy, continued at Altonburn, Nairn, and from there he went to Trinity College, Glenalmond, until he returned home at the age of 17 in 1940. There he assisted his Mother with the farm and joined Edderton’s Home Guard whose duties included nightly spells on Edderton Hill, keeping watch for any landing attempt on the firth. Where they kept watch from was, much later on, where he planted so many of his trees.
Early in 1942 he, together with his lifelong friend, Ian Elliot, he volunteered, Ian joining the army and Reay the Navy. After initial training he joined HMS Farndale in Chatham, London, where she had been refitted. In September 1942, Farndale was ordered to Loch Ewe to join PQ18, more commonly known now as one of ‘The Arctic Convoys’. During the trip they were attacked first by submarine and then by aircraft and ten of the 40 Merchant ships were sunk. Farndale never reached Murmansk but was turned back to Scapa Flow with a damaged Merchant ship under their protection. At Scapa he was given orders to return to Portsmouth for training as a Motor Mechanic and set off on the train (or Jellicoe Specials as they were nicknamed) passing Edderton on its way south.
Once he had completed his Mechanics training he joined the 25th Motor Torpedo Boat Flotilla and went with them to Bombay, India, and a base called Trombay. He spent the rest of the war there, returning in 1946 to UK and, after a period of leave, was discharged.
He took on the farm here at Edderton and expanded it over the next 35 years from a farm of 177 arable acres, 120 outrun, through a dairy farm of 100 milkers to a more mixed enterprise totalling some 2300 acres with 200 acres of seed barley, 150 beef cattle and 600 strong flock of North Country Cheviot sheep.
In 1950 he met and married my mother, Lydia Middleton, and over the next 7 years they had four children – Donald, Janey, Hugh and James.
Reay never stood still and despite being a full-time farmer he found time to serve on many boards and advisory committees. These included:
Vice chairman of the North of Scotland Milk Marketing board (1955 – 65)
A member of Scottish Agricultural Improvemt Council
A member of the Highlands and Islands Advisory Panel which reported to the Secretary of State for Scotland and was the forerunner of the HIDB or HIE as it is known now.
A member of the Forestry Commission’s Regional Advisory Panel and Chairman of the Northern Region of the Royal Scottish Forestry Society.
A Governor of the North of Scotland College of Agriculture in Aberdeen, being President of the Easter Ross NFU.
He was chairman of the Easter Ross Land Use Committee, a sub committee of the NFU which contested the land use issue at three Public Enquiries in Dingwall from 1968 onwards. These were over the British Aluminium Smelter, Grampian Chemicals Refinery and a Housing development at Culcraggie. Through all these enquiries, his focus was always on Land Use – he was very keen on development but keen also that it should not be using up the limited supply of good farming land that the Highlands still has.
Sensible land use was also on his mind when, in 1969, he was one of the three authors of a booklet that led to Scottish policy on the A9 road north of Inverness being changed to the present route of the three Firths and our own Dornoch Firth Bridge. The booklet, ‘The Crossing of the Three Firths’ was prepared by himself, Pat Hunter Gordon of Beauly and John Smith, then of Aberdeen University. All three of the Bridges they promoted have now been built and he was asked to drive the first car across the final one, the Dornoch Firth crossing, some 22 years later in 1991.
His interest in land use was developed further when in 1977 he was awarded a Winston Churchill Travelling Scholarship to study transhumance and fodder production in the Alps and this added to his knowledge and huge interest in the land use of the countryside and his concern at the way it was changing and reducing fertility. He read extensively throughout his life about Land Use and was a close friend of Frank Fraser Darling. The more he read, the more he was convinced that the fertility of the Highlands was going in reverse and with many of the projects he took on, it was with an aim of reversing that trend.
