Published: 27/05/2018 07:00 - Updated: 25/05/2018 14:29

Diary opens up story of Second World War croft life

Written byHector MacKenzie

 

Ken MacLennan
Ken MacLennan says he was compelled to find out more as soon as he was handed the diary.

FEARS that a Wester Ross way of life might be forgotten if not documented drove a labour of love which has now seen its way into print.

An account of life in Wester Ross in wartime based on a diary started by a girl in her teens inspired the new book by her nephew.

Rena’s Diary: Life in a Scottish Crofting Community, is built around a diary kept by Rena MacLennan in 1943 when she was 16 and living on a croft in Durnamuck, Dundonnell at Little Loch Broom.

Ken MacLennan was brought up on a croft at Badluarach, just along the road from Durnamuck but later moved to Dingwall before relocating to Fochabers in Moray.

He said: "I felt that if I didn’t document Rena’s words, this period of life in Little Loch Broom would have dispersed into the ether."

He admitted he was hooked from the moment he was handed the diary by his cousin Kathleen, Rena’s daughter. Talking to people still living in the area and others which have since left the loch side, he said: "The hidden information in the diary started to rise to the surface. With their help, the words started to resonate, wishing to be heard."

He said: "Rena records the day-to-day activities involved in a crofting community, working at seasonal jobs on local estates and living close to the wartime proceedings taking place at Gruinard Island and at Loch Ewe. The entries in the diary are annotated giving further information and added local history. The book includes photographs of the period, paintings and illustrations."

Friends and relations in Ross-shire and as far afield as Canada and New Zealand contributed to the book. Said Mr MacLennan: "It gives a good historical record of crofting life in Little Loch Broom and what conditions were like during World War II."

Rena was born into the crofting community in Durnamuck in 1927.

Her father, Kenny, was also from Durnamuck while her mother, Mary, came from Waternish in Skye. Rena, the youngest of three, had a brother Duncan and a sister, Ella, who gifted her the 1943 diary at the tail end of the previous year.

The fascinating glimpse of everyday life on a Highland croft during the middle of World War II includes accounts of Rena’s time working as a maid over the summer at Gruinard House and her brother working at farms at Balnagore and Balnagown near Tain, producing food supplies for the war effort.

Ella also had seasonal jobs but would later travel south to join up with the Auxiliary Territorial Service.

Mr MacLennan said: "So far, there has been a very favourable reaction to the book."

In 1957 Rena married Murdo MacLennan from Letters in Lochbroom. He worked in Dundonnell, fencing off land for the Forestry Commission and on the couple’s croft, from which Rena ran the local post office out of the front room of her house.

People would collect their pensions from her there while she’d also get enquiries from stamp collectors always eager for a First Day Cover with a Letters postmark on the envelope.

They had two children, Murdo and Kathleen.

Rena was known for keeping an eye out for older folk in the community. She looked after her father in is final days.

Mr MacLennan added: "She continued to keep the ‘ceilidh’ attitude alive with friends regularly visiting the house and Murdo would be persuaded to bring out his accordion. Although people had very little they were content, as theirs was a rich life."

Rena’s Diary is available in The Gale Centre in Gairloch, Laide Post Office, Ullapool Museum, The Ceilidh Place Bookshop in Ullapool and at www.boco.org.uk

  

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