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We pulled our jackets closer as MV Loch Linnhe docked at Tobermory on Saturday (November 9). Despite the bitter wind, 15 onlookers awaited the casting of a poppy wreath into the Sound of Mull at 1pm.
As we put to sea, local organiser Andrena Duffin spoke about the ‘Flower Class’ corvettes. During the Second World War Battle of the Atlantic, these nimble vessels protected convoys against submarine attack. Many corvettes passed through the Royal Navy’s Anti-Submarine Training School in Tobermory, under the watchful command of Admiral Gilbert Owen Stephenson. Stevenson is famed for being firm with his men. Yet, touchingly, Mrs Duffin recalled his apparent delight in teasing the local children.
As we levelled with Rubha nan Gall, all ascended to the upper deck. The engine idled and the horn signalled two minutes of silence. Following a reading from War Memorials Officer Maj (LF) James McWilliam, a poppy wreath was laid mid channel to honour the Atlantic convoys. Caught in the low beam of the winter sun, the petals glowed crimson as they slid from view.
Many attendees were linked to the Argyll and Southern Highlanders Regiment. Most had lost relatives to conflict. Affected by the 1947 Palestine War, during which he worked with maxillofacial casualties, Poppyscotland seller Col (LF) Ken Walker now advocates mental health support for service personnel and their families. He has spent a decade fundraising for Combat Stress; a charity dedicated to this cause. Asked why he has maintained involvement with the wreath casting service for 20 years, Col (LF) Walker responded: ‘As veterans, we have this comradeship that stays forever. You never lose it.’
Returning to Tobermory, Maj (LF) McWilliam handed me his inventory of local war memorials. Leafing through its pages, I was struck afresh by the silent columns of names – and filled with sadness that there were so many.
At 7pm that evening, a Mull Remembers event took place at Tobermory Harbour Building within Ledaig car park.
I joined Mary-Jean Devon, Councillor for Oban South and the Isles, in a bustling Harbour Building foyer. She explained that, following the success of last year’s First World War centenary event, the students of Tobermory High School were keen to restate their message of remembrance, inclusivity and peace.
The school pipe band opened with a welcome from senior leaders Mairi and Daisy. Throughout the service, wartime photographs illuminated Taigh Solais.
Former Marine Alastair James MacLeod recited For the Fallen; followed by The Last Journey, which was performed by the school’s singing group. As Caleb read the closing lines of All Quiet on the Western Front, the timeless smiles of young men lit the whitewashed walls above.
Coisir og Mhuile, conducted by Janet Campbell, sang an emotional Chi mi Muile, and Mull’s Natural Voices Choir delivered Danny Boy with gentle, dignified candour.
Perhaps the most moving words were spoken by Jack Degnan, former teacher of Kintra’s Private Robbie McLaren who died fighting in Afghanistan during the summer of 2009. This beautifully-written tribute, composed for a man of just 20 years, shone bitter-sweet with affection, pride and the very highest regard.
After recounting their 2018 visit to Ypres, and delivering a poignant reading of Lament, Tobermory’s young people spoke the names of Mull’s fallen.
The horn of the RNLI’s Elizabeth Fairlie Ramsey marked two minutes of silence; before Holly, accompanied by the pipe band, performed Going Home. The Reverend Liz Gibson gave a vote of thanks, closing the service with a prayer.
I’ll finish with the thoughts of Connor, joint Deputy Senior Leader, who recently visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum. Waiting together in the foyer of Taigh Solais, I asked what Connor had taken from this visit. He replied that ‘as a generation, we need to learn from history to avoid repeating it’.