View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Coming home

Coming home has a special meaning in these islands. Anyone coming to Lewis, e.g., is said to be coming home. Even if their actual home is elsewhere, even if they have no connection to the island. The expression encompasses more than just arriving in the island, it denotes a spiritual connection, one that the islanders themselves feel very strongly, particularly when away. They experience what in Gaelic is termed cianalas. However, this longing transcends life itself. Many an islander who passes away on the mainland, or even outside the UK, will be brought back to these shores, where he or she was born, grew up, went to school, and left to go to university, college, work, raise family and live their lives. However, they always want to come back to their home soil, even in death.

Next week will see another instance, when the remains of one islander (I did not know him, only very indirectly) will be brought back on MV Loch Seaforth at lunchtime. The coffin will then be driven to a mission hall in Bragar, 15 miles north of Stornoway on the west coast of the island where a brief funeral service will be conducted. After that, the interment will take place at Bragar Cemetery. As in the case of all island cemeteries, that graveyard is located near the sea, looking out west over the Atlantic - for ever.

Operation Market Garden - 71 years on

Seventy-one years ago last Thursday, the airborne landings commenced just west of the city of Arnhem in eastern Holland. On 17 September 1944, the Allied forces had been on campaign through western Europe for 3 months, after the successful landings in Normandy on 6 June. Airborne troops were parachuted into the area between Ede and Arnhem to engage the Nazi-German forces, which were occupying Holland at the time. Although the Allies managed to penetrate into Arnhem, they failed to seize the Rhine bridge there. Fierce fighting in the city dislodged them from forward positions. Poor communications as well as a stronger resistance than anticipated forced a withdrawal south across the River Rhine.

Arnhem and Oosterbeek were evacuated, and looted by the Nazis. Holland north of the Rhine remained occupied until the early spring of 1945. In the wake of the failed action at Arnhem, the Netherlands' railway network in the occupied sectors went on indefinite strike. This caused major problems for the Nazi forces, but also for food supplies - by the spring of 1945, many people in the major conurbations in western Holland had starved to death. Others survived by eating flower bulbs. The Allies finally managed to cross the river at Remagen, between Cologne and Koblenz, in February 1945.

Reposted and modified from an original posting in 2009