Life Story

Tommy MacRae – Raasay & Glasgow

The soldier had been on sentry duty for far longer than any man was reasonably able to bear and was at risk of falling asleep on his feet – if indeed that was possible in the incredible noise, turmoil and death which surrounded him. On the next visit of his commanding officer, which seemed to take forever, he was forced to say – ‘I can’t go on any longer without some sleep’. The captain was sympathetic and the soldier highly regarded. Knowing the man was totally exhausted, his Captain said –  ‘You go and lie down over there and I will watch and call if I need you’. With no argument, he withdrew and lay down on the ground falling asleep very soon thereafter. However, he was not long asleep when he heard his Captain calling, or so he thought. Rising quickly he rushed over to where the Captain stood. ‘You called me Sir’, he said. ‘No’ the man replied – ‘I didn’t.’ As the men spoke briefly and the soldier was about to return to the area where he had been sleeping a shell came over the trench where the men were standing and exploded on the very spot where, seconds before, the soldier had been sleeping.

This was not the only miraculous escape Raasay man, Thomas MacRae, would experience in Europe during WWI. He was also one of the very few who would return home to tell his stories.

Thomas Urquhart MacRae, known as ‘Tommy’, was born at Balachuirn, Isle of Raasay, on the 8th of December 1892. His father was Donald MacRae and his mother was Mary Nicolson from Braes, near Portree, on the Isle of Skye.

It appears that Roderick MacRae, Thomas’s great-grandfather, had lived in Suisinish, Strath, Isle of Skye. He was married to one Elizabeth MacIntosh. At the time of the clearances, in common with the whole village, the family were evicted from Suisinish. Five of Roderick and Elizabeth’s sons subsequently emigrated to Australia. The Suisinish eviction is well documented. One eyewitness recorded that, on the day, he could see –

‘A long and motley procession winding along the road that led north from Suisnish. It halted at the point of the road opposite Kilbride. And there the lamentation became loud and long. As I drew near I could see that the minister with his wife and daughters had come out to meet the people and bid them farewell. It was a miscellaneous gathering of at least three generations of crofters. There were old men and women too feeble to walk placed on carts. Everyone was in tears; each wished to clasp the hand (of the minister) that had so often befriended them. When they set forth again a cry of grief went up to heaven, the long plaintive wail like a funeral coronach was resumed, and after the last of the emigrants had disappeared the sound seemed to re-echo through the whole valley of Strath in one prolonged note of desolation.’

One of Roderick and Elizabeth MacRae’s sons, Duncan, was himself married at the time of the family’s eviction. As his wife was pregnant at the time they were unable to make the journey to Australia and instead made for Raasay. Given that Raasay was also being cleared at the time there was no guarantee that Duncan and his wife would be allowed to stay on the island. However, the island manager, a fellow MacRae, took pity on them and allowed them to settle there.

It appears that Duncan and his wife lived for a time on the east coast of  Raasay before being granted the tenancy of two crofts at Balachuirn on the west side. Their journey to Balachuirn involved carrying all their worldly belongings with them. As they trekked across the moor to their new home Duncan’s wife had new baby Lachlan strapped to her back. At some point during the journey, Lachlan slipped, unnoticed, from his mother – and they did not discover him missing until they had arrived at Balachuirn. The couple had quickly to retrace their steps. They eventually found the baby Lachlan unharmed, apparently quite happy, lying in the heather. Lachlan would grow up to be an uncle to Thomas – he being an older brother to Donald, Thomas’s father.

Lachlan later joined the Army and saw action during the Boer War in Africa. One day someone on Raasay noticed, in a newspaper, the death of a soldier called Lachlan MacRae. Given that communication throughout the islands in these days was almost non-existent it was not thought of as unusual that there had been no official communication regarding his death – and so it was presumed Lachlan had perished. This presumption was apparently confirmed when no one heard anything from or about him for some years thereafter. However, one day an apparent stranger arrived on Raasay, where, on the pier, he saw a man and approached him with the greeting ‘How are you Calum’. Calum replied – ‘Who are you?’. ‘Don’t you know me?’, the stranger replied, ‘I’m your brother Lachlan’. Calum was still sceptical till he took Lachlan to his nephew, Ewen, who was the Raasay Pier master. Ewen confirmed it was indeed the Lachlan they all thought had been killed some years before! Lachlan settled on the island, living thereafter with his sister Morag.

