Foresters re­turn to Ar­gyll af­ter 50 years

Argyllshire Advertiser - - NEWS -

EIGHT for­mer forestry work­ers re­turned to Lochgilp­head on Tues­day Septem­ber 5 - al­most 50 years since they worked to clear the af­ter-ef­fects of the 1968 hurricane.

At the time, most were stu­dent foresters with the Forestry Com­mis­sion work­ing mostly in English for­est dis­tricts.

When the storm struck the west of Scot­land on Jan­uary 15 1968, the lads ei­ther vol­un­teered or were, in their words ‘press ganged’ to travel north to help clear dam­age.

One of the stu­dents was Harry Oram, who helped to or­gan­ise the week-long Scot­tish trip. He re­called where he was when he got the 1968 call: ‘I was at Bramshall Es­tate in Hampshire qui­etly sned­ding away with a axe try­ing to keep up with the Pol­ish lads, who were the best.

‘Some lads had cars and the rest of us were given travel war­rants to Glas­gow and booked into the YMCA.’

At a brief­ing the fol­low­ing day, the young foresters learned their fate. They were posted to dark­est Ar­gyll.

Harry con­tin­ued: ‘Knap­dale had an es­ti­mated 70,000 cu­bic me­tres (ap­prox­i­mately equiv­a­lent to tons) of wind blown trees, while In­ver­liever around 80,000 cu­bic me­tres.

‘I was sent to Ach­na­mara with 11 others and the re­main­ing boys were sent to In­ver­liever and Ar­dentinny, with some later mov­ing to Glen­bran­ter. There was no limit on earn­ings as there had been in Eng­land, where the max­i­mum on piece­work was 50 per cent above day rate.’

Work­ing through the hot sum­mers of 1968 and 1969, the men were rav­aged by midges, only gain­ing re­lief through the oc­ca­sional breeze and by putting ex­tra oil in the fuel mix.

Harry re­mem­bers the com­mis­sion looked af­ter them well. ‘We had evening botany lec­tures in Lochgilp­head,’ he said, ‘as well as ed­u­ca­tional tours to pulp and sawmills, to see he­li­copter spray­ing in Glen Orchy and to James Jones and Sons to see Un­i­mogs.

‘Some of the lads pro­gressed on to winch trac­tors to ex­tract the tim­ber and I was chok­er­man for Derry MacGre­gor of Lochgilp­head for a while.’

But there was more than one kind of ‘winch­ing’ go­ing on, if the lads are to be be­lieved. Harry ex­plained: ‘The so­cial life was fun with dances at In­ver­aray Cas­tle and at the dance hall in Ar­dr­ishaig. We drank a few pints of heavy at the Stag and Ar­gyll in Lochgilp­head. Lo­cal folk made us feel wel­come, although some found it dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand why we had come all the way up from the south of Eng­land to cut Sitka.’

Fol­low­ing the sum­mer of 1969, the boys were sent to the FC Forester Train­ing School at Faskally and the for­est of Dean.

For the next four decades, each of the for­mer stu­dents stayed in the forestry in­dus­try and Harry worked with the Forestry Com­mis­sion un­til re­tir­ing a few years back. He con­cluded: ‘We all have fond me­mories of our time in Ar­gyll and have been look­ing for­ward to vis­it­ing old haunts.’

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En­joy­ing a pint at the Stag Ho­tel are David Rogers, Dave Mercer, David Ol­lier, Keith Camp­bell, Harry Oram, Ian Richard­son, Bob Cul­ley and Pat Smith.

One of the lads, 20-year-old Keith Camp­bell from Edinburgh, op­er­at­ing a winch in 1968.

The dev­as­ta­tion faced by the young foresters al­most half a cen­tury ago.

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