A Brief History of Donald Smith, Cromore

An extract from our ‘Aig an Obair’ series published in our newsletter,  Tional and based on an original recording in Donald’s own words.
Here is a brief history of the life of Donald Smith, 15 Cromore.  His father was Finlay, son of  ‘Big John Muldonaich’, and his mother was Ishbel, daughter of Roderick.
“I was born in Cromore in 1907 where I went to school at five years of age.  The headmaster was Mr Duncan.  Many people made out that he was no use, but looking back I am not of that opinion.  It is said that his predecessor, Mr Bruce, was good at teaching Gaelic.  When Mr Duncan came he was of the opinion that the children were fluent enough as they naturally spoke in Gaelic, but they were in need of being taught English.  When the Gravir minister came to give us a test he didn’t agree.  There were only two or three able to read and write Gaelic, and he was wild.  The two fell out, and the headmaster ordered the minister to leave.  When the argument was over, Mr Duncan said, “Well, if that man is in Heaven, I’ll walk out.”  Mr Duncan was good at teaching us psalms.  I learned more English psalms in the day school than I did in Sunday school.  I still remember five or six of them.  There was one that our Finlay always requested when the headmaster gave us a choice of which one to sing, and  this is it: –
‘When he cometh, when he cometh
To make up his jewels
All his jewels precious jewels
His loved and his own.’
I was about seven years of age the first time I went to Stornoway by boat.  There was no road round the loch then.  We slept in the home of Donald, Kenneth’s son of 19 Cromore.  At that time they were living on Mackenzie Street.  We came home in a small boat belonging to Alastair the Tailor.  We left from the Battery in Stornoway with my father and another two or three men, rowing to Cromore.
When I left school I worked at home on the fishing, the croft and odd jobs round about.
When they started building the Nurse’s cottage in Gravir they took a lorry from Stornoway to take supplies from the quay to the house.  My father thought it would be handy to have one based in the community. And that was what happened.  He brought over a one tonne truck from Callanish.  She arrived in Cromore on the boat ‘Good Hope’.  She was put ashore at the point where the quay is now.  My father steered her home up the hill.  He would let me drive her.  It wasn’t long before I wrecked her.  I would go round the district with her, but since the road was not complete, I couldn’t go past Habost with her.  I remember going to Kershader to take people to Lemreway for the wedding of Iain, son of ‘Domhnull Chalum’ and Mary, daughter of ‘Domhnull Bhig’.

There were a lot of boats in Cromore when I was young.  I remember the names and registrations of the first ones I saw.  They were ‘Violet, SY 217, and ‘Dove, SY 72’.  MacConnachaidh had a boat called ‘Pioneer, SY 1021’.  The skippers of all these boats lived locally.
Dan had a post office and shop, and MacConnachaidh also had a shop.  It was when he retired that we opened a shop ourselves.  MacConnachaidh didn’t have much help so I used to carry supplies up from the shore for him.  He wouldn’t have been able to keep me away anyway.  If there was a boat coming ashore I was in it.  I also would go and give MacConnachaidh a shave with the ‘cut throat’ razor.  It’s a wonder I never cut his throat.
We also had boats.  One of them was named ‘Star of Hope’.  She originally belonged to Lord Leverhulme, and then some men from Ness bought her to take supplies to their shop in Ness.  She was too big to berth at their quay so they had to sell her.  That’s how we got her.  She was then taken to Calbost and went on fire there.  We then had the ‘Spray’, and the ‘Aurora’, and in the year of the big herring landings in Loch Erisort it was the ‘Elsie’ we had.  There was plenty herring at that time, but MacConnachaidh was partially blind.  One of his eyes was pure white.  I never found out why.  People used to say that that was why he always left the boat at anchor and swam ashore.
They came from everywhere to fish for herring.  A drifter from the mainland came over by the name of ‘Burnt Haven’.  She set her nets in Loch Torostaidh one beautiful evening and the crew went down below.  She began to list and they couldn’t figure out what was wrong.  When they looked she was aground on a rock.  She didn’t suffer too much damage.  She was made out of steel.  Everybody fished for as much as they could get.  I remember ourselves going out really early one Monday morning.  We set the nets and never caught a thing.  I was quite pleased, in case folk thought that we had gone out on the Sabbath.
We used to go into the Park Estate deer hunting as well.  John Angus, Aonghas Dick, Iain ‘Aonghas Sheonaidh and I went in one night.  We left Iain looking after the boat while the rest of us went ashore.  We had killed two deer when out of the blue the gamekeeper and his son appeared.  We hid, because we knew they would return to Eishken before dark.  When they left we made off in the boat, and they put me ashore further up to retrieve the deer from where we had left them.  Then they returned with the boat and picked me and the deer up.  We took both of them home.  Iain was wearing a coat of mine with the letters D.S. written on the back and we were afraid they would recognise us as I was driving the bus at that time.  But they couldn’t have realised because a while after that the gamekeeper was in Cromore and he never came near us.  I remember another time when my father and grandfather went up to Brollum in a small 14 ft boat.  They rowed there and back.  They killed enough to fill the boat.  My grandfather took a bad turn and my father maintained it was the rum that kept him going until they reached home.  They were fortunate in more ways than one on that day.  They hadn’t got up from the shore when a gale came in from the southeast.