Thomas MacRae had six brothers and two sisters. One sister, Mary, died in infancy. Duncan, his eldest brother was, for a time, a Scots Guardsman stationed at Stirling Castle. Duncan is said to have been six feet, four inches, tall. On one occasion a female guest visiting the Castle was so impressed by him that she asked if he would be willing to be her family Butler in London. Duncan agreed and moved to London where he soon became a firm favourite in the family. Tragically, however, Duncan contracted Tuberculosis and was forced to return home to Raasay along with a Doctor provided by his employers. He died soon afterwards.

Sadly tragedy was to strike the family a number of times.  One day Tommy’s brother, 12-year-old Donald, was with his dog when it got into a fight with another dog. Donald intervened to separate them. However, his own dog turned on him, mauling him so severely that he bled to death. His distraught mother never fully recovered from her devastating loss. His youngest brother Lachlan, when he was 19, helped one day pull a boat to shore. The exertion involved damaged his lungs and, tragically, he died a short time later. All of his other brothers also died in childhood, apart from Ewen who lived until the age of 84. Ewen served with the Royal Navy during WW1 and was, later, Pier master on Raasay.

Thomas’ surviving sister, Elizabeth (Bessie) subsequently married, living for a time in the Dumfries area. However, she, along with her two-year-old son, Donald, died of Spanish Flu, shortly after WW1. She was only 32 years old. Her death had a profound effect on Thomas who was very close to her – she was four years his elder.

Thomas MacRae was baptised by the Rev. Donald MacFarlane, the first Free Presbyterian Minister on Raasay (1). MacFarlane is said to have predicted that the five boys who were baptised that day would all become ‘witnesses on the side of Christ’. This  proved true, four of them becoming Elders in the church, one of whom was Thomas.

Thomas lost his mother when he was five years old. A sister of his father, Morag Urquhart, who was a widow, came to look after the family.

Thomas had to walk three miles to school every day and then three miles on his return. His teacher, Mr MacFarlane, was highly respected. His son went on to be the Free Presbyterian Minister in Dingwall.  MacFarlane often took Thomas into his own home after the school day for a glass of milk and something to eat before he made the journey home. On occasions he would be so hungry on his return journey, Thomas would take a turnip from the field to eat along the way!

On one occasion a newly married couple returned to the village taking with them the gift of some sweets for the village children. The sweets were in the shape of animals and fish. Thomas recalled – ‘They were too good to eat’.

In school, the children were taught a wide range of subjects – from Navigation to the Shorter Catechism. On one occasion the teacher, Mr MacFarlane, asked the class if anyone would be able to learn and then repeat the longest Psalm in the Old Testament – Psalm 119, without making a mistake. The reward would be a Bible. One boy put his hand up and said – ‘I will if you give me three days to learn it’. He did and subsequently repeated it without error!

The children of Raasay at the time completed their School studies at a relatively early age. Those whose parents could afford it sent their children to Kingussie for further education. Mr Macfarlane approached Thomas’s father on more than one occasion encouraging him to send Thomas to Kingussie. However, the family simply could not afford the expense. It would also have meant the loss of a good pair of hands on the two crofts at home.

When Thomas left school he became an apprentice gardener in Raasay House Gardens. It appears he always had a fascination with flowers. A granddaughter recalls – ‘He would marvel that something as delicate as a snowdrop could break its way through the hard winter soil.’ He was still tending his garden when he was 100 years of age!

Thomas also joined the Skye branch of the Territorial Army – serving for seven years. When he was 17 years old his father died. It was about this time that Thoms left Raasay, having worked at Raasay House Gardens for some three years. It appears he spent some time thereafter as a private gardener in Finart, Argyll and Bute. While here he would, when possible, travel to church services at St Jude’s Free Presbyterian Church, Glasgow.

