View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Tuesday 9 November

A beautifully sunny but cold day, with the mercury barely on 8C. Fortunately, there was not much wind. After lunch, I went down to Sandwick Cemetery to (unsuccessfully) look for the grave of a Norwegian sailor who died after falling from the mast of a barque in 1917. Many of the older gravestones are covered in lichen, making them difficult to decipher. The shortest route to the cemetery takes me along the shores of Sandwick Bay, which are lined with shingle. Last Sunday's storm has washed tons of shingle and seaweed onto the shorepath, making it difficult to negotiate.

New moon at 5.23pm

Sunset colours

Walking to Sandwick

The bread shelves in Tesco, the day after the storms. Erm, the ferry did not sail, so no bread. Capiche?


That is a euphemism for a torture technique, employed by American forces in Iraq, to extract information from prisoners regarding possible terrorist attacks. President George W. Bush, writing in his memoirs, feels that the use of this technique is fully justified, as it prevented more terrorist outrages in the aftermath of 9/11.

Torture, Mr Bush, is never acceptable. You, as the former leader of the Land of the Free, should be the very last to condone such barbarity. The fact that the likes of Al Qa'eda see fit to descend to the depths of depravity in their acts does not justify you doing the same. Torture, Mr Bush, also elicits the responses the torturer wants to hear, which is not necessarily the truth. And your use of torture just lends power to the arguments of your political and military adversaries who say you are a barbarian, and gives them the justification for their actions.

Mr Bush was so blinkered by the fact that his daddy did not finish off Saddam Hussein in 1991 that he had, come hell or high water, finish it for him. Saddam Hussein was a clever dictator, who, seeing he was militarily hamstrung, got rid of his weapons of mass destruction, which he did possess. But they turned into a Weapon of Mass Delusion for George W. Bush. Everybody else joined in, including former British prime minister Tony Blair. Yes, they got rid of a monster, but they got landed with a Medusa instead, in the shape of Al Qa'eda. Not necessarily in Iraq, where they got booted out. But elsewhere, they certainly got plenty of followers on account of George Bush and his boundless stupidity.

Putting his age on

Many a youngster would tell a white lie when trying to enlist in the armed forces, early in the 20th century. It is referred to as "putting your age on", in other words, saying you're older than you are.

I found a good example in a Lewis soldier, James Macleod, who was born in Callanish as an illegitimate child. In February 1912, he enlisted with the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, and told the recruiting officer he was 17 years and 2 months. As James was born on 24 January 1897, he was in fact not much older than 15 years and 2 weeks. His height was 5 feet 3½ inches and only weighed 120 lbs, 54 kg.

Six years after joining the Argylls, James was killed in action near Ypres on 8 May 1918. His body was never recovered, but his name is inscribed on the Tyne Cot memorial at Zonnebeke, 6 miles northeast of Ypres. A few days ago, I saw aerial footage from 1919 of the battlefields around Ypres, and of the village of Passchendaele, which was all but obliterated. After the Germans were pushed back from Ypres in 1917, they tried to regain their lost territory in 1918, but finally failed in September of that year.

This week, the website is offering free access to British army service records, which is how I managed to fill the gaps for James Macleod. His mother, Isabella, had moved to Stornoway by the time of the death of her son. When she gave birth, her occupation was marked as Domestic Servant. A few months after James had fallen, she wrote to the (Army) Records Office in Perth. I reproduce the text of the letter. Part of it is illegible due to a hole in the paper, as shown in the scan.

"Mrs Bella McLeod
8 Mackenzie Street

To Records Officer, Office Perth

Dear Sir,

Would you [...] me (his mother) of the late (killed in action (L/Cpl James Mcleod) 2 Bn Arg + Suth Hghns [Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders] Regt No S/43023 has any of his belongings come to hand. As far as I know, he had a wrist watch, Signet Ring, Pocket Folding mirror, Pocket Book or Wallet containing photos etc also a pocket knive [sic]. It would greatly oblige me if you could let me know at the earliest & how to  claim same.

I remain

Yours V. Truly
Mrs B. Mcleod"

The records do not relate whether the items, if any, were returned to Bella. She received a claims form, which was sent back to Perth, but that is were the records for James Macleod end.

9 November

9 November 1938 - an organised mob of Nazi forces and sympathisers go on the rampage in towns and cities across Germany, smashing and destroying Jewish-owned property and businesses. It was to be a marker, to what was to come during World War II - the extermination of anyone deemed sub-human by the warped mind of Adolf Hitler and his henchmen. Jews topped their league of the unfit, closely followed by gypsies, the mentally ill and many many others. The Reichskristallnacht was a night of infamy, and not just to Germany.

For Hitler was allowed to get away with literally murder for several years beforehand. In 1936, he occupied the Rhineland which had been ceded to France at the end of the First World War. The League of Nations, a toothless talkingshop, cried wolf but had no bite. In March 1938, Nazi forces marched into Austria to join that country to Germany, an event referred to as the Anschluss. Neville Chamberlain flew to Munich to meet with Adolf Hitler on 30 September 1938, returning with the infamous phrase: "Peace for our time". Six weeks later, the Reichskristallnacht took place, a sign of ill omen. Only a few months later, Germany invaded the Sudetenland area of Czecho-Slovakia, and again, nobody moved a finger to stop. In September 1939, Hitler thought he could get away with the invasion of Poland. But instead, it prompted the outbreak of the Second World War.

The lights have gone out in Europe, it was said at the time. The lights in Europe were extinguished in 1914, and had not been relit, not even at the end of the First World War. The Versailles Peace Treaty of June 1919 contained all the ingredients for another war, which duly materialised.