Once I turned eighteen I joined the Reserves.  A number of us had tried to get in before we reached eighteen.  Roderick ‘Dick’, boys from Gravir and I went together.  They could tell that we were underage and the police lifted us.  We were fined two pounds.  Roderick never tried again.  He went to America.  He was quite right.  It was at Chatham that I carried out my first drill.  My uncle Angus, and Angus, son of Norman came with me.  The first drill lasted six weeks, and the second lasted three.
I got my licence in 1923.  There was no test; you just had to send for it.  Domhnuill Moil from Gravir had the first car here.  Murdo Alex used to drive it.  We then got a van from Mitchell.  I then got a seven-seater.  When the road round Kinloch was completed, we would take passengers to Stornoway.  At first we didn’t have a timetable, but when other buses started running we set up a timetable then.  We would take turns in waiting in Stornoway for the steamer coming across from Kyle.  It was often the early hours of the morning before we got home.  It was quite hard in winter with the snow.  There was no salt put on the roads in these days, which resulted in icy conditions.  It didn’t really bother us.  We were quite brave in those days.  We didn’t have the sense to not drive the bus until the snow stopped.  If it wouldn’t start for me in the morning I would connect it to the battery from the radio.  That worked.
When the War started in 1939, Roderick ‘Dhomhnull Choinnich’, Alex Iain, and I were the first three to leave from Cromore.  I spent three weeks in a large shed learning rifle drill.  I then joined the training ship ‘Iron Duke’.  They took us out three miles for firing practice and although the noise was deafening we had no ear protection.  That did us no harm.  When we saw the papers the next day, we read that the local people were complaining of their windows smashing with the noise.  The next ship I was on did the same run as the Suilven is doing now going between North Island and South Island in New Zealand.  She was built in Glasgow and was a beautiful ship.  She was not long in New Zealand when the War broke out, and she was sent to Cape Town.  What an upheaval.  She was stripped of everything put into her in Glasgow.
When we left Glasgow we headed for the Western Approaches, and we went back and fore from there to Freetown in Sierra Leone.  When we arrived back we got two days off.  I came home, but when I went back she had sailed.  It took a while before they got me another ship to go on.  It was on to a Norwegian trooper I was sent.  We sailed from Shetland to Norway but we got turned back.  That was fortunate for me because I had enrolled for a torpedo course.  I spent some time at barracks before I went down to Cardiff to join an old cruiser that had been used in the First World War.  There was only a couple of officers and myself on board.  We spent the days on board then came ashore at night.  We left not having a clue where we were heading.  Eventually we arrived in South Africa, and returned to Liverpool with ten tonnes of gold.  Nuggets of gold.  I never got one of them.  I took ill with pain in my joints and returned to barracks where I was hospitalised for two months.  I wasn’t feeling too well when I got out of hospital and so they told me to go to H.M.S Quebec, a shore base in Inveraray.  There were marines and soldiers there, training like mad for an invasion.  We would go out in the boats with them.  When there was a gale they would break off and we would have to tow them back in.  That’s how I spent my time for the rest of the war.  I was very lucky.  I didn’t suffer much.
After the war I returned home to Cromore and started fishing.  I got a boat, the ‘Dòchas’.  I married Marion ‘Snudaidh’ from Cromore, and we lived in Cromore until 1954 when we moved to Laxdale.
I then went out on any boat that needed a crew, helping out here and there.  In due course I got a half share in the ‘Ivy Rose’.  Murdo C. was a brilliant navigator.  He would go anywhere, but when he got tired he headed for Stornoway.  He would say, “There isn’t a market in Ullapool today.”  I remember meeting the Marvig boys one day as they were heading for Ullapool.  We were heading back from Ullapool.  I spoke to Duncan but didn’t tell him that there wasn’t a market in Ullapool.  That was just as well because there was a market.  We had a good crew.  We had big strapping men from Point.  I remember that ‘Isean’ would cook the herring for twenty minutes.  Everyone would tell him he was cooking them for too long, and he got fed up of their moaning.  He appeared one day with the herring and said, “ There’s your herring and I only cooked it for five minutes, and if it kills you – tough”.  He never heard another complaint about his cooking of the herring.
I was on the first boat that went out with a trawl.  Alastair Macfarlane had a trawl on the ‘Evening Star’.  I don’t know where he got it, but anyway we joined forces and caught seven crans.  A lot of people made a fuss over the trawls, saying it would empty the sea of herring.  The fish was plentiful, but didn’t fetch a good price.  I remember buying a box of eels from ‘Bucach’s boat and it cost me two shillings per eel.  I took them over to Lochs and sold them for half a crown each.  I stopped at the Kershader School and the headmaster thought they were very expensive.
We also got prawns.  One day I asked the boys to leave me a bag of prawns so I could use them as fertiliser.  When I got home there was a big block amongst the prawns.  Anyway, I put what I had on the potatoes, and what a difference it made.  I got really good potatoes.  I don’t plant potatoes any more.  I am nearly ninety but still doing quite well.  I certainly am.