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Women at war: the forgotten story

Joni Buchanan introduces Elisabeth Shipton, right

The first evening event to be held at the new Museum and Archive beside the newly restored Lews Castle in Stornoway on Saturday night (October 17th) was about the role of women in World War One.
This was a talk by Elisabeth Shipton , author of the groundbreaking book Female Tommies - the Frontline Women of the First World War, first published last year and already reprinted.
The brightly-lit meeting room beside the newly restored courtyard was full of members of the Islands Book Trust and other people interested in hearing about the vital role of women in the war effort, including the career of Flora Sandes who ended up as a fully-fledged frontline member of the Serbian army, on the southern front of the Allied campaign against Germany and Austria-Hungary.
The meeting was introduced by Joni Buchanan, from Uig, who spoke of various known examples of Island women who made major contributions during the world wars but whose role tended to be overlooked or forgotten in the main histories of the period.
Elisabeth Shipton - assisted by a series of contemporary images displayed on screen - then explained how the women's war effort fitted into the contemporary campaign to win women the right to vote, along with the developing role for women both in nursing, and in medical practice overall.  She highlighted how women fought battles with bureaucracy to get as close to the Front Line as possible, and how they found an almost total failure to provide care for the wounded brought away from the Trenches - at one stage, the wounded were simply tipped off the ambulance stretchers on the roadways of towns behind the Front Line and effectively left to die because provision had not been thought through.
Elisabeth Shipton pointed out that a lot of research had been done to expose the horrors inflicted on soldiers fight on the Front Lines, and a lot of research has looked at the changed roles of women on the Home Front, where they moved into jobs vacated by the men who were away fighting.  However, little had been done to look at the women "who blurred the boundaries between the gender division and the ones that wanted to go to the Front Line…they wanted to challenge the social parameters they faced at the time."
She explained her own interest was started by the stories of her grandmother Catherine O'Donnell who served in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force during World War Two.  When she started studying World War One, she originally assumed they would have been similar female auxiliary forces…but at the start of the war, that was not the case.  Around 200,000 women served with the armed forces, largely as nurses, during World War One - but the formal structures only came into existence towards the end of the war.
So women's involvement was largely through voluntary organisations that they set up and ran to provide hospitals and nursing services - one of the most influential of these was the Scottish Women's Hospital.   At the start of the war there were about 1,000 women qualified as doctors in the UK, with Scotland leading the way as it had two medical schools which admitted women.
Elisabeth Shipton said the campaign for women's right to vote had brought women together, got them used to organising movements, sharing experiences and creating institutions.  She highlighted how initial opposition to female involvement by the UK forces and government meant that the women's organisations often got the front-line having been sponsored by other governments, such as those of Belgium, Serbia and France.
Female Tommies - the Frontline Women of the First World War.  Elisabeth Shipton, the History Press, £18.99

Available as an e-book - http://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/index.php/female-tommies-24483.html





Joy for Julie Fowlis on US stage

More than 100 folk music fans from Pennsylvania sat enraptured on Sunday night (11th October) as they listened to the magical vocals and musical talents of the Hebrides’ very own Julie Fowlis.
Sponsored by the local Susquehanna Folk Music Society, the gig at the intimate Abbey Bar in the city of Harrisburg marked the fourth night of Julie Fowlis’ latest US tour, which began on 8th October.  “We started off in Vermont, it’s beautiful with the autumn colours. We’ve been before, and it’s always nice to go back to places that you’ve enjoyed visiting the first time round,” Julie explained in a quiet moment during the band’s sound check.
“I love the experience of touring in America, it’s very very different to touring anywhere else.  The audiences are different, even the practicalities are different, like the big highways and the enormous hotels, everything’s to the max, supersized - the whole experience is like having the volume turned up!”

The award-winning singer was joined on the stage by her band, which features her husband, Éamon Doorley, on Irish bouzouki, Duncan Chisholm on fiddle, and Tony Byrne on guitar. Julie also demonstrated her skills as an instrumentalist, deftly playing the bagpipes, the flute, and the Indian shruti box at various points throughout the 90-minute show.
She was softly spoken and friendly as she chatted to the audience before each set, explaining why she finds certain songs particularly moving, and outlining the cultural context behind the lyrics, whether that was the proud proclamations of the Clan Macdonald, a musical interpretation of a Sorley Maclean poem, or the simple but soothing sounds of a Gaelic lullaby.
“I’m just continually inspired by other singers, and the old songs in particular, they’re so amazing,” said Julie before the show.  “I mean they’ve lasted five and six and seven hundred years, you know it’s not for nothing that they’ve survived, they’re strong melodies, and they’re strong stories, and they obviously speak to people on some level.”
Given the two standing ovations Julie and her band received from the crowd in Pennsylvania, it seemed the old Gaelic songs had a similar effect on a new American audience last weekend, and will continue to do so as Julie continues her tour across ten US states over the next three weeks.

