Oh Flower of Scotland… Happy Saint Andrews Day 2018 5

November 30th is Saint Andrews day in Scotland.

It has been over 27 years since we left Scotland to return to America but in so many ways it seems like yesterday.

Our trip was cut way too short with the imminent closing of the American base at Holy Loch and so many things have filled our lives since that day. But Scotland will always be a part of our lives.

Arriving there in August of 1990, we learned so much about living in a country that was filled with amazing adventures and challenges. We quickly learned that life was entirely dependent on schedules and arriving at the appropriate place on time. From the airport, our sponsors took us to the ferry landing where we got in line. It is possible to drive to most places in on the Scottish mainland, but the ferry was the quickest way. Plus, the cost of petrol at that time was very prohibitive so you learned quickly that using the short cuts was a necessity.

That first trip across the water from Greenock to Dunoon was pretty exciting. Although Debbie and I had ridden a few ferries in Washington State, this one seemed a lot closer to an adventure. The water was very choppy and the wind was blowing as if to say “Welcome to Scotland” in a way that was mistakenly Scottish. Even for an August day, sweaters were more appropriate than short sleeve shirts and the mist that came over the bow was brisk indeed.

Arriving on the other side, we all drove off in their car to take a short trip around Dunoon and the American points of interest. After a short drive, we rounded the road from Dunoon and in front of us in the Holy Loch stood the submarine tender and my next duty station, the USS Los Alamos AFDB 7. Both were grey and the brightness of the day highlighted the vessels where I would spend much of the next fourteen months. Looking at the drydock, I remember thinking to myself, what have I gotten myself into/

 

 

We settled in to Dunira (which was the name of the Bed and Breakfast that would be out temporary home for a few weeks) and met the owners. She was Scottish and he was Danish. They made a lovely couple and we were ushered to our small apartment upstairs. The shower was smaller than any I had seen since my first submarine.

The rooms were very tight and we realized we had carried too much stuff with us. That would be a lesson that would repeat itself over the next few months when the rest of our household goods arrived. Some of the things we brought we not even unpacked for the tour.

But we were in Scotland, the land where some of both of our ancestors had come from. We have done a lot of genealogy and with the few clues that were passed down to both of us have found a lot of information about where our families had their origin.

One of the highlights of the tour was when we were able to have the perfect Scottish weekend. The weekend started with a drive to Newtonmore, my family’s ancient home. When we arrived we attended a Ceilidh for Clan MacPherson followed by a full day of Clan activities on the following day.

Sunday, we drove to Edinburg for the World Famous Tattoo. I had purchased tickets nearly a year in advance and we had the most amazing seats just below the Governor’s Box.

It was surely a weekend to remember.

We learned a lot of history while we were there. For instance, even though the British Union Jack is flown nearly everywhere, the St Andrew’s Cross or Saltire is Scotland’s national flag.

We traveled quite a bit while we lived there but I was not able to make it to Athelstaneford. This was a village three miles north-east of Haddington in East Lothian.

This is their story:

Athelstaneford gets its name from the legendary battle between Saxon King Athelstane and Pictish King Hungus (Angus) in the 9th century. It began as a model village in the late 18th century, thriving on agriculture and weaving.

Between 815 AD and 832 AD, legend describes how an army of Picts, under Angus mac Fergus (High King of Alba), had been on a punitive raid into Lothian (which was Northumbrian territory), and were being pursued by a larger force of Angles and Saxons under Athelstane.

The Scots were caught and stood to face Athelstane in an area to the north of the modern village of Athelstaneford. The two armies came together at a ford near the present day farm of Prora (one of the field names there is still called the Bloody Lands).

King Angus prayed for deliverance and was rewarded by seeing a cloud formation of a white saltire (the diagonal cross on which St Andrew had been martyred) against a blue sky. The king vowed that if, with the saint’s help, he gained the victory, then Andrew would thereafter be the patron saint of Scotland. The Scots did win, and the Saltire became the flag of Scotland.

https://scottishflagtrust.com/2017/09/exhibition-the-story-of-st-andrew-and-the-saltire/

One other thing we learned from our local friends was that even though there was a song called Scotland the Brave, the true unofficial national anthem, for all true Scots was “Oh Flower of Scotland”.