Dornoch Bridge. Opened 1991 Attribution: unknown
Throughout all this time he has been a keen supporter of the local community. He was an elder of the Church from 1960 to 1985 which included a period as session clerk and was heavily involved in the restoration and re-ordering of this church which was returned to use in the1960s. He was also involved with the restoration of Edderton Old Church and all the archaeological work that went on with that. He often took Services here at Edderton Church and they included many Remembrance Day services and Christmas Watch Night services. He was a Chairman of the Edderton Community Council and was always a strong supporter of our local school and has provided Xmas trees to the village, the church and the school for the last 30 odd years.
Already mentioned is Ribigill farm beside Tongue and for a season in 1978 he was Head Shepherd there and during that time renewed his acquaintance with Olga Matthews who had been introduced to him by the Durhams at Scotsburn and whom he eventually married on Halloween 1980. His later life really proceeded on from there, with not just children and grandchildren enjoying the farmhouse and woods but all of Olgas’ family, her sons, daughters and their sons and daughters enjoying, in particular, their summer holidays there.
In addition to his family, there are several lasting monuments to Reay’s life but the one he took most pride in were his woods. Starting back in 1956 he has planted, tended and seen grow almost to maturity some 400 acres of mixed woodland around Edderton Hill and the glen beside the house. Three times he was recognised with awards for these woodlands from the Royal Highland and Agriculture Society of Scotland
His final lasting monument must be the book that he wrote and was published called ‘Two Hundred Years of Farming in Sutherland, The story of my family’. Approximately 1000 copies of this book were printed and sold and he received letters commending the book from a huge range of people – some he knew and some he had never heard of.
Reay was a very organised person and all of the above information was easily found in his elaborate filing system. He was never one to write ‘off the cuff’ letters and took great care to write out drafts before the final copy and then filing the drafts away with any answers received. He was an independent thinker throughout his life and was very principled in all that he did. If he felt he had come to an end of his usefulness to any committee or advisory group he said so and then resigned and then moved on to something else where he could provide further input.
He had an outstanding memory and frequently recited poems he had learnt at Glenalmond or quotes from books he had read. If unsure about a particular passage or meaning, next morning there would be the book from which the quote had been taken.
His manners were exemplary and throughout the period he was being nursed here firstly by HHC carers, then the nurses in Golspie and finally, the NHS Carers and Community nurses. No matter what they had to do to him, there was always a ‘thank you’ and ‘see you tomorrow’. The family have lost count of the number of times that the comment ‘He’s such a gentleman’ was made as they left the house.
Reay was a man of the land, he loved the seasons, the snowdrops, the daffodils, the flush of the larch, the swallows and the sound of the geese. He loved farming and forestry and put back into those industries far more than he ever took out.
He will surely be missed and remembered, not just by his extended family but by all who knew him and all whose lives he touched.
Arctic Convoy Veteran
In November 2014 at a ceremony in the Town House, Inverness, and at the age of 91, Reay Clarke and other veterans of the Arctic convoys received the Ushakov Medal from the Consulate General of the Russian Federation, based in Edinburgh, representing the Russian Government, in honour of their contribution to the delivery of vital supplies to the Soviet Union during World War 2.
The Ushakov Medal, first created in March 1944, is named after a famous Russian Admiral, Feyodor Ushanov, who reputedly never lost a sea battle and was proclaimed patron saint of the Russian Navy.
The medal had already been awarded to veterans in Canada, America and Australia, but the British government had resisted the offer, telling veterans the Atlantic Star was sufficient. Following a concentrated campaign the government backed down and veterans who took part in the convoys between 1941 and 1945 are eligible to receive the medal.
Reay Clarke sailed as an ordinary seaman on the Hunter class destroyer HMS Farndale, one of many ships which protected the PO18 convoy on its three-week journey to Murmansk.
They sailed out of Loch Ewe in September 1942 and faced constant attacks by German aircraft and submarines north of Norway, in addition to the terrible cold, discomfort and lack of sleep. A great many ships on that convoy were lost.
On his return from Murmansk, Reay was transferred from HMS Farndale to Portsmouth where he trained as a petty officer motor mechanic and spent the remainder of the war in the Far East.
The day after the award, Remembrance Sunday, Reay Clarke proudly wore his medal at the parade in his home village of Edderton.