6 September 2023
Visiting Lumberjacks n Wartime Scotland
In the two world wars, wood was used extensively for the production of many thing from paper to telegraph poles and everything else in between. It became a priority to employ skilled people with experience of felling trees, cutting them in to boards, poles or pit props and transporting them out of the forests and in to the factories. The British government called upon Canadian and Newfoundland foresters and the Women’s Land army. Canada was a neutral country and corpse of foresters travelled to Scotland to be part of the war effort having undergone some basic training in military operations. From Newfoundland, a British Protectorate, men were recruited who were not fit for active service (locally these men were nicknamed Newfies). The Land Army measured, counted and did the accounting – the landowners had to be paid for the wood. We were shown pictures of the badges which were created for the various groups. Sadly, the Land Army badge did not appear until sometime after the two wars. As you would expect with the army there were various ranks and they all had some training in forestry but also specialist trades were required eg blacksmiths, saw doctors and cooks. The Newfies were civilians who rushed to sign up when work at home became scarce. They were also used to cutting down trees in difficult terrain. They had to learn to cut as near the base of a tree as they could so as not to waste any valuable wood.
The first thing they all had to do was to build a camp and Alasdair showed us old photographs of the local camps near Beauly and on the Black Isle. As well as dormitories, canteens and wash houses there were recreation and games halls. We then shown group photos taken to send home to loved ones and eventually wedding photos of the men who married and either stayed in Scotland or went home with their new families.
In the future, Alasdair, has a whole new area to investigate. The British Hondurans who were in Golspie from 1942-46. The Australians and Leman Jews who were also involved.
We then watched a short film – ‘Wood for War’ which was a fascinating insight in to the life of visiting lumberjacks and showed us examples of some of the tools that would have been in use at that time.
This was entertaining and fascinating talk which was well received by the audience of over 39 people.
4 October 2023
Three Medics at Home and Abroad
David described how up until the mid-1900s, Scottish universities produced a large number of doctors in comparison to the rest of the UK. They had to seek work outside of Scotland, many with the armed forces as army surgeons, others as general practitioners across the British Isles. A large number found work as doctors on slave ships and slave plantations,
William Brydon (1811-1873), was an army surgeon, immortalised in a painting by Elizabeth Butler, showing a tragic, but heroic figure under the title ‘The Remnants of the Army’, implying that he was the sole survivor of an attack during the First Afghan War. This was not true. Although Elizabeth Butler was the most popular military of the Victorian military artists, she wanted her paintings to impart a sense of heroism — but not to glorify war. Brydon never saw the painting which was produced after his death. He survived the sieges of Kabul and Lucknow and was awarded the Companion of the Order of the Bath and retired to Pitcalzean House, Nigg.
Dr Colin Chisholm (1754-5-1825) was from Inverness and studied medicine at Edinburgh University. He became a surgeon to the Fraser Highlanders, and embarked to America with them. On his return to Inverness in 1783, through family connections to the Baillies of Dochfour family who had their own established slaving business, he moved to Grenada where he looked after both settlers and slaves on plantations. He contributed many papers to medical journals. After a short sojourn Scotland he returned to Grenada as Surgeon-General to the Ordnance and then Inspector-General to the Ordnance in the Windward Islands. He retired to Demerara where he carried out medical research. Later, he returned to live in Bath and then Switzerland, continuing to write medical books. Although he never returned to the Highlands, he donated 100 guineas for the establishment of the Royal Infirmary in Inverness.
Dr George Gordon Smith (1805-1876), the son of a Forres minister, was a radical and possibly an atheist. His ‘claim to fame’ was fathering two children out of wedlock, for which he was summoned before Cromarty and Resolis Kirk Sessions and sentenced to be publicly rebuked before their congregations. He did not appear and appealed the decisions at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. He agreed to one private admonishment. This was the last attempt to invoke public retribution for the crime of fornication. He also had battles in the civil courts which included prosecution and fining for kidnapping (with another Cromarty resident and radical, William Watson) a Tory voter to prevent him from voting in the general election of 1837. Both of these Cromarty radicals were Justices of the Peace at the time. However, he did win some battles, his gravestone can be seen in the Gaelic Chapel in Cromarty.
1st November 2023
Behind the Scenes at the Black Isle Show
Alasdair came to our rescue after the planned speaker, through a misunderstanding over the date, did not turn up to the meeting.
The Black Isle Farmers’ Society was formed at a meeting in Avoch on 22nd March 1836 and the first Black Isle Show was held at Fortrose on 6th October of the same year.
Volunteers of all ages are the backbone of the Show beginning well in advance of the Show dates with lots of cleaning and painting and continuing through to erecting barriers, gates and ends with taking down and removing for storage until the next year. As the Show date approaches there are numerous jobs to be done like grass cutting and organizing the 50 acres of carparking fields and laying lots of underground cables. There is also a tremendous amount of administration for the judges including preparation and delivery of rosettes and cards. All animals are given a number and every animal has to have a numbered neck card which is sent out a week before the Show. This is when all the washing stations are pressure hosed and put in place and fire extinguishers are checked. Every year there are 1800 pages of regulations to check and put into place. Also, signage on buildings and exits, ensuring all loudspeakers systems are set up and working and traders’ risk assessments completed. Not forgetting, most importantly, to organize food for the helpers.
One event which has proved popular involves four tractors being pulled or pushed with the driver wearing fancy dress. The Flower Show is also a popular event attracting a wide variety of flowers and vegetables. Other events which attract a lot of visitors are the Highland Cattle who cause a great deal of interest. There is always hot discussion about inter-breeding and whether designer sheep look ‘colourful’ in front of your mansion. Other popular attractions are pigs (spotted), local produce, ice cream and, in recent years, gin. Sheep shearing attracts international competitors from as far away as Australia. There is a big demand for trade stands for agricultural machinery and products but also clothing and toys.
The costs of running the Show is astronomical, for example, two big expenses are traffic management and getting water on the showground which cost over £6000 a year.
The Black Isle Farmers Society works with schools showing children where food comes from and that it is not grown on supermarket shelves, they learn how to hand-grind corn using stones, milk cows, shear sheep and make paper cups to grow plants from seed.
Planning is already underway for the next Show which will take place on 1st August 2024.
You can find out more about The Black Isle Show at https://blackisleshow.com/