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Ruaraidh Rob Mackinnon II: Off to War
Ruaraidh Rob Mackinnon II: Off to War
Reminiscences of Ruaraidh Rob Mackinnon, 2 Garyvard, who was born in Caversta in 1909. Translated by Elizabeth MacGowan from the articles in Tional in 1992/93
Off to the war
When the War started, everything changed. Everybody knew that the War was not far away, so nobody was surprised when the call-up papers came through. I was working on the crusher in the Shieldinish quarry. The postman gave me my papers at the quarry, but I carried on working until five o'clock. Nobles, my brother Angus, and Calum Choinnich Ruaidh from Lemreway got their papers at the same time. We left on the bus the following morning. That was in August 1939, the Friday of the Stornoway communion. Many left from the villages with us.
We went to Mallaig on The Loch Ness. She was absolutely full. When we arrived in Mallaig, there was a train waiting to take us to Portsmouth. At the pier they made sure that we all went on board. There was one missing, but we left anyway. On our way down at Glasgow the one that was missing came on board. When Nobles was put to AMC1, the officer put me to AMC2. We were so disappointed to be separated, but I knew some of those with me -Seonnaidh Ciorstaidh, Calum Russell, and Tormod Iain Alasdair from Lemreway, Ruairidh a Bhuitealair from Orinsay, Murdaidh Chalum Mhurchaidh from Gravir, and Ruairidh Dhomhnuill Choinnich from Cromore. Nobles went on the Ranchi, and I went on the Comorin.
On the evening before the War started, we went to join a convoy in Glasgow. We went to Capetown. Nobles went to the Indies. When we got to Capetown they replaced our bunks with hammocks. We were put in a camp, and the older of us worked through the day on the boat. We were fed well, and we were in our element.
We spent about twenty days there. Then returned to sea in convoy between Capetown and Freetown. Occasionally we went to Durban. After that we went to the West Indies doing a run from Bermuda to Halifax to Britain and back again. Our skipper was 68 years old. He agreed to go to the South Atlantic to chase a raider, and he was sure it was somewhere near the Equator. We went over the Equator several times but did not find the raider.
I got my first leave in September 1940. I had got engaged, and I was more than happy to get married when I got home. Although we were quite poor, we had a lovely wedding at the house. I only had a week at home after getting married. Imagine, leaving my young bride behind after just one week together. It was quite hard but I had to go. I took a photo of her with me and I looked at it every day. We just had to manage until I got back.
I then went back to Halifax. We went back and fore as before until the boilers broke down. They had done 10 000 miles and needed a lot of repairs, so we returned to Glasgow. Some of us got leave, including me. That was in March 1941. I came home the same day we arrived in Glasgow. There was a massive air raid in Glasgow that night. Nothing hit our ship that night, but the ship next to ours was sunk. I was at home for a second honeymoon. Nobody ever had as many honeymoons as me, one every time I got home on leave. When it came to go away again there was severe weather, heavy snow on the ground. That did not make leaving Isabel very easy.
Although there was heavy snow, I got back to Glasgow easily enough, but the boys from the North of Scotland were held back because of the bad weather. They didn't get through until the night before we were due to leave Glasgow. We left Glasgow on the Friday heading for Capetown. On the Sunday morning, the boat went on fire about 500 miles off Ireland. There was a storm raging, the likes of which I never saw before, and a gale to match. Seonaidh Ciorstaidh and I were the 'Port Lowerers', him on aft and myself on fore. I had a boy from Glasgow with me. He did not have much of an idea of what he was supposed to be doing. Before the coxswain could let the lifeboats down, we needed to remove the pins at both ends of the block. When we had done that we were to raise our hand to show that we were ready. The Glasgow boy raised his arm before he was ready; the other fellow lowered the lifeboat. The front of her rose, and if I hadn't released the block, everyone aboard would have tumbled out the bottom.
I went to get a life jacket. There was none left. I met Murchadh Bess, and told him there were no lifejackets left. There is one for you he said. He had two. A destroyer came up to the boat and many of the crew got onto her. The rest of us got to a raft. It was not easy because of the heat. We were on the raft for about an hour when a destroyer rescued us. She was in a convoy, and it would be two or three days before she would get back into Glasgow. I then got home for two or three weeks. When I went away again I had to go to Whale Island to do a gunnery course. Domhnull Dheodh from Marvig was in the same barracks with me. With little to do, we felt the time long. Then Domhnull Dheodh came up with the idea of doing Patrol Service.
"That would be brilliant," I said. "We would be in port every night." We were just about to leave when I got called to the office. I got put on to a Fleet sweeper. It was to the coast of Holland we went. There was plenty of danger, but it didn't bother us. I think if it were today I was there, I would be out of my mind!
I was responsible for all the sweeping gear. On the first day we were there the first lieutenant said to me "we may be here for a week before we come across anything." He had hardly finished speaking when there was an almighty bang - the first mine. I saw us exploding up to sixty-five of them in one go. We got them just in the same order they were set. They took one minute between each one to go up. We did not lose one soul while we were there. There was one time when we were going out from Falmouth that another boat collided with us. Our boat was that badly damaged that we had to go to Belfast and wait on a replacement from Glasgow.
It was while Fleet sweeping that I got the D.S.M. When we left Belfast we went to Gibraltar where we were escorting other ships. Although the U- boats were bad, the E- boats were worse. They were much faster. There were also Raider boats. They would steal flags of other countries so that you would think that they were merchant vessels. They would be after the big ships. The Jarvis Bay was with us. She went out in a convoy but got hit by a Raider. We saved sixty-three men off her. There was no one from here aboard her. Most of them were from Wick or the East coast. Near the end of the War, I was home on leave with a chill in my kidneys, and spent a month in hospital. Once I got over that I went to Portsmouth, and stayed there until the War was over. When I came home there was no work, and I spent a month on the dole.
After the war
After that I started weaving on my father's loom. He had stopped. It was at that time I built the house. There were a few houses built in the village at that time. It was not easy. Not only was there a shortage of money, but there was also a shortage of materials. There were hardly any tweeds, and the pay you got was poor. In 1947 an abundance of herring came into the loch, and we made the most of that while it lasted. It wasn't as plentiful as in 1927, but the price was better. We would take them to Keose, and lorries would collect them from there. There were all sorts of people carrying them. Fido Mharvig and Iain Sheonaidh were handing over to Macrae and Dick. I continued to weave until 1976. I feel I have no more spare time now than I had then. I still have a few sheep. I sold most of them, but I have to be doing something. Isobel and I have been married for over fifty years now - many a honeymoon we have had in that time.