In 1914, at the outbreak of WW1, Thomas was called up. He joined the Cameron Highlanders and was sent to Bedford, England, for basic training. While there he learned to play the Tenor horn and Bass drums. He went on to become the big drummer for the Regimental Pipe Band and was known by all as ‘Big Tom’.

It was while in Bedford that Thomas had a significant dream. He dreamt one night he was back in Raasay, which had been invaded by the Germans. While fighting alongside other Raasay lads against the enemy suddenly everyone, apart from himself and one other man, disappeared over a cliff. ‘Where have they all gone’, asked Thomas of the other man in his dream. ‘There is only you and I left’, replied the other.

The brother of the man Thomas had seen in his dream was a Captain in the Army. Some four years later, at the end of WW1, on Armistice Day, the Captain, whom he knew, came over to speak to Thomas. ‘Well, Tom’, he said, ‘just you and I left of all that came out to France with us.’ The men shook hands as they parted – relieved that the war was over. At some point during the war, a verse from Psalm 91 came powerfully to Thomas’s mind – ‘A thousand shall fall at thy side and ten thousand at thy right hand, but it shall not come nigh thee.’ This led Thomas to the strong conviction, however unlikely at the time, that he would return from the war unscathed. And so, of course, so it turned out to be.

After his training in Bedford Thomas was sent to the trenches in France and, later, Belgium. He was appointed to the post of Regimental Policeman, perhaps partly due to the fact that he was not a drinker. This meant he was always the last to lie down, as he had to ensure everything was in order before compulsory lights out.

Winter on the front was extremely hard. One of his first winter experiences, while sleeping in a tent, was to wake up in the morning to find the boots he had removed the previous evening were frozen to the ground. He slept with his boots on thereafter!

Thomas, as did the rest of his comrades in the Cameron Highlanders, wore the kilt. The Germans called them ‘The Ladies from Hell.’ The Cameron’s were a unit of the 51st Division and saw action in most of the big battles during WW1. Thomas was at the Battle of the Somme where some 300,000 British troops lost their lives and some 420,000 were injured. For operational reasons, Thomas served as a stretcher-bearer during this battle. Nevertheless, as we have already indicated, he faced death many times. On one occasion when in retreat along the trenches it was with great difficulty that he tried to help another two men out of the slimy pit they were in. He managed to pull one free just as a shell bust burst beside them. They had to run for their lives – never seeing the other man again. A short time later the man walking just in front of him was blown up. He had also lost his rifle but was eventually able to make it back to his HQ.  On arrival, the Captain said to him – ‘A fine soldier you are without a gun’. Thomas thought he was in trouble when the Officer told him to follow him into a building – but instead, the man gave Thomas some Rum to help him recover from his ordeal.

Thomas did have two periods of leave during the war. On at least one of these, he was able to visit Raasay, after having visited his sister Bessie in Annan, Dumfrieshire. Once home he found it very difficult to sleep on a bed and ended up sleeping on the floor. A bed was just too soft for a man who had got so used to sleeping without one.

On another occasion on his return to France, the desire not to sleep in a bunk was to save his life. Arriving late on one occasion at a hut where they were to spend the night, Thomas and a colleague found only one bunk without a mattress left in the crowded space. Tom’s companion suggested leaving the building to rest outside and Tom readily agreed. Moments after they had sat down a short distance away a shell struck the building, completely destroying it. The heat of the flames forced them to retreat even further and when eventually the inferno had died down enough for them to return – they could find no one left alive.

Conditions in the trenches of Flanders were unimaginable, recalled Thomas. On one occasion he was standing in a literal sea of mud when his cousin Duncan MacRae actually swam past him! As he passed Thomas, Duncan said in Gaelic – ‘This is what my father would do’. Tragically Duncan was killed in France as was his brother John. John was shot in the arm, and although the wound itself was not fatal, it appears the bullet poisoned him. He was only 19 years old when he died. Thomas visited Duncan’s grave in order to collect some leaves to send home to his parents. On his return, he was seen by the enemy who fired at him. He found cover in some bushes and was forced to remain there for the rest of the day until darkness allowed him to escape.

