Attribution: Photo courtesy of Morris Colven

The pages and photographs which follow are reproduced by kind permission of Karen and Craig Oliver, Nigg, who have researched the background.

Names of those listed on the Nigg and Shandwick War Memorial

Photo: #8270

Private Elizabeth Mackay

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Remembered with honour

W/64368, Auxiliary Territorial Service
Died aged 27

Elizabeth Mackay, known as Bess, was the daughter of Donald (a cattleman) and Johan Mackay, of Easter Rarichie. She was one of a large family and worked as a housemaid for the Rugg family at Wester Rarichie. When war broke out she decided that she wanted to do something to help the war effort so she went to Inverness and enlisted with the ATS, where she was then deployed to Great Yarmouth to train as a signalwoman. At the time of her death
the following was reported in a local newspaper:

“The death toll inflicted in Yarmouth on the morning of 11 May 1943 was the worst single loss of life ever suffered by the women’s services. Twenty-six young Army women died when a German bombing raid destroyed their seafront hostel. All of the raid’s victims were serving in the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service, the women’s wartime branch of the British Army.”


Bombing in May 1943

Newspaper photograph of aftermath of bombing in Yarmouth in May 1943.

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Photo: #8273

Sergeant Donald Mackenzie

Photo provided by Karen Young, niece.

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Remembered with honour

1347924, 10 Squadron
Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve
Died on 22 November 1943
Son of Mrs John Mackenzie, Bayfield

Taken from RAF Timeline:
18-19 Nov 1943 – Bomber Command aircraft begin a major campaign against Berlin. Over the next four months, 16 major attacks were launched against the German capital, involving a
total of 9,111 sorties. During this period, 492 aircraft failed to return, and 954 were damaged.


Additional Information: Donald Mackenzie is the brother of Trooper John Mackenzie, below.

Photo: #7940

Trooper John Mackenzie

Photo provided by Karen Young, niece.

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2820641, 51st Regt. (15th Bn.)
The Highland Light Infantry
Died aged 21 on 9 November 1942
Son of John and Maria L Mackenzie, of Nigg

John Mackenzie is remembered with honour in the El Alamein War Cemetery, Egypt. It was reported at the time that his parents had received official intimation that he had been drowned on active service in Egypt.
The battlefield, across which the fighting surged back and forth between 1940 and 1942, was the 1,000 kilometres of desert between Alexandria in Egypt and Benghazi in Libya. It was a campaign of manoeuvre and movement, the objectives being the control of the Mediterranean, the link with the east through the Suez Canal, the Middle East oil supplies and the supply route to Russia through Persia. El Alamein War Cemetery contains the graves of men who died at all stages of the Western Desert campaigns, brought in from a wide area, but especially those who died in the Battle of El Alamein at the end of October 1942.

Photo: #7941

Lance Corporal Charles Ross

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Remembered with honour

2817603, 4th Bn., Seaforth Highlanders
Died aged 32, on 6 June 1940
Husband of Mary Ross

Charles Ross is remembered on the Dunkirk Memorial which stands at the entrance to the Commonwealth War Graves section of Dunkirk Town Cemetery. It commemorates more than 4,500 casualties of the British Expeditionary Force who died in the campaign of 1939-40 and who have no known grave.

The evacuation of part of the British Expeditionary Forces at Dunkirk has been well known and documented over the years. The 4th Seaforths, along with other Highland divisions, made up the 51st Highland Division. On 28 June 1940 a letter from a Seaforths lieutenant colonel was published in the Ross-shire Journal.

“Sir – At a time as this when the hearts of so many are
desperate with anxiety, I feel it may be some little help
if I could pass on what information I have about the last
actions of my Battalion in France.

“On Tuesday, June 4th, my Battalion was allotted the
principal role in the attack towards Abbeville in
conjunction with other units of the Highland Division
and the French. At 3.30 am that day, the Battalion
moved forward to the attack – all in perfect order – all in
the highest spirits – and no finer body of officers or men
went into action.

“By 5.30 am, the first objective had been reached by the
forward elements of the Battalion, but from that point
onwards the attack was held by superior German
machine gun and other fire. The courage and disipline
of the men of the Seaforths was wonderful and beyond
all praise. I was fully aware of this, for I saw it with my
own eyes, but no courage or tenacity could withstand
such odds and our losses were heavy.

“Many were wounded in this action and are now in
hospital in England – others wounded are now almost
certainly prisoners. There will also be many who will
never return.

“I was wounded myself that day and can therefore give
no definite information after that, but on the day
following – 5th June – the great German advance, the
Battle of France, began. From all I can hear, and I have
made every possible enquiry, the casualties suffered by
the Battalion after the 4th June were not heavy. It seems
nearly certain, however, that on or around about the
11th June, the Battalion, with other units of the
Division, were surrounded at St Valery, through no fault
of themselves or their Commander, and so fell into
German hands.”

Photo: #8272

Seaman David Alexander Ross

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Remembered with honour

P/6155/D, HMS Voltaire, Royal Naval Reserve
Died 9 April 1941

Voltaire, a ship belonging to the Lamport & Holt Company of Liverpool, was taken over by the Admiralty in 1939 and converted to an armed merchant cruiser. On the morning of 9 April 1941, while en route for Freetown, West Africa, to escort a convoy in the Atlantic, a cargo ship came into sight, and the Voltaire steamed towards her under the assumption that she was in some kind of trouble. However, when they got close to her, the ship turned out to be the German auxiliary cruiser Thor, and she opened fire on the Voltaire. During the subsequent naval battle, which ended with the destruction of the British ship, the Captain, William Davies, and 15 other seamen lost their lives. The remaining 197 crew members were rescued. No British signals were sent because the Thor’s first salvo had destroyed the Voltaire’s radio room. Captain Otto Kahler of the Thor radioed news about the sinking of the Voltaire back to Germany. His message failed to mention the fact that the Voltaire had been unable to transmit any messages about the battle, so the British Admiralty did not know that it had lost the vessel. But the British were soon to be informed, as the Germans announced the next day that a warship operating in foreign waters had sunk the British auxiliary cruiser Voltaire.

