Comann Eachdraichd Uig

Interned at Groningen in 1914

Unknown InterneeThis unidentified sailor with the Naval Division is believed to be one of those interned in Holland in 1914.  The picture was taken at Groningen, and comes to us from 10 Mangersta.  Is he one of the Uigeachs listed below who spent the war in “HMS Timbertown”?  The following was written by Dave Roberts for Uig News; more information about the 106 known internees from Lewis, and the conditions they experienced, are found at Guido Blokland’s comprehensive website.

On 5 August 1914 the postman delivered buff-coloured envelopes to all the reservists. War had been declared. There was no reluctance to answer the mobilisation call, and those on the Island made their way immediately to Stornoway, thence to Kyle of Lochalsh, and eventually to one of the Channel ports.  The most pressing military need at the time was for infantrymen, not for ships’ crews, so the Naval Reservists found themselves issued with a rifle and ten rounds of ammunition. Their training had been as crew for warships, and the handling of big naval guns, not as infantrymen! But on 5 October they were transported to Antwerp in Belgium, via Dunkirk, to attempt to defend the strategic port from the advance of the Kaiser’s Army. The defences were built in the nineteenth century and were no match for the heavy artillery or the devastating fire from the ‘Big Bertha’ mortars. The ill-equipped and inadequately trained Naval Brigades had no chance and held out for less than three days.

They were facing overwhelming odds, and despite orders that they were to defend this strategic deepwater port at all costs, it was obvious that a retreat was necessary. There were also specific orders that on no account should the Naval Division be caught in Antwerp. Eventually the orders came to fall back, and two of the Brigades did so, but for some hours the third remained ignorant of the withdrawal. 3,500 men reached the Burght, crossed the River Scheldt by pontoon bridge and marched to St Niklaas, where they boarded trains and escaped. The other 1,500 men of the First Brigade, consisting of Hawke, Benbow and Collingwood Battalions, finally got their evacuation orders but when they arrived at the river the bridge was no longer in place. Fortunately there were some small boats available for ferrying them across, but valuable time had been lost. They arrived exhausted at St Niklass early on the morning of 9 October.

All the transport had departed and they were forced to continue on foot to St Gillis-Waas. There they discovered that the railway had been blown up, and they were almost completely surrounded by enemy troops. In fact some of the Naval Brigade had already been captured, including John Maclean Ungeshader (Shonnie Gorabhaig), John Buchanan Brenish, John and Angus Maciver Crowlista, and Donald Mackay Valtos. Only three of the Uigeachs who were sent to Antwerp managed to escape that day: they were Kenneth Maciver Geshader, Donald Macritchie Aird and Angus Mackay Valtos. The rest were now facing capture, being wounded or even being killed by the fierce bombardment they were suffering. Commodore Henderson was in charge and the lives of his men depended on him making the right decision. Reluctantly he chose the safest option: rather than become prisoners of war, they would cross the border. Once they were on Dutch soil, and had surrendered their weapons to the Dutch Army, they became internees in the neutral country of Holland.

The Uig contingent were: Malcolm and Murdo Buchanan (cousins) Brenish; Angus Morrison Islivig; Angus Macdonald Geshader; Donald Morrison, John William Macleod, Angus Macaulay, and James Morrison Valtos; Donald Maclennan Cliff; Kenneth Nicolson Crowlista and Norman Macritchie Aird. Out of the twenty Uigeachs who were sent to Antwerp only Kenneth Maciver Geshader, Donald Macritchie Aird, and Angus Mackay Valtos avoided capture or internment.

Theories about the Cave of Swords

A mysterious cave full of swords was once discovered on Mealisval, but the could not be found again.  Dave Roberts gave the story of the discovery of the cave in an article for Uig News and here gives a range of possible explanations.

In the Iron Age (2000 years ago) people often deposited weapons made of bronze or iron into water. They also built and used underground passage ways – thought by some to have been routes to the ‘underworld’. In Orkney there are a number of manmade shafts with steps that lead downwards into the ground. Some of these have water in, and could have been wells, but others have no permanent water in the bottom. Could the Mealaisbhal cave with its staircase, be an Iron Age route to the underworld, and were the swords an offering to the gods?

Other people have suggested that the swords are more recent than that. Perhaps they have a connection to a famous and desperate fugitive from justice, who lived in the Uig hills in the mid-nineteenth century. In the stories, Mac an t-Sronaich was supposed to be a very violent man who threatened, accosted and even murdered people. The official records however suggest that this was a gross distortion of the truth. Did he have an arsenal of weapons hidden in a cave? He is reputedly associated with just about every cave in Uig, and many much further afield. Many of the tales about him describe his aggression, but none make any reference to swords.

A much more convincing theory is that the cave was a hiding place in the period immediately after 16th April 1746. In the aftermath of Culloden, and the defeat of the Jacobite army under the command of Charles Edward Stuart – everything ‘Highland’ became forbidden. This included the wearing of the kilt and the bearing of arms. Many of the people hid their now illegal weapons wherever they could. Some secreted claymores in the thatch of their houses. Maybe the Uig upper-enders hid theirs in a cave on Mealaisbhal. Their weapons would have been totally undetectable, but quickly and easily accessible if the need arose.

The Charge Sheet: We Have Waited Long Enough (1913)

On the day in November 1913 when the Reef Raiders drove the stock from Reef Farm, the local Constable made the following report (the list doesn’t correspond exactly to the men identified in the photo):

Charge, Breach of the Peace
Police Station
Miavaig, 28th November 1913

Sir,

I beg to report to you that between the hours of 10am and 1pm on Friday the 28th day of November 1913, on Reef Farm, occupied by Alexander Macrae, Farmer in the Parish of Uig

1. Malcolm Macritchie (64), Married, Squatter, Fisherman, Kneep
2. Allan Morrison (56), Married, Crofter, No 3 Kneep
3. Donald Morrison (49), Married, Squatter, Fisherman, No 13 Kneep
4. Murdo Macdonald (52), Married, Squatter, No 2 Kneep
5. John Morrison (48), Single, “alias” Cooper, No 13 Kneep
6. Murdo Mackay (25), Single, (Angus Son), No 30b Valtos
7. Donald Matheson (54), Married, Squatter, Fisherman, Valtos
8. Alexander Mackay (41), Married, Squatter, Fisherman, Valtos
9. Alexander Macdonald (60), Married, Squatter, Fisherman, Valtos
10. Angus Mackay (26), Single, (Norman Son), Fisherman, Valtos
11. Norman Mackay (24), Single, (Malcolm Son), Fisherman, Valtos
12. Donald Morrison (23), Single (Malcolm Son), Fisherman, Valtos
13. James Morrison (20), Single (Murdo Son), Fisherman, Valtos
14. Donald Maclennan (18), Single (Widow John Son), Valtos

all in the Parish of Uig.

Did form in a body and forcibly and unlawfully enter said farm, there gathered together all the sheep about 200 in number, and 5 head of cattle, and drove them to the march stone dyke which they knocked down, and forced them over the broken wall, thereafter drove them together across the moor through Kneep and Uigen to Miavaig public road, thence along the road through Valtos Glen to Timsgarry Farm, occupied by John Macrae, Farmer, all to the terror and alarm of both farmers, and in breach of the public peace.