Thomas, although sharing a few stories of WW1 with family and friends over the years, actually mentioned these times very rarely. Like so many others – the memories of those awful times were simply too painful.

Thomas was an expert shot – having learned his rifle skills long before the war while shooting rabbits at home on Raasay. Indeed, so expert was he and other young lads on the island that selling good quality rabbit pelts to a Trapper very often paid for the croft rents.

On one occasion Thomas had his sights on a German soldier who was carrying a large tin of bread on his shoulder. He said to a colleague beside him – ‘Wait and see me shoot the tin off his shoulder’. He did, and the shocked German ran away with his hand in the air.

Thomas was subsequently demobbed without having suffered one injury. That in itself was miraculous – to say nothing of the other close encounters with death that he experienced.

On his return to civilian life, it appears Thomas first worked in gardens at Ardentinny, a small village on the western shore of Loch Long, some 14 miles north of Dunoon, Argyshire. In the early 1920s, he became the inside and outside foreman at the Glasgow Botanic Gardens.

Thomas had a friend, Murdo MacKenzie, living in the Glasgow area at the time. While visiting him one evening he met a young lady called Jessie MacDonald.

Jessie was from Applecross, where she was born on the 25th of April 1893. Her parents were Duncan MacDonald and Isabella MacBeath. The family were from Cuaic, Applecross. Duncan was a very popular person and full of fun. As a young man, he was a cattle Dealer and would drive his cattle, walking all the way, to market in Stirling. He was later to become an expert shepherd whose advice was highly valued. Cuaig, at that time, was very inaccessible – there being only a narrow horse track in and out of the settlement.  Provisions were brought in by sea. It was much later that the current coastal road was built. The diet in these days was simple – eggs, fish, oatcakes, scones, pancakes and dumplings – butter, crowdie and cream. Fish caught by the local men was shared throughout the village and during the herring season large quantities were salted and stored in large wooden casks. There was of course no electricity – ‘Tilly’ and ‘Alladin’ lamps provided light along with candles to light the way to bed. The life of the community centred around the tasks of the seasons – lambing, peat cutting, sheep shearing and dipping, planting and harvesting – along with the everyday tasks of attending to cows, hens and sheep. The women, in addition to their normal household tasks, were busily engaged in knitting and rug making during the quieter winter months.

Jessie’s maternal grandfather was, as we have said, a MacBeath. His brother was one-time minister in Ness, Isle of Lewis. It has been suggested that the MacBeath’s forebears were Covenanters who escaped to the Torridon area subsequently changing their name to MacBeath in order to hide their Covenanting links for safety reasons.

Jessie has six sisters and two brothers. One brother, Kenneth, emigrated to New Zealand, where, tragically, he was killed when he was thrown from a horse. Donald, her other brother emigrated to Australia.

One of Jessie’s sisters also had a tragic death.  Following a visit to see her sister Annie on Raasay and when walking several miles home along the Applecross Coast in poor weather, Mary (see photograph), who was then in her 70s, for some unknown reason, inadvertently missed her destination. She lay down at some point and was found dead the next day  – only a short distance away from her home. When she was found her dog was lying beside her (2).

Jessie MacDonald attended school in Cuaig, later working for an aunt who had a boarding house in Nairn, before moving to Glasgow. Thomas and Jessie married about a year after they met, subsequently setting up home in South Woodside Road, Glasgow. The couple would go on to have five girls and one boy.

After working at the Botanic Gardens for some time, Thomas subsequently took charge of the new Imperial Tobacco Company’s grounds in Glasgow’s Alexandria Parade. He would remain here until his retirement in 1957.

