A WESTER Ross special forces war hero who fought deep behind enemy lines in one of the most notorious campaigns of World War II is again ready to show he’s made of sterner stuff – by tackling another mission close to his heart in his 95th year.
Donnie Mackenzie, from Lochbroom, is a former Chindit, renowned for their bravery, determination and perseverance in the face of terror, operating in notoriously dangerous conditions in the jungles of Burma in the war against Japan.
Determined to support efforts to preserve and develop a church the Lochbroom community saved from possible ruin, Mr Mackenzie next week tackles a sponsored walk across one of Scotland’s iconic structures, the Forth Road Bridge.
His connections to Clachan Church go back more than 400 years. He is directly descended from Alexander Mackenzie of Ballone (1610-1645), whose memorial is the oldest in the kirk’s burial ground.
He’s also an ancestor of Alexander Stronach, who was minister of Clachan from 1776, the year America declared its independence from Great Britain.
A place of worship for more than 800 years, the church faced an uncertain future until Clachan Lochbroom Heritage Trust stepped in to spearhead a massive fundraising drive to buy it. That included an appeal to people now scattered across the world who have strong roots in and affection for Lochbroom.
An offer to purchase the building for around £30,000 was accepted by the Trustees of the Church of Scotland, to the delight of campaigners who now intend breathing fresh life into the building as a community hub for years to come.
Mr Mackenzie has known Clachan all his life, and values it as a peaceful and atmospheric place which can do even more for his community.
Speaking ahead of what promises to be a blustery 2.5km walk next Sunday, he said: “I would like to take advantage of the opportunity while I still have a spring in my step. And I hope it will benefit securing and maintaining the future of Clachan Church for generations to come!”
When he crosses, he’ll be looking out at the iconic Forth Rail Bridge, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which was designed by Sir John Fowler, who left his mark in the Lochbroom area when he moved to live there in the 1860s. There’s a memorial to Sir John in Clachan Church, whose members were also among the first to sail on The Hector when they emigrated to Nova Scotia in 1773.
The treasurer of Clachan Lochbroom Heritage Trust, Sarah Mackenzie, yesterday voiced her admiration for Mr Mackenzie’s pluck. She said: “I know Donnie was in the Chindits so he clearly has a resolute character. His ancestors didn’t avoid the issues of their day and rescuing Clachan Church from possible ruin or property developers is a significant issue for Lochbroom today.
“Keeping Clachan in community hands, able both to continue its religious purposes and widen its use for the benefit of the district and visitors, will give a real boost to our community. Donnie’s involvement has drawn interest from more people than ever before. We’re very grateful and appreciative of the effort being put in by Donnie and his family.”
She said: “I have no doubt that the wider public will support a remarkable man who is prepared to step up to this challenge for the benefit of others.”
Sponsorship forms can be found in several businesses within Ullapool. Donations can also be pledged online at https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/donniemackenzie1