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Performing the 'Eriskay Love Lilt'

Memory Lane |

Choir practice brings back memories from isolated war time England, when a song was first sung

I sing in the bass section of our local choir. For our recent concert the 'Eriskay Love Lilt' was on the programme, a lovely little love song, part Gaelic, park English. Eriskay is a small island in the southern section of the Westen Isles of Scotland and is famous as the place where Bonnie Prince Charlie first landed at the start of his ill-fated Jacobite Rebellion in 1745. As we began our rehearsals I was interested to note that the arrangement we were using was published in 1943 and I thought, 'I sang it before then'.

 It was November 1941 and Britain was at war and quite isolated and apprehensive. All the countries on the mainland of Europe facing the British Isles across the North Sea had succumbed to the Nazi blitzkrieg and had been invaded and occupied. We did not know then that in a few weeks’ time, Japan would attack Pearl Harbour in Hawaii and soon the USA would become our very wealthy and immensely strong ally.

 So at that time, up and down the land, in towns and villages, people were raising funds to buy weapons for our armed forces. We had events such as Spitfire Week, War Weapons Week, etc. and in the village of Lennoxtown, in Stirlingshire, not far from Glasgow, a concert in the town hall was the culmination of War Weapons Week.

Alone on the stage was an eleven year old boy wondering what he was doing there. That boy was me: I wasn’t even a local lad – I was a refugee. Eight months earlier, on the 13th March, 1941, my family had endured the first night of the Clydebank Blitz and fled from our home, finishing up in Lennoxtown. The raid resumed the following night and over a thousand were killed; many injured and almost every house either damaged or destroyed. The villagers were very kind and our large family of six children were quickly absorbed into village life. I joined the boy scouts and was part of a guard of honour a couple of months later, when the crew of a German bomber shot down in a raid on Greenock were respectfully buried.

I started to sing the 'Eriskay Love Lilt'. My mum was in the audience and the woman next to her turned and whispered in a broad Glaswegian accent, 'Och, the wee soul! Ye widnae hear him behind a bus ticket!'.

Now, with a stronger voice at the age of 87, I have sung 'my song' again. How times have changed since 1941; now I am anonymous in the midst of eighty choristers.


This story was from August Issue issue. Subscribe Now