Sadly tragedy would also visit this family as it had Thomas’s own during his childhood.  The late Rev. Donald MacLean, a friend and one time minister at St. Jude’s Free Presbyterian Church has noted –

‘Thomas had his share of tribulations in this world. A little daughter died in infancy, while his only son was taken away when he was but a youth. In 1984 his married daughter Lena passed away when she was forty-eight years of age.’

Thomas would go on to become a committed member of the Free Presbyterian Church. He attended St. Jude’s Free Presbyterian Church on Blythswood Square, Glasgow. This was a two-mile walk each way from the family home on South Woodside Road. Thomas would later become Session Clerk for St. Jude’s, Greenock and Kames as well as an Assessor Elder in London for a period. In all, he was a member of the Free Presbyterian Church for some  60 years and an Elder for 47 years.

Thomas’s journey to faith is not known in any detail. Donald MacLean has noted in this regard –

‘Thomas MacRae was a deeply exercised Christian. Despite many attempts by the writer, who knew him for fifty years, to get him to speak of his conversion, he preferred not to do so’.

However, he adds –  ‘His spirituality of mind left no doubt but that he had been brought out of darkness into the marvellous light of the gospel.’

What is known is that on his return from WW1 Thomas often spent time in the company of a relative by marriage – John Urquhart, a Free Presbyterian Elder in Greenock, who was marked for his godliness.

Rev. Donald MacLean also recorded in relation to Thomas’s spiritual reflections in earlier years –

‘These thoughts were deepened when he spent weekends with his fellow islander the late John Gillies, in Glasgow, and came under the ministry of Rev. Neil Cameron. It is quite evident, from the high place he had for Mr Cameron, as well as from the many quotations he repeated from his preaching, that it was through this instrumentality that Thomas MacRae was awakened to a realisation that he was in a state of sin and misery out of which he could not deliver himself, but out of which he was delivered by Christ in the Gospel being made precious to him through the teaching of the Holy Spirit. It was the benefit he felt from being under the preaching of Mr Cameron that led him to decide to settle in Glasgow.’

He further notes –

‘He became a communicant in the St Jude’s congregation in November 1933, Rev. Neil Cameron having died the previous year. That he was converted many years before he took this step, is evident from a remark he made to his daughter – “I should have come forward years before I did. As I put it off each year it became more and more difficult for me”. As a speaker to the Question, he was a source of encouragement to the Lord’s people. His marks of grace were clear and scriptural and set out in good order, the fruit of a well-instructed mind and a deeply taught soul. He often made use of his gardening experience in his remarks. When he began to take services, some were surprised at his ability in addressing them from the Word of God, but he spoke out of the fullness of his heart, as one to whom Christ had been made very precious. He was ordained an Elder in St Jude’s congregation on 24th March 1946. In 1972 he left Glasgow to live in Dumbarton, where he was elected an Elder also. He never lost his interest in the Glasgow congregation, and always enquired about the welfare of those whom he knew there.’

Thomas and Jessie, along with many who had gone through the trauma of WW1, found themselves witnessing a second world war when, on 3 September 1939, two days after Germany invaded Poland, Britain declared war on Germany. Thomas however, was beyond the age for active duty on this occasion.

Nevertheless, he took his turn as a fire watcher at the Headquarters of Imperial Tobacco during subsequent German air raids on the area.

About this time some of the MacRae children were evacuated to Cuaig on the Applecross Coast where where they stayed with an aunt and uncle – Mary and Kenny. They attended school in the villages of Lonbain and Arrina. Daughter Mary was sent to the Isle of Raasay about this time and had fond memories of attending Raasay School where she won a poetry competition! However, as the danger to Glasgow appeared to recede, the children all returned home and so were there when the bombs started to fall on Clydebank in March 1941.

The Clydebank Blitz consisted of two air raids conducted by the Luftwaffe against the shipbuilding and munitions-making industries of the town. During these bombing raids, a total of 439 Luftwaffe bombers dropped in excess of 1,650 incendiary containers and 272 tonnes of bombs. Of approximately 12,000 houses, only eight remained undamaged with 4,000 completely destroyed and 4,500 severely damaged. More than 35,000 people were made homeless.