Gaelic superstar Julie Fowlis with award-winning writer Katie Macleod

Uist chef crowned Young Highland Chef of the Year

A chef from Iochdar, South Uist has been named as the Young Highland Chef of 2015. Twenty-five year old David MacDonald beat off competition from nine other finalists to win the title at a cook-off, held at Burghfield House in Dornoch.

David was selected as the winner of the title by a panel of expert judges led by internationally renowned chef Albert Roux OBE KFO. The other chefs on the panel were Andrew Fairlie of Gleneagles Hotel; Brian Maule of Chardon d’Or in Glasgow; Steven Docherty of The First Floor Café in Windermere; Glen Watson of The Belfry in Sutton Coldfield and Derek Johnstone from The Golf Inn in Gullane, East Lothian.

David wins a week’s work experience at the Roux family’s two Michelin starred restaurant, Le Gavroche, in London, £500 and a trophy.
The Young Highland Chef competition, now in its sixth year, is organised by North Highland College UHI’s Burghfield House training restaurant and the Albert Roux Consultancy. 

Entrants aged between 18 and 30 were invited to submit a three-course dinner menu for two with crab in the starter, venison in the main and apple in the sweet, with a budget of £20 per cover. Ten applicants who were judged to have come up with the best menus on paper went on to cook their dishes at the final.

David, who is a sous chef at the New Drumossie Hotel in Inverness, produced the winning meal. He prepared crab and pearl barley risotto, roast crab claw, smoked eel and parsley mascarpone for the starter; loin of venison, boulangerie potato, caramelised onion puree, confit shallots, charred leeks, burnt onion and juniper jus for the main and vanilla custard, apple compote, toffee apple, cinnamon, shortbread and coffee for the sweet.

Michael Golledge (23) from Grandview House in Grantown on Spey came second in the competition, winning £250 and a week’s work experience at The RAC Club in London. Thomas Wright (23) from the Coul House Hotel in Contin took the third spot, receiving £100.

Speaking about his win, David said: “Having come second in the previous year’s competition, I was determined to win this year. I wasn't so nervous for this year’s competition as I have learnt so much in the last year and felt more comfortable with this year’s brief. As soon as the brief was out I knew straight away what my menu would look like. I am excited to have won the opportunity of a week’s work experience at Le Gavroche. Just to be able to see how a kitchen of that standard operates will be amazing.”
Albert Roux said: “Young Highland Chef 2015 has, without doubt, seen unprecedented success. Entries were at a record level and choosing the finalists from the written entries was particularly difficult as the standard was extremely high. Thought had gone into the dishes, with flavours and presentation of the highest order.

"The generosity of the sponsors and Burghfield House, the hosting venue, made this a competition young cooks will continue to aspire to. Well done to all who participated, particularly the winner David MacDonald, who will now spend one week training at Le Gavroche.”
Anne Frew, assistant director of service industries at North Highland College UHI, said: “Hosting the Young Highland Chef of the Year competition is the highlight of the year for our staff and students at the North Highland College UHI Burghfield House campus.

"It is such an inspirational experience for the young chefs and hospitality managers of the future to have the opportunity to meet and provide hospitality for six of Britain’s most accomplished chefs. The competition itself is going from strength to strength and it was lovely to be able to welcome this year’s ten finalists to the Burghfield for the competition cook-off.”

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, later tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament congratulating David MacDonald.  David Stewart said “This is a great achievement for David.  This competition showcases the talent we have here in the Highlands and Islands and I would congratulate David, and the other nine finalists, together with North Highland College UHI and the Albert Roux Consultancy who organised the competition for the sixth year. I wish David, and all the finalists, all the very best in their future careers."

Other finalists in the Young Highland Chef competition were Sean Beaton of the Eilean Dubh Restaurant in Fortrose; Claire McMurray, a student at West Highland College UHI; Darren Ross of the Roxburgh Hotel and Golf Course in Kelso; Jordan Clark of the Loch Melfort Hotel near Oban; Curtis Cross of Links House in Dornoch; Ross Payne from West Loch Hotel in Tarbert and Ruari McCartney from the Ulbster Arms Hotel in Halkirk. Each contestant was presented with a signed certificate and a Robot Coupe Micromix Blender.

Burghfield House is run as a training restaurant by North Highland College UHI, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands. The University of the Highlands and Islands and North Highland College UHI offer a range of tourism and hospitality courses, including a professional cookery HNC and a tourism and hospitality BA (Hons).