Roy Williamson of the folk group the Corries wrote both the lyrics and music for the song. The words refer to the victory of the Scots, led by Robert the Bruce, over England’s Edward II at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.

I have several recordings of the Corries and I might be wrong but it feels an awful lot like they were tweaking their neighbors to the south in defiance. I’ll let you be the judge.

O flower of Scotland

When will we see your like again

That fought and died for

Your wee bit hill and glen

And stood against him

Proud Edward’s army

And sent him homeward

Tae think again

 

The hills are bare now

And autumn leaves lie thick and still

O’er land that is lost now

Which those so dearly held

And stood against him

Proud Edward’s army

And sent him homeward

Tae think again

 

Those days are passed now

And in the past they must remain

But we can still rise now

And be the nation again

That stood against him

Proud Edward’s army

And sent him homeward

Tae think again

Happy Saint Andrew’s Day!

Mister Mac

 

 

Bagpipes and Boomers and Beer, oh my! 8

Holy Loch Scotland

One of the saddest days of my life was the day we left Dunoon Scotland and the Holy Loch so many years ago. It was 1991, our tour was shortened by the end of the Cold War drawdown and I was headed to a tour as M Division officer on the Hunley. But we packed a lot into that short tour of fourteen months.

We arrived at the end of summer in 1990 to take over the duties on the USS Los Alamos AFDB 7 as the Docking and Repair Officer. The Los Alamos was one of the best investments ever made in Naval history. It was originally designed as a seven section floating dry-dock. Both seven and ten section dry-docks were built  to be big enough to be transported to a forward base in the Pacific and provide forward repair services for ships as large as the Iowa class battleship or a host of smaller ships. At that time, it was a huge savings of time and battle resources since it meant that damaged ships would no longer have to take the slow and perilous journey back to Pearl Harbor or the west coast ship repair facilities.

After the war, the AFDB 7 was broken down into sections and towed to its berth in Florida where it would sit waiting for another mission. That mission came when the Polaris program was born and the need for overseas bases became critical. The range of the missiles on the early boat was fairly limited so they would lose precious time transiting from US bases on their way to the patrol areas. The waters in Holy Loch Scotland were determined to be deep enough and easy enough to protect if need be so she was one of the sites chose to support the boomers.

I have a cruise book from the Los Alamos that one of my guys put together and it chronicles the way the LA was reassembled once she arrived in Holy Loch. The original design was devilishly simple. The walls of the dock were laid flat on the deck of the individual barges. You used giant jacking devices to put them upright and then connect all the piping and electrical connections. The berthing and machinery spaces (plus the galley) were housed in the individual barges and all of those were connected together as well.

When the LA was originally designed, she was a seven section drydock. The engineers determined that in order to dock a Polaris submarine, you only needed four sections. A couple of cranes, some upper level repairs and an overhaul every few years kept her running smoothly for over thirty years.

In between dockings, the crew spent a lot of time in the wee town of Dunoon Scotland. Over the years, Dunoon had adapted herself well to the visitors. The sailors from the submarine tenders, the boat ops gangs and the visiting bubbleheads kept an awful lot of people employed for many years. It was rumored that there were more taxi’s concentrated in Dunoon than in any other location in Scotland but you know who rumors are. One thing is for certain was the number of pubs. I had heard of the infamous Pub Crawls before but walking up and down the main streets of Dunoon, you could almost feel the souls of all the past crawlers making their way up and down the way.

One of my favorite memories however was the Annual Cowal Highland Games. Can you possibly imagine 150 bagpipe bands gathering in one field (often over 3000 pipers) and playing amazing grace? The whole day was exciting with athletics and dance competitions rounding out the group and solo pipes contests.

Like all good things, our tour came to an end much too soon. Dunoon still hosts the games each year (this one is coming up soon from the 25th to the 27th of August).  http://www.cowalgathering.co.uk/  My dream is to go back once more before I do my final checkout.  I would highly recommend the same for you!

Haste ye back