Merchant Navy
Lost at Sea through Enemy Action, February 1943
Brother of Mr H Ross, 3 New Street, Shandwick

Photo: #8267

Captain Donald Ross

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Remembered with honour

SS Maritima (London), Merchant Navy
Died aged 20, on 2 November 1942
Son of Mr and Mrs Hugh Ross

Photo: #8274

Third Officer Donald Ross

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Remembered with honour

At least 35,000 merchant seamen died as a direct or indirect consequence of the War. In total 2,426 British registered ships were lost.

The Tower Hill Memorial is a national war memorial on the south side of Trinity Square Gardens, just to the north of the Tower of London. It commemorates those from the Merchant Navy and fishing fleets who died during both World Wars and have no known grave. The main inscription reads:

The twenty-four thousand of the merchant navy and
fishing fleets whose names are honoured on the walls
of this garden gave their lives for their country and
have no grave but the sea.

Many tributes have been paid to the crucial role played by the Merchant Navy in winning the War. The historian John Keegan notes:

“The 30,000 men of the British Merchant Navy who fell victim to the U-boats between 1939 and 1945, the majority drowned or killed by exposure on the cruel North Atlantic sea, were quite as certainly front-line warriors as the guardsmen and fighter pilots to whom they ferried the necessities of combat. Neither they nor their American, Dutch, Norwegian or Greek fellow mariners wore uniform and few have any memorial. They stood, nevertheless, between the Wehrmacht and the domination of the world.”

Photo: #8268

Private Charles Taylor

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Remembered with honour

2822193, 4th Bn., Seaforth Highlanders
Died aged 20, on 3 June 1940
Son of George E Taylor and Helen Taylor, Bayfield Cottages, Nigg

On the 31 May 1940 the 51st (Highland) Division, which included some of the finest regiments in the British Army – the Black Watch, the Gordon Highlanders, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and the Seaforth Highlanders – were ordered up the Somme.

At 2.00 am on 3 June 1940, one of the greatest stories in British history drew to a close. General Harold Alexander toured the beaches at Dunkirk by boat, calling out, “Is anyone there?” It was said there was no reply  – and after six long, hard days the Dunkirk evacuation was finally over.

For the men of the 51st Highland Division the Dunkirk evacuation was not an end but the beginning of a new ordeal. Although the general’s calls went unanswered, many soldiers remained in France. The statistics are telling: for every seven men who escaped across the Channel, one was left behind.

The 51st Division’s suffering has largely been overlooked in the history of Dunkirk, but without their bravery and sacrifice it would never have been a success story.

The great majority of the British dead, buried in Maureuil-Caubert Communal Cemetery lost their lives in these actions.


P/X 20051A
Royal Naval Reserve
Died aged 23

Photo: #7936

Seaman Bertie Vass

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P/X 20058A
Royal Naval Reserve
Died aged 18

Photo: #7055

Vass David, Seaman, Shandwick

Handwritten note: "Age 18. Lost at sea." (HMS Royal Oak)

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P/X 7361C
Royal Naval Reserve
Died aged 31

Photo: #7056

Vass Hugh, Seaman, Shandwick

Handwritten note: "Age 32. Lost at sea." (HMS Royal Oak)

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Royal Naval Reserve
Died aged 32

Photo: #7057

Vass Hugh, Seaman, Balintore

Handwritten notes: "Age 31. Lost at sea. (HMS Royal Oak) Left widow and ten months old son."

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On 14 October 1939 the Royal Oak was the first British capital ship to be lost in war; the 31,200 ton battleship was sunk at her moorings at the British Home Fleet Naval Base in Scapa Flow, in the Orkney Islands.

The Royal Oak went down with the loss of 833 men, including 24 officers, from her wartime crew of 1,234. At 1.16 am, three torpedoes were fired from the German U-47, all three struck and within 15 minutes the battleship rolled over and sank.

Shandwick suffered badly, with the loss of four of their own:

Seaman Bertie Vass, Royal Naval Reserve, aged 23 years
Seaman David Vass, Royal Naval Reserve, aged 18 years
Seaman Hugh Vass, Royal Naval Reserve, aged 31 years
Seaman Hugh Vass, Royal Naval Reserve, aged 32 years

At the time, the following was reported:

“The two men by the name of Hugh Vass, who were of the same age, were brought up within a stone’s-throw of each other, but had been separated for some years owing to the fact that one of them was in the Merchant Service. He lived in New Street, and was a son of Mrs N Vass. For five years he served on the Lochgoil and later on the Forsdale, which sailed between this country and Newfoundland. He was single, and had just enjoyed a short holiday before being called up”.

“The other Hugh Vass, who was a joined by trade, is survived by his wife Jessie and a baby son, 10 months old. He had been in the RNR for 15 years and but for the outbreak of war would have by now completed his period of service. He learned his trade at Tain with Mr D Mackenzie, carpenter, and prior to being called up worked mostly in the Fearn district, where he was well known. Two of his brothers are in the Navy.”

“The life and soul of the district was how his many friends described Bertie Vass, the sole support of his widowed mother, Barbara Vass. Also a member of the RNR, he was employed as an attendant at Arthurville House, Tain.”

“David Vass, whose home lies nearby, had only been in the RNR 18 months. A labourer by trade, he, too, was a firm favourite in Shandwick. A son of John Vass, he has a brother serving in the Navy.”

“Their names liveth for evermore”

Page created on 5 March 2023

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