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World War One: discovering the stories behind the names

Strathnaver Museum are calling on members of the public to share stories and photographs of their relatives from Mackay Country who were involved in the First World War. This exciting community research project will gather the stories of these men and women which will become part of Strathnaver Museum’s archive.

This project is an extension to the successful 2015 Heritage Lottery Fund and Museums Galleries Scotland funded project Pibrochs and Poppies. Pibrochs and Poppies explored the role of music during WWI, gathering stories and photographs of pipers from Mackay Country or with a connection to the area. The story of these pipers was published in a booklet Pibrochs and Poppies: the story of north west Sutherland’s WWI pipers which is available from Strathnaver Museum.

The stories were sent to Strathnaver Museum from people across the Highlands and from further afield. A photograph of the 8th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders pipe band was discovered on a school website in Kent which depicted William Duncan Mackay of Tongue. William’s nephew Duncan Matheson of Brora took part in the project and hadn’t seen the photo of his uncle in the pipe band before.

Duncan explained that his uncle William was working at the Castle Hotel in Kirkwall when war broke out where he enlisted into the Territorial Army as a piper. William was sent to the band of the 8th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders arriving in France on the 9th July 1915. His battalion were soon on the front line on trench holding duties, training for the first major offensive they would be involved in at the Battle of Loos.

On the 24th September 1915 William along with other pipers from the Battalion took up position and began to play as they led their comrades toward the German lines. The 8th suffered heavy casualties from artillery fire and William was one of 5 pipers from the battalion killed that day while another 5 were wounded.

Riona Mackay shared the story of her great great uncle, talented piper, Alexander Mackay of Heilam Ferry. Alec had joined the Territorial Force in 1913 in the 2nd Lovat’s Scouts Yeomanry. Like many members of the Territorial Force, Alec volunteered for Imperial Service on the outbreak of war, signing up the day after war was declared.

Alec’s service saw him in Egypt, the Dardanelles and France where he was shot through the jaw. He recovered and fought on until the end of the war returning to Eribol when he was discharged in 1920. Although disfigured from his war wound, he was still able to play his pipes and won many competitions including numerous medals at the Durness Sports, now known as the Durness Highland Gathering.

Strathnaver Museum are now calling for information about all the men and women who were involved in WWI which will form a database and photograph album to be placed in Strathnaver Museum’s archive and will be available for generations to come.

Eileen Mackay, Strathnaver Museum Director said: “This project will gather the stories of the men and women of Mackay Country and the role they played in the First World War. It is important that we gather these stories for future generations before they are lost to time”.

Strathnaver Museum are also creating poppies engraved with each individual’s name that appears on the 12 war memorials across Mackay Country. These poppies will form a special installation at the museum before being dismantled and used to create wreaths to be placed at each of the war memorials on Armistice Day. A special event where members of the public will be asked to help create the wreaths and share information is scheduled for 3rd November. Members of the public can sponsor a poppy via the Strathnaver Museum website.

If you have information and photographs of anyone in your family who served during WWI please send to Eileen Mackay at