Chapter 6: A Second Clearance (1914 onwards)

Chapter 6: A Second Clearance (1914 onwards)

The Highlands and Islands have always provided cannon fodder – the internecine strife among the clans, the Jacobite debacles, then Napoleonic wars, the Spanish Civil war, the Crimean war, the Boer war and so on. Brothers Johnny and Donald went to fight in the trenches of the 1914-18 war, Donald falsifying his age to do so. No questions were asked. Many never returned from that war. Johnny and Donald did, but not to Knockan. Both joined the Glasgow Police and were soon joined by Margaret and Lucy, both of whom embarked on a teaching career. That left Chris in Knockan looking after her elderly parents and her young brother Hamish who was ill with some kind of liver or blood disorder. Nobody being in a position to work the land, it was divided between the two crofts on either side on condition that Hamish became ‘cottar’ tenant of Knockan cottage. Without land, there was no means of livelihood, so in 1921 after both parents had died, Chris and Hamish joined the rest of the family in Glasgow.

Supported by Johnny and her sisters, Chris nursed Hamish until his death in 1931. Next, Lucy was struck down with a mystery illness which confined her to bed for the rest of her life, attended by a private doctor, who administered equally mysterious weekly injections. Chris was once again the unpaid home carer. She had always wanted to be a nurse, but a 30 year home-nursing career was surely not what she had hoped for.

The Blacks may have left Knockan, but Knockan didn’t leave the Blacks. A crofter was by definition a tenant, not a property owner, so they had little socio-economic ambition and even though they could undoubtedly have afforded to be owner-occupiers of their homes, they were content to rent. But there was more. The clearances, had taught them what it was to suffer class discrimination, displacement, homelessness, extreme poverty, and fear of debt. The crofting township taught them self reliance and a sense of community. Family gave them security and taught them loyalty. The Baptists restored to them their sense of worth and reminded them that life was not given meaning by material wealth nor deprived of it by adversity. They proposed that whatever injustice might be perpetrated by wealth, power or influence, justice would finally be done in God’s good time. By replacing the authority of ecclesiastical hierarchy with the authority of Scripture, which anyone could read for themselves, they learned independence of thought. As a mind-set it was more an inner rock than a social lubricant.

Donald was the only one of his family to marry, and in so doing he split the family in two. Possibly he breached an unspoken island tradition that the men of the family had a responsibility for their un-married sisters, which it was widely suspected cast a deep freeze over Johnny’s romantic fortunes. To add insult to injury, Donald’s wife, Grace was not a Gaelic-speaking island Baptist, but an English-speaking lowland Presbyterian. Consequently, although he was attentive to them and lived within easy walking distance, the relationship between Donald and his sisters was tense. While not departing from his roots, he did branch out, embracing the post-war world to a greater extent, for example, he did not teach his children Gaelic, he registered with the NHS when it started in 1948, and he owned a car. Yet it was Donald and his lowland wife who re-opened Knockan after 30 years of neglect, devoting school holidays to the task. The neglect was halted.

Chapter 1: Before Crofting (pre-1814)

Chapter 2: Mull's Triple Whammie (1814 - 1850)

Chapter 3: Ardtun (1850 – 1914)

Chapter 4: Crofting Life

Chapter 5: Educated Non-conformists

Chapter 6: A Second Clearance (1914 onwards)

Chapter 7: Deja Vue all over again


Forgotten Scots