Lochaber links to special consignment of iconic commando knives made for military unit’s 50th anniversary

The special commando knives made by Paul Macdonald to mark the Commando Sappers' 50th anniversary. Photograph: Macdonald Armouries. NO F09 knives 04
One of the special commando knives made by Paul Macdonald to mark the Commando Sappers' 50th anniversary. Photograph: Macdonald Armouries. NO F09 knives 04

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A Lochaber armourer has created more than 50 hand-crafted examples of one of the world’s most iconic fighting knives to mark the half-century anniversary of the British Army’s commando-trained engineers.

It took nearly a year for Paul Macdonald, a native of Glenuig, who now runs his MacDonald Armouries from near West Linton in the Scottish Borders, to complete the special order for 54 Fairbairn & Skypes Commando knives.

The examples of this legendary fighting knife were recently presented to members of 59 Independent Commando Squadron, Royal Engineers based at RMB Chivenor in Devon, to mark the 50th anniversary of the unit’s founding in 1971.

A selection of the commando knives with their wooden hilts made from wood planted in Lochaber more than 200 years ago. Photograph: Macdonald Armouries. NO F09 knives 02
A selection of the commando knives with their wooden hilts made from wood planted in Lochaber more than 200 years ago. Photograph: Macdonald Armouries.
NO F09 knives 02

The unit is made up of volunteers from the British Army’s Royal Engineers and forms a key part of the Royal Marines’ 3 Commando Brigade, with their main role to provide combat engineering support to the brigade.

What made these examples of the Fairbairn & Sykes commando knife extra special is that the wood handles – known as the hilt of a knife – were crafted by Paul from timber from a wind-blown beech tree that originally started life on Achnacarry Estate, in Lochaber.

Achnacarry Estate was home to the Commando Basic Training Centre during the Second World War and has long and proud association with Britain’s famous elite soldiers.

Commando training at Loch Arkaig during WW2. Photograph: National Army Museum.
NO F52 arkaig commando 02

The beech tree from which Paul obtained his wood for the hilts for the 54 bladed weapons came from one of the saplings famously being planted by Donald Cameron of Lochiel at the time of the arrival of Prince Charles Edward Stuart.

The 1745 Avenue of Beech trees at Achnacarry. NO F26 Beech Avenue-Achnacarry-Castle
The 1745 Avenue of Beech trees at Achnacarry.
NO F26 Beech Avenue-Achnacarry-Castle

According to legend, on hearing of the prince’s arrival nearby, Lochiel immediately stopped his work, leaving the young trees in a trench with the intention of planting them later.

But he never returned and the trees took root and are still there to this day, alongside the River Arkaig.

Paul explained: ‘It has been a year in the making and a distinct honour to craft a limited number of Achnacarry Heritage FS Fightings Knives for 59 Commando Squadron Royal Engineers, commemorating their 50th anniversary.

‘The grips have been crafted from stabilised Achnacarry spalted beech wood. This is from a tree which was planted by the Clan Cameron chief, Donald Cameron of Lochiel, in August 1745, and which grew to form part of the ropework course for the Commando Basic Training Centre during WW2.

‘Each knife carries a full face commemorative scroll etching on both blade steel and scabbard leather. Every guard is individually numbered along with signed certificates of authenticity.’

Expert armourer Paul Macdonald is originally from Glenuig in Lochaber, but now runs his armouries business in the Scottish Borders. Photograph: Macdonald Armouries. NO F09 Paul Macdonald
Expert armourer Paul Macdonald is originally from Glenuig in Lochaber, but now runs his armouries business in the Scottish Borders. Photograph: Macdonald Armouries.
NO F09 Paul Macdonald

And Paul added that he was delighted with the way the special consignment of knives had turned out.

‘They did take a long time to make and I was delighted with the way they turned out. From what I’ve heard they were very well received by the soldiers, both serving and veterans, who were presented with them,’ he told us.

Paul already had the stock of timber from the Achnacarry Estate beech tree in his possession and says the link between the wood, the Jacobites and the wartime commandos makes the knives – which follow the 3rd pattern first issued during the war – that bit extra special.

Paul’s Macdonald Armouries handcrafts the largest range of high quality Fairbairn-Sykes British Commando knives available worldwide today, but so popular were they proving that Paul had to stop taking orders a number of years ago when he had enough work for the next decade.

As well as an armourer and sword-maker par excellence, as Maestro Macdonald he is also one of Europe’s leading researchers and instructors of traditional martial arts; a master-at-arms teaching of traditional Scottish martial arts including historical styles of swordsmanship and fencing.

He has been making high-quality reproductions of edged weaponry for historical fencers, collectors, museums and theatre companies for years.

CAPTION:

One of the special commando knives and accompanying certificate made by Paul Macdonald to mark the Commando Sappers’ 50th anniversary. Photograph: Macdonald Armouries. NO F09 knives 04