Seeing that the next meeting of the Stornoway Historical Society is to be on the subject of the history of Stornoway Airport*, the following brief first-hand recollection from the Second World War may be of interest to those planning to attend (or unable to do so).
The aerodrome at Stornoway
During part of the war I worked as a clerk at the Stornoway aerodrome, which was expanded to meet the military needs of the time. I remember particularly, on one occasion, watching a large number of American planes coming in to land, one after the other, filling up the runways. The fourth runway had been constructed only recently, at considerable expense, by my employers, the firm William Tawse.
When the war started, all of us who had been working in the Labour Exchange (known as the Burroo) in Stornoway were paid off, because the unemployed men were called up, so there was no work for us; our own employment had been on a temporary basis. In the hope of finding another job, I put an advert in the Stornoway Gazette - "anything considered" - and was taken on as a shop assistant in the town, in "Sammy's", where I also did the book-keeping. I don't know how it came about, but one day I was called in to the office to meet Mr Pirie, the agent for works contractors William Tawse Ltd. He said he didn't think my skills were being used properly in the shop, and offered me a job, which I accepted, as a wages clerk at the quarry, at Marybank. To get to work from the town I had to stop the lorries on their way there to get a lift.
Tawse took over the contract for the work at the aerodrome, building the new runway - the firm brought in originally hadn't been up to the job, but Tawse had experience with conditions on the island, including making roads on peat. They shifted me with other clerical workers from the quarry to the aerodrome, which of course had priority at this time, and brought some more workers from Aberdeen. Transport was provided: no more hitching lifts, instead the agent went round the town and picked us up in the morning.
Later, when the work was running down, there was a suggestion that I might be transferred to Aberdeen. I was keen to accept but nothing came of it, apparently because they would have had to pay me more than the local workers there, to cover the cost of digs, and this might have caused bad feeling.
There had been some muttering about whether the expenditure on the aerodrome was excessive, but the Tawse agent, standing beside me as we watched all those US aircraft landing safely, observed that if anyone had any doubts about its being worth while, that day would have settled them and justified it - there was nowhere else in the country for them to land, because of fog.
As told by Margaret Isobel Smith (Peggy Flett), 29 January 2006
Peggy was (of course) a former pupil of the Nicolson, subject of the Society's previous meeting.
Previously on this blog, related post: http://smothpubs.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/stornoway-and-strategists.html