RAF Party Stuck at Achmore

In the winter of 1961, the Commanding Officer of RAF Aird Uig and twenty-six of his officers and men were stranded in Stornoway while returning from the first night of the charity concert organised by the camp in the Town Hall.

Stornoway Gazette 8th Dec 1961

Snow disrupts transport

R.A.F., Aird, Uig, almost had to move its address to Stornoway this week. The Commanding Officer and twenty-six of his officers and men were stranded there early on Tuesday morning while returning from the first night of the charity concert organised by the camp in Stornoway Town Hall. Half of the party got back to Stornoway on Tuesday night. The remainder came on Wednesday afternoon, and on Thursday morning a truck with bread supplies and a party of men aboard left to make its way back to camp.

After a successful first night, the cast, a number of “liberty men” who had been over to see the performance, and at least one unfortunate who had just come off the steamer, left Stornoway by bus, while the C.O., Squadron Leader G. Ware, went ahead by car. It was snowing heavily, but the convoy got as far as Achmore before the Squadron Leader’s car went off the road. The bus party helped to get it back on the road again, but when they tried to move off themselves, ended in the same snowdrift. The leading car continued for some way before finally going off the road.

All-Night Teas

It was dark, the snowstorm was being turned into a blizzard by a strong wind, and there seemed to be no hope of getting the bus out. After some time, a party from the bus made their way to the Post Office house, where Mr and Mrs Fallon took them in. By the time the whole busload was gathered indoors (two hours later when the cold had impressed on everybody that the bus was no place to spend the night) the Fallons had 24 visitors to accommodate. Mr Fallon himself kept an all night tea-making service going, and in the morning he and his wife did their best to feed them.

For the whole of Tuesday the party tried to get the bus to move in the right direction, which was now back to Stornoway. “We took votes all day, and every time the boys said ‘Let’s go on with the concert’,” said J.T. Chisholm Macrae.

Many manoeuvres later, when the bus was off the road for the fifth time, a rescue party from Aird Uig arrived. They had left early in the morning – fifteen men with spades in a truck fitted with a snowplough, and they had already to dig themselves out at Eneclet and Garynahine. It was five o’ clock and growing dark, and it was decided to leave the bus, transfer as many of the cast as possible to the truck and try to get to Stornoway in time for the concert.

This seemed quite feasible especially since the County snowplough had just gone through Achmore, but the final stroke of bad luck hit them when their own snowplough broke down.  It was then that the decision to cancel the concert had to be taken. Eventually twenty men managed to get into Stornoway while the other half of the party was billeted in Achmore. Those who got into Stornoway ran to the dance which was planned to follow the concert. Weather conditions were still such that few people turned up.

Food and Warmth

Flight Lieutenant Neil Maclellan, listing those who had helped himself and the other men stranded in Achmore, put Mr and Mrs Fallon on top of the list, with Mr Mackay, 21 Achmore, and other unknown householders who had fed them during the day when cold, hunger and tiredness threatened their cheerfulness. Mrs Mackay, No. 6 had also helped by taking six of the men left behind on Tuesday in for the night. Stornoway hotelkeepers and landladies also came in for praise for their help in ensuring a night’s rest for those who reached the town. Capt. and Mrs Perrins had helped by feeding and warming the rescue party. Squadron Leader Ware gave his “very profound thanks on behalf of everybody” for all the kindness shown to himself and his men.

The drive who volunteered to bring the party into town in the first place, and spend Tuesday behind the wheel in his white shirt and black bow tie, as he had appeared on the stage the previous night, was S.A.C. Ted Stockdale who got high praise for his efforts and linked with him was “John Angus” the station’s civilian driver, who brought the snowplough through.

It is impossible to run a substitute “second night”, because members of the concert cast will be going on Christmas leave, and in some cases have had postings to other stations deferred for the concert and are now past their deadline. Nicolson’s and Smith’s the stationers who were acting as ticket agents, will refund money to those who return their tickets.

Among the people stranded on Monday night was Calum Macdonald, the gamekeeper at Morsgail, who spent the night in his van and in the morning walked to Garynahine Lodge. Later Capt. Perrins and some helpers set off with him in a Land Rover and got himself and his vehicle safely to Morsgail.

There was a more comfortable stranding for the driver of Mitchell’s Harris bus. He did not venture beyond Tarbert on his return journey on Monday, a wise precaution since the Harris road, particularly at Marig, was in a very bad shape.

One vehicle which did not simply slide off the road, as most others did, was a Board of Agriculture lorry, which ended upside down in a ditch in Balallan. The driver was not injured.