Past & Present

The War Years

Aonghas Dhòmhnaill a’ Phuist:

I also remember in 1941 or 42 the RAF setting up a base in Hùisinis. I have a vague memory of the building site, but my clearest memory is of a Sunday morning and a fleet of lorries arriving with the building materials. They built two big Nissan huts, one for dining, kitchen and officers accommodation. The other was sleeping quarters for rank and file. There were other buildings, store, generator room, signalling room and toilet. One building remains at the end of the Hùisinis road (the brick one in the middle), and should have been listed by now!!

The RAF had an observation turf hut next to the Coastguard hut on the top of Cnoc na h-Aird as part of the RAF Coastal Observation Command. The Coastguard hut was manned 24/7 and the watchers were, Iain Mòr, Iain Beag, Tormod Bheadarsaig and Finlay Gòbhaig. We visited both regularly and would be made most welcome if we brought a wee pail of water on each visit as it was a scarce commodity on the hill top. They would allow us to use their powerful spying glasses and binoculars to observe all around us. I remember seeing thick black smoke billowing around Hiort and they said it was a convoy attack as the convoys coming across the Atlantic, dispersed there for round Cape Wrath, Glasgow and Liverpool.

Mines and many other ‘muragan’ were washed up on the shore, and we did a shore patrol before going to school claiming what we thought useful and putting it in ‘our pile.’ Every house had piles along the shore of everything the sea kindly brought us and nobody touched anyone else’s pile without permission. Plenty wood would be washed up and Domhnall Iain Macdonald taught us how to saw it up for firewood and many other uses. He was a kind man who taught us how to use all kinds of joinery tools and taught us how to use a paint brush. Mines washed up on the beaches and some would anchor on rocks near the shore. All were notified by the Coastguard to the Mine Disposal Unit based in Stornoway and they would send a squad to deal with it as soon as possible. Sometimes the mines would self-explode before their arrival but none caused any major damage as far as I know.

The airmen mixed well with us and were in and out of the houses whenever they were off duty giving a hand with the crofting tasks, and poaching! Everyone gathered in our house, or DJ Chrissie’s house, for the 9 o’clock news every night to hear how the war was progressing. Iain Beag had a map of Europe on the wall, on which he would mark with map pins every night the progress made, or setbacks suffered. The newscasters started off by saying, This is London calling’ followed by their names and the ones I remember are, Stewart Hibberd, Frank Phillips and John Snagg, though there must have been more than that.

After the news ‘Lord Haw Haw’ (William Joyce an American Irishman and fully paid up member of the British Fascist Party) would cut in from Germany, saying ‘This is Germany calling’ and then go into a tirade of German propaganda of how they were winning the war. All I remember is that it was treated with scorn and laughter...

… Sadly some of the airmen we had had got to know so well were posted to more active service, and many of them were taken prisoner or lost their lives, and it was like a death in the family when we received the news. We must have known VE day was round the corner in 1945, as we spent days gathering materials for the celebration bonfire with the help of the RAF boys. A great night was had by all, and the hill on which we had it became known as ‘Cnoc a Bhonfire’ – I am not sure if it is still there as the ‘machair’ has changed so much.’

Angus Maclean, 2013

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