Soldiering on St Kilda, by James Mackay
Book published by Token in 2002, 152 pages. Large Hardback with Dust Jacket - c.21.5cm by 30cm (N6540X2)
From the inside front fly leaf: It is now more than forty years since James Mackay, a 22 year-old lieutenant in the Royal Army Educational Corps, was posted to the Rocket Range in the Outer Hebrides. Ostensibly he was the unit's education officer but he soon found himself taking on a wide variety of duties: Mess Secretary, Messing Officer, conducting officer for visiting VIPs and even' Army spokesman' when the media required a sound-bite.
As the 'schoolie' in a Gunner unit, these duties would have been strange enough, but he also took on the role of HQ Troop Commander at Benbecula and then - strangest of all - became Relief OC for the Range's detachment of 30 soldiers on the remote and very isolated island of St Kilda. At the age of 23 he became the only lieutenant to command St Kilda, probably the only non-Gunner ever to command an artillery unit, and certainly the only education officer to hold an independent field command.
Soldiering on St Kilda was bizarre and surreal in other ways. Where else in the world would you find a military base right in the middle of a nature reserve (and later Scotland's first UNESCO World Heritage Site). Inevitably there were conflicts of interest between the Army and the Nature Conservancy Council. Coping with a plague of the unique St Kilda fieldmice and dealing with hundreds of rare Soay sheep who died in a sudden epidemic were only two of the problems facing the soldiers on this desert island (whose last civil population had left in 1930). Even such a seemingly obscure and trivial matter as suddenly finding a daisy growing on the island almost provoked a major crisis, the Army getting the blame for the appearance of this 'invasive species'.
St Kilda, the remotest of all the British Isles, lies 110 miles west of the Scottish mainland. It boasts the highest sea cliffs in the United Kingdom and the largest colonies of puffins, gannets and fulmars. The breeding ground of the rare Atlantic Grey Seal and home to the unique Soay sheep and St Kilda wren, it was also a military base in continuous occupation by the RAF and then the Army from 1957 till 1999. But it also had a fascinating military history stretching back to the . Jacobite Rebellion of 1745-6 and was occupied by the Navy in the First World War and the RAF in the Second. It was bombarded by a German submarine in the first war and witnessed the crash (with total loss of life) of three RAF planes in the second war.
This book is a personal memoir of soldiering on St Kilda over a period of two and a half years (1959-61) by a man who became so fascinated by the place that he has spent the ensuing four decades ferreting out all he could about its previous military connections, from the Dunvegan Castle archives of the MacLeods of MacLeods (who owned the island till 1931), to the records of the Royal Artillery and Royal Air Force, and particularly Admiralty files now preserved in the Public Record Office. The book thus presents the extraordinary military history of the strangest base ever occupied by all three Services.
Condition of the book is generally very good. The dust jacket is clean and bright, the spine is intact and all pages are clean, intact, unblemished and tightly bound.The book has been bumped in the extreme bottom left and right hand corners, and this has caused a tiny amount of wear and scuffing.