Bessie, the eldest of the MacRae children, later recalled the first night of ‘The Clydebank Blitz’ –

‘I don’t think we shall ever forget the Clydebank Blitz. We could hear the chug-chug of the German planes passing over us – the noise they made was so different to that of our planes. There was a huge moon and a very clear sky. We could hear the bombs falling and the ack ack of the anti-aircraft guns. We could see the sky bright and red to the west of us – we know that side of the city was burning, Hundreds were killed. The next night it was repeated again.’

Murdo MacRaild and his wife lived in Dalmuir. They had a six-week-old baby and were bombed out of their home on the first night. They went to the house of friends – but it was damaged on the second bombing raid. The young couple didn’t know what to do next, then Murdo said – ‘We’ll go to Tommy MacRaes’. They then walked with their baby from Clydebank to Denniston. The MacRae family, who knew them only casually, had no idea they were coming. They arrived still covered in dust and plaster owning nothing but the clothes on their backs, exhausted and hungry.

The Macrae family were themselves short of food at this point in time as supplies had been disrupted due to at least one unexploded bomb, which had struck a ship at the docks beside the food storage area. The only thing Jessie had to feed her family the following day was a small amount of meat she had been able to get that day. She turned to Thomas for advice. He said – ‘They need food more than we do, you cook it for them and we can have porridge for dinner tomorrow.’ Jessie did as Thomas advised – giving the distraught couple a meal they so desperately needed. Then something strange happened. Bessie takes up the story again –

‘At 9 o’clock at night, something happened which had never happened before or since – the bell rang and a postman was at the door with a big parcel. He handed it to my mother. She said, “Good – this will be eggs from Mary” (her sister) but when she opened the parcel there was a very big fowl, six leeks and eighteen Loch Kishorn herrings. We were well provided for just when we needed it most.’

Thomas retired at the age of 65. The family had lived in the same house in Denniston for 38 years before they moved to Dumbarton. By that time a number of his children were themselves married. Thomas remained active – especially in his garden. He was still on his knees planting flowers well into his 90s. Dumbarton was also near to the church where Thomas was an elder. Here he would also take services – again beyond his 90th year.

Thomas loved children, and, even in old age held them in affection and regard – and they loved him. One of his granddaughters recalls – ‘He was a brilliant grandpa, taking us kids to the park in Dennistoun and always buying us a lollipop each on the way home. We were all so fortunate to grow up in such a loving family.’ And Murdo MacLean, a young child when Thomas regularly called at the St Jude’s Manse in Glasgow to tend the garden recalls – ‘He had a bunnet for work (as opposed to his normal Felt Homburg Hat) (3) and used to wear it when he came to the manse to do the garden. He always brought chocolate for the kids’. Murdo also recalls –

‘As a child I heard Tommy take many a service in St Jude’s Hall on a Sabbath morning. The minister took the Gaelic service in the church and an elder or student took the English service in the hall. Tommy was a regular speaker. He  did not read a sermon but gave an address or exhortation. He also spoke to ‘The Question.’

Thomas and Jessie celebrated their 60th Wedding anniversary a month before Jessie died. She was 92 and very ill at the time. When they received their congratulatory card from the Queen, Thomas said – ‘I will get the next one too’. He had received a ‘promise from the Lord’ that he would see his 100th birthday – and of course, he did, in fact, he exceeded it, living for another 9 years following his wife’s death. Bessie would later recall of her mother –

‘She had a very busy life between family and visitors. She was indeed a good wife in every way and Thomas knew it too. She was one of a very close family and as the eldest of them, they looked on her as a mother figure. I don’t ever remember her to have fallen out with anyone. We would do anything for her. I don’t think she was ever cross or very angry. She had a wonderful nature, and was loved by everyone who knew her.’

At the time of his 100th birthday, on the 8th of December 1992, many family members were present in the family home. The Deputy Lord Lieutenant arrived to read the Queen’s birthday telegram and a Colonel from the Cameron Highlanders came to represent the regiment. The Provost of Dumbarton also visited. He also received a handmade card from the pupils of Raasay school (see photograph).

