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Black Isle drowning tragedy from 1952 set to be marked with poignant graveside memorial

By Neil MacPhail

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A DROWNING tragedy 70 years ago on a Black Isle loch is to be marked with a graveside ceremony next week.

On May 18, 1952, five teenage lads were having fun with a small boat on Simon's Loch in the Monadh Mhor wood north of Tore when it capsized.

Brothers Charles (12) and David Pickett (14), were found dead in the water locked together in each other’s arms, and Albert Donaldson (18) was discovered drowned nearby.

Survivor John MacRitchie, then 14, managed to grab 13-year-old George Barr by the hair as he surfaced and dragged him to the side.

Mr Barr, now the sole survivor, plans to travel north with family from his home in Liverpool to be at the commemoration on May 18 at 2pm in Urquhart New Cemetery where the friends will be remembered.

Mr MacRitchie, formerly of Kiltarlity, died in 2020.

Adding to the poignancy of the tragedy was that the five friends had been boarded out from their families in the Greenock area and were starting a new life with local crofting families, the Picketts at Balnabeen and Albert at Kinkell.

Boarding out was common practice in post-war times when many children were orphaned or in the care of local authorities.

Jim Holden a member of Ferintosh Community Council said that Mr Barr's son Paul got in touch asking if they planned to mark the 70th anniversary, and the small service was arranged.

Mr Holden added: "The Rev Terry Burns from Culbokie Church has agreed to say some appropriate words at a small commemoration ceremony to be held in the cemetery at 2pm on May 18, at the graveside. We hope to have a piper to play a lament and Mr Barr, the only living survivor of the tragedy will be there too.

"This tragedy had a great impact locally too, but as the years pass there are fewer people with direct memories of what happened, so it would be good if as many local people come along too."

For many years the only record of the tragedy was a painted message on a rock and a paper notice pinned to a nearby tree, until Ferintosh Community Council and the then Forestry Commission got together to erect a lochside memorial.

It was unveiled on May 17, 2008 by Colin Craig of the community council in the presence of the sister of the Pickett brothers, the late Mr MacRitchie, Mr Barr and many members of the community including some who had known the boys.

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