David MacDonald in the live cook-off

Left to right: Steven Doherty, Albert Roux and Andrew Fairlie tasting David’s winning menu

The Young Highland Chef 2015 judges and winner. Left to right: Derek Johnstone, Steven Doherty, Brian Maule, Andrew Fairlie, David MacDonald, Albert Roux, Glen Watson
Photos taken by Mark Rodgers (MKR Photographic)

Still spinning around after 30 years…it's Donnie Dòtaman

His trademark hats became familiar to millions of schoolchildren in the 1980’s and 1990’s, and now Donnie Macleod is getting ready to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the groundbreaking Gaelic TV programme ‘Dòtaman’.
Donnie Dòtaman is arguably the most famous star that Gaelic TV has ever produced.
Brought up in Edinburgh, his mother hailed from Aird in Point, while his father was from Tolsta Chaolais.
Having left Gaeldom’s supergroup ‘Na H-Oganaich’ in the early 1980s, he busied himself as Norman Maclean’s sidekick in the hugely popular ‘Tormod air Telly’ comedy series.
But it was when Neil Fraser, the-then head of Gaelic at the BBC, decided to focus specifically on pre- school children that Donnie Dòtaman was born.
Donnie explains: “Neil realised that if the Gaelic language was going to survive, we had to target children before they even went to school.
“The plan was to do a dozen pre-school programmes in a similar format to Blue Peter.
“Little did we know at the time what impact it would have in years to come." ‘Dòtaman’ or spinning top in Gaelic, was chosen as a title for the show, so given Gaeldom’s propensity for nicknames, it didn’t take long for its presenter to become known as ‘Donnie Dòtaman’.
“I’ve been known by it ever since,” Donnie laughs. “No matter what I do, I can’t get away from that name.”
The show was an immediate hit with young viewers, with its colourful, vibrant and fun themes. Spellbound kids would eagerly tune in every week to see specifically what hat Donnie was wearing for that particular episode.
“The hat thing came about almost by accident,” Donnie revealed. “I came in one day with a seagull on my hat and after that, I would wear a hat based on whatever theme the programme was following.
“For instance, if we were doing a show on a farm, I’d have animals on the hat, or if we were doing a circus theme I’d have big top on it.”
Peter Falk, who played legendary detective ‘Columbo’ was famed for using his own trenchcoat during all the years the show aired. Similarly, Donnie’s hats were all his own, and he has them still to this day.
“I’ve probably got about 300,” he laughed. “I store them all in the loft, along with the sets and the puppets we used.
“Recently I took everything down for filming and set it up in the conservatory, which I’ve now renamed as my ‘Dota-den’.”
As part of the 30th anniversary, some of Donnie’s hats are now on display at reception in BBC HQ in Glasgow, and he says the response has been ‘unbelievable’. “Everyone stops and comments on them,” he said. “There’s a big kid inside all of us.”
As part of the celebration anniversary show, celebrities including comedian Des Clarke, and singer Michelle McManus, share their reminiscences growing up with ‘Dòtaman’ on the telly. “They were unaware it wasn’t in English!” said Donnie.
“That’s what was brilliant about the show – the kids could absorb the meaning through vision.
“Producers made a conscious decision not to subtitle the programme, as they thought that Gaelic speaking children would use that as an easy option. It was very much a Gaelic show.”
Now a successful TV producer himself and based in Glasgow where he works with the BBC, Donnie is more familiar to viewers these days as the presenter of his own DIY show on BBC Alba – ‘DIY le Donnie’.
But he will always be Donnie Dòtaman – and is more than happy to accept that identity. “I’m extremely proud of Dòtaman, as it’s been my life,” he said.
“At its height, I couldn’t even go to the shops without kids running up, asking for my autograph and a photo, and of course that was all due to the popularity of the programme.
“’Dòtaman’ was simple, it didn’t try to be too clever, and that’s why it was such a successful series and loved by all for so long.”

A special anniversary show has been recorded by MacTV, and will be transmitted on October 5 on BBC Alba.

Trusadh - Dòtaman at 30 / Dòtaman aig 30 BBC ALBA – Monday 5 October 9.30 – 10.30pm
This month marks 30 years since BBC Scotland broadcast the first episode of a new Gaelic children’s tv show, Dòtaman.
Little did anyone know of the success the show and its iconic presenter, Donnie ‘Dòtaman’ MacLeod, would enjoy as it became one of the most famous Gaelic brands on TV!
Famed for its trademark hats, wonderful storytelling, colourful outfits, and catchy songs which Donnie made his own with his trusty guitar, more than 400 episodes were made of the series over 16 years.
In a nostalgic and warm hour long anniversary programme, we hear from Donnie and the team behind the show, as we explore what made it the success it was and why it was so appealing for generations of Scots, both Gaelic and non-Gaelic speakers alike. With new renditions of Dòtaman classics, and contributions from celebrity fans Michelle MacManus and Des Clarke amongst others, we discover how Dòtaman appealed to all, and enjoyed a true cult status in Scottish culture – even making it to the Edinburgh Fringe this year!
 Dòtaman aig 30 – a colourful celebration of the iconic Gaelic children’s programme as it marks its 30th year. 

