Kildonan Museum will this weekend host a very special book launch, as the self-penned memoirs of a South Uist crofter, sailor and soldier are finally published.
Donald MacDonald (1897-1985) was a veteran of the Great War and fought at the Battle of the Somme. He travelled the world before serving in the Merchant Navy during WW2 and finally returning to raise a family in South Uist.
His self-authored book – From Small Lochs to Great Lakes – will be launched at Kildonan Museum on Saturday 9th July at 7.30pm.
Donald was one of ten children from a humble crofting and fishing family in South Uist. His story spans almost nine decades during the most turbulent times in modern history.
Enlisted at sixteen years of age into the Cameron Highlanders, he fought and was wounded at Givenchy, the Battle of the Somme and at Arras. His memoirs recall with candor the horrendous conditions of the trenches and battlefields.
He wrote: “In a heavy bombardment with death and desolation around you, your heart pounding like a piston, thinking the next shell would be yours, you thought the end of the world had come and when the shelling stopped, the brave little skylark rose high above us with her sweet song of hope and courage, you felt there is a God.”
After training as a diamond cutter, Donald’s inter-war years saw him traverse the Atlantic to find work farming in Canada, in the car factories of America and as a sailor on the Great Lakes until the profound impact of the Great Depression forced him home.
He served in the Merchant Navy and as a rigger on the Clyde shipyards during WW2.
After returning home, Donald’s story charts momentous moments in island life from ‘salvaging’ whisky from SS Politician and the introduction of road access. It also deals plainly with the struggles of setting up house in Locheynort in appalling conditions of isolation, on very poor land.
“You cannot hold time or season back. Although you are supposed to be your own master on a croft, in reality you are not. You must conform with the season at hand, in order to obtain the benefit you are looking for. Your master is the season, disregarding it and you need not expect a pay packet.”
When widowed at 57 years of age with six children all below the age of 10 years old, MacDonald persevered to keep the family unified. Thanks to the help of the children’s aunt looking after the youngest, the six children were able to grow up together on the island.
“Bringing up five children on your own was a hard task. People were kind and help in looking after them was offered many times but I felt it was important that they stayed with me and that I reared them myself. Although those times were hard, we got through them.”
MacDonald wrote his memoirs whilst in his 80s before his death in 1985. The original handwritten manuscript was painstakingly transcribed and typed by a family friend in the late 1980s but only digitised a number of years ago, which allowed it to be edited by his daughter Peggy to form this unique record of a remarkable life.
To order the new book or for further information please visit: http://www.lochstolakes.co.uk