1804 - Na Saighdearan Dall – The Blinded Soldiers

In 1804, about twenty Uig men were enlisted into the 78th, this time under the command of John Munro, son of the parish minister. They were known as Saighdearan Mac a’ Mhinisteir. Their first casualty was Donald MacKenzie, Pabbay (Dòmhnall Ailein Ruaidh), at the Battle of Maida against the French.

The 78th were then deployed in the disastrous Egyptian Campaign of 1807 (Cogadh an Tuirce). The horrors of this experience figured prominently in local tradition. During the campaign, soldiers caught an infectious ophthalmic illness and became blind.

Around five hundred British prisoners were sold into slavery after the rout at El Hammed. John Macaulay, Crowlista, was said to have been a slave in Egypt for seven years. One of the old soldiers, Murdo Macleod of Crowlista, who was blinded, wrote of El Hammed:

Aig el Hammed bhrùchd na nàimhdean oirnn mar muir làn, ’S gur iomadh gille uasal bha mar uan air a’ phlàt.

At El Hammed the enemy poured on us like a flood tide Leaving many a gentle lad like lambs on a bed of straw.

Those still fit to fight were sent to India for the Invasion of Java. The 78th lost thirty three men, among them Munro. One of his compatriots who rounded on his assailant wrote:

“Ghabh sinn dhà leis a bhèigleid, cha do dh’fhàg sinn pìos dheth uiread ’s gum b’ fhiach dhut a chur air dubhan lìon beag”.

We set about him with our bayonets, we didn’t leave a piece big enough to bait the small line.

Medals were issued, in 1847, to surviving veterans of the campaigns. Calum Gobha of Enaclete received his just before emigrating, as an old man, to Canada. Those blinded in Egypt (na Saighdearan Dall) were granted an annual pension of £30 and £12 to pay for a guide.