Spectacular and special…Oran na Mara

Interview and photographs by Iain A MacSween

‘Spectacular’ is a word all too easily thrown around.  But having been given a guided tour of the new ‘Oran na Mara’ luxury beach cottage in Scarista, on Harris, I make no excuses.   Because this is a building which is quite simply, spectacular.

Located directly opposite Scarista beach, the sprawling building features views that are so vivid, they are difficult to describe.  From the golden sands to the machair, the oystercatchers and Arctic terns, the harebells and the Chaipaval hill, it’s almost as if there is too much to take in at once.
And this stunning building has been built incorporating each of these scenes.  ‘Oran na Mara’ is no mere luxury cottage – it’s much more than that.  It has been created to become an extension of the stunning landscape on which it stands.
With its distinctive thatched roof, the cottage was designed by Stuart Bagshaw, and features three bedrooms – ‘Machair’, ‘Shoreline’ and ‘Chaipaval’.  Each is colour co-ordinated to resemble the area of Scarista after which it is named.
And how to describe ‘The Boat’ bathroom? Put simply, I’ve never seen anything like it. The bath is a boat, and the shower door is a sail.  It’s unique, it’s quirky, and yes, it’s spectacular.
Adding to the determination to keep things rustic and true to the surrounding environment, the sea shells which form the bathroom border have been carefully picked from Scarista beach.

The cavernous living area is a wall of windows, ensuring only the very best vista.  A huge kitchen area leads into a small nest-like seating area complete with open fire.
And outwith the nest is a more spacious seating area, again with a tantalising view of the surrounding scenery outside.
Cottage owner, Paul Honeywell, tells me that given the visual feast on offer surrounding the cottage, he was unsure where – if anywhere - to put a television.
“I was on a work trip in Chicago and we were at breakfast, wanting to watch the news on TV,” he explained.  “All of a sudden these screens popped up out of nowhere in front of us.”
As he speaks, he pushes a button, and from a seemingly innocuous sideboard rises a gargantuan television which had previously been hidden.   If guests don’t want TV, no problem – don’t push the button.  The cottage boasts satellite wifi and has a top-of-the-range SONOS sound system wired throughout the building. 
The Gaelic for ‘Song of the Sea’, ‘Oran na Mara’ is the realisation of a dream for owners Paul and Helen Honeywell.
They first visited in Harris in 1977, when they stayed in Scarista on their honeymoon, lodging with the then Postmistress Mary Macdonald.  “She is 95 now and lives in Leverburgh Home of Rest,” said Paul.  “We still go and visit her.”
With an ever-expanding family (Paul and Helen have seven kids, now all adults), they started renting a chalet in Scarista from Donald John and Mary Ann MacSween every summer, having truly fallen in love with the small hamlet.
For Paul, who is CEO of technology powerhouse ‘Zedsen’, Scarista was now like a second home.  “I got talking to Donald John and he said if we wanted to buy a bit of land he could organise it,” said Paul.

“So in 2000, after a lengthy process with the Crofters Commission, we finally took ownership of the land.”
Having initially envisioned a ‘traditional square house’, Paul became aware of the work of architect Stuart Bagshaw on the islands, and revised his plans. “The first designs were pretty square, a slightly contemporary take on an old Scottish building theme,” he said. “But we didn’t feel comfortable with it.
“After we saw the houses Stuart was designing, we met with him and he came up with the concept of ‘Oran na Mara’.  We examined the practicalities of it, and there were there a lot of issues in how to build a place like this.  But we persevered with it, and after 15 years we’ve got it!”
All work carried out on the house was undertaken by local contractors, and Paul says he cannot praise highly enough their skill and craftsmanship.  Costing around £2,500 per week, a stay at Oran na Mara is not cheap.  But Paul insists that the premises will appeal to an international market.
“It’s such an unusual place, and obviously it’s in such a fantastic position,” he said.  “Yes, it is quite expensive to rent, but it has to be because it cost so much to build.
“We’ve already had a family from Germany stay here, and we have a family from Alabama booked for next year.  The signs are that it will attract people from all over the world.”
He added: “I have travelled all over the world and you just don’t get beaches like this anywhere else.
“Letting out the house is not my main objective – but being practical, since we don’t live here all the time we have to strike a balance.  It’s nice to be able to share the cottage with people who will appreciate it, and who will care for it and enjoy it.”