View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Seven years ago today

11 January 2005 is one of those days that everybody who was in the Outer Hebrides at the time will not forget. A deep Atlantic depression moved past our islands, bringing with it winds of force 12 on the Beaufort scale, with gusts in excess of 130 mph. At the time, I was staying in Kershader, 12 miles south of Stornoway as the crow flies - more like 22 miles by road. At 6.22pm, the power went off, not to go back on again for 48 hours. The wind was already howling around the building. Blue flashing lights penetrated the darkness from across Loch Erisort - police cars were stopping traffic on the Stornoway to Tarbert road after a lorry driver reported a sheep flying past his windscreen. The driver of the South Lochs bus that night was mightily relieved to make it home in one piece, he told me later. Trees were downed, roofs taken off, vehicles crushed under trees - and hundreds of them toppled in the Castle Grounds in Stornoway. High tides lapped at the doors of people on Cromwell Street and Bayhead in the town. Boats were torn off their moorings and smashed into the ferry terminal. Slates became like missiles, and pedestrians blown off their feet. Some who sought refuge were denied entry; others were taken inside.

The next morning dawned breezy and bright. Everybody heaved a sigh of relief. That was a bad one, but it's only damage. By 9.20 am however, reports start to emerge from the Southern Isles. Five people are missing in South Uist, after they fled their home the previous evening at around 7pm. Rising tides had started to approach their home, and pebbles were hurled against walls and windows. They enter two cars and drive from their home at Eochdar towards the causeway, linking South Uist and Benbecula. A fatal decision. That road parallels the stretch of sea that separates the two islands. The southeasterly storm, combined with a springtide from the northwest pushed the waters of Loch Bi up; but on account of the floodtide they could not drain into the sea. The loch flooded a small causeway, sweeping the cars into the water. By morning, the five missing people are found dead. They include a mother and father with two young children and a grandfather. This article on the BBC News website shows their faces.

This is a repost from an entry I made on 11 January 2010.

Wednesday 11 January

The uninspiring weather continues, with more overcast skies and rain. The wind has put in an appearance, and it is currently blowing at 30 mph, that's a full force 7. It should brighten up and get colder over the next few days - but not  for very long, if my reading of the weathermaps is correct.

I am not very pleased at the moment, because my camera has developed a fault. I'm sending it off for repairs, and hope to have it back in service soon. Meanwhile, I'll continue to take pictures, using someone else's camera.

I'm still going through Australian service records from the First World War, and sometimes, the soldier's private life crops up in the correspondence. One young lady wrote to the Army to request the correct address for letters to her intended. She had despatched 30 epistles, but none had arrived, and a degree of acrimony had apparently crept in. Some 3 to 4 years later, the service file includes a transcript of a marriage certificate: to a different woman.

Last night, my researches turned up a deeply tragic turn of events in the life of one soldier. He had gone to France in 1916, but was returned home to Australia after contracting pneumonia. Although the man had recovered from his illness, it left him out of breath at the merest exertion. Six months after repatriation, he once more applied for war service - but was rejected. The army records show he had died after discharge, and I wanted to know if his death was directly attributable to his war service, which seemed likely. Not so. When I accessed the death record, with the help of fellow researcher Direcleit, it showed that our man had hanged himself, at the age of 25. We will never know why, because an inquest ruled that no indication of his state of mind had been apparent beforehand. RIP William Arthur Bawden.