Thomas himself was still alert and clear-minded at the age of 100, although his hearing and sight had deteriorated. He was still able to attend church up until a few months short of his 100 years.  He died after a short illness two weeks before his 101st birthday on the 24th of November 1993. The day before he died he was singing two of Peter Grant’s Gaelic Hymns (4).

So passed the extraordinary life of an extraordinary man who was held in high regard by all who know him. The most touching tributes belonged of course to his children and grandchildren. They all loved him and he them. What better tribute could anyone wish for than the record of a life lived in reciprocal love and faithfulness to God, family and friends?


[1] Donald Macfarlane (1834-1926) born Vallay, North Uist; son of Donald Macfarlane and Elizabeth MacDonald; licensed by Free Church Presbytery of Skye and Uist at Snizort 24th June 1874; ordained and inducted 6th January 1876, Strathconon 1876-1879; Moy 1879-1888; Kilmallie 1888-1893; Raasay 1893-1903; Dingwall 8th May 1903-1926; Moderator of Synod 1917, 1920; publications – see Memoir; sermon in Free Presbyterian Pulpit, 1961; died 4th November 1926; buried Mitchell Hill, Dingwall, (Memoir, Diary, and Remains by D. Beaton (Inverness, 1929); DSCHT).  (FPC Website)

[2] Thomas’s Granddaughter Anne MacRae recalls of the area –

‘There did used to be a big steamer that called at Kyle and Raasay then on to Stornoway. I think it was the Loch Seaforth. A small rowing boat would come in to Applecross to pick up passengers or parcels. By the 70s there was a daily boat from Toscaig to Kyle to meet the train. Schoolkids boarding at Plockton sailed on it each Monday morning and Friday afternoon until 1979 when it stopped and bus took over going round the new Coast road. I think Mary would have travelled by bus or car from Shieldaig to Sconser however, getting the ferry across from there. There was 5 miles of winding road from Shieldaig round the coast to Kenmore where it stopped and folk usually walked on the path from there to the next villages of Arrina, Fearnbeg , Fearnmore and Cuaig. We did as kids. On certain days there would also be a small wooden clinker boat delivering goods from Shieldaig which could take passengers but it only went as far as Fearnbeg or Fearnmore due to landing conditions so folk had to walk on to Cuaig. The teacher from Applecross to the school in Lonbain travelled daily by bicycle. The post went along the path by bike or motorbike.’

[3] A Homburg Hat is a semi-formal hat of stiff felt, characterized by a single dent running down the centre of the crown (called a ‘gutter crown’), a grosgrain hatband, a stiff brim shaped in a kettle curl and a bound edge brim trim. It is usually offered in dark colours, although lighter grey variations exist.

The Homburg was popularised in the 1890s by Edward VII after he visited Bad Homburg in Hesse, Germany. Former UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill giving his ‘V’ sign during World War II on Downing Street, London, wearing a homburg hat with a black lounge suit.

[4] Peter Grant (1783–1867) who was Pastor of the Baptist Church at Grantown-on-Spey for 41 years was also a poet and songwriter. He was known as Pàdraig Grannd nan Oran (‘Peter Grant of the Songs’) and became a household name in the Highlands and Islands over many years. His collection of hymns in Gaelic is called ‘Dain Spioradail’.


The bulk of the information used in this article is drawn from material painstakingly recorded for her family by the late Bessie MacRae, the eldest daughter of Thomas and Jessie MacRae. I am very grateful to Anne and Janette MacRae, Isabel Campbell and Marion McInnes, grandchildren of Thomas and Jessie for allowing me to use the material Bessie recorded as well as freely sharing their own memories and family photographs. Thank you for your open-heartedness and willingness to allow me to share this very significant and interesting story with a wider audience. I am also very grateful to Mr Ian G. Macdonald, Braes, Isle of Skye for initially bringing Thomas MacRae to my attention.


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