Labour of love as Helen honours 39 men who died in world wars
ARCHITECT Helen Glennie from Seil researched each life and story behind all the names inscribed on the Slate Islands’ war memorial, which commemorates local soldiers who died from Kilbrandon Parish during the First and Second World Wars.
‘This has taken me two years,’ Helen said. ‘I did not think it would take me this long. Thirty-nine men lost their lives in the First World War: 20 per cent of the eligible young men. In a small community, 39 is an awful lot. Most of the men who died in the Somme have no known graves. They went over the top and were mown down and killed, blown to bits. I numbered them all one to 39 and put in all the information I could find. I’ve just been researching as much as I can online.’
After further extensive research in regimental and Oban Times archives, she added: ‘I’ve gone as far as I can. Now I need other people to help me.’
As Helen talked, a direct descendant of one person named on the memorial, Edward MacInnes, approached.
‘This is what we hoped would happen – people coming in and filling in the blanks,’ explained Ron Hetherington, who conceived the exhibition’s showpiece: a full-size model of the Seil war memorial and, below it, a scale trench from the Somme.
Recalling his first meetings with Mr Shaw, chairman of the Scottish Slate Islands Heritage Trust, Ron said: ‘ We knew Helen’s research on the war memorial should be the centrepiece. I said, “Why don’t we build a war memorial? Let’s recreate a First World War trench”. I got photographs of the trenches from the Somme and I just sketched it out and gave it to Alan.’
Three island men – Alan Coutts, George Houston and Bill Clark – set to work constructing the model, complete with hessian sandbags stuffed with polystyrene, silver spray-painted cardboard as corrugated iron, littered with spent shells, bully beef tins, cigarette playing cards and a fluffy toy rat.
‘My imagination ran riot, but I am pleased with the results,’ Ron said. ‘Nobody refused us anything. It turned out exactly as I saw it in my mind’s eye.’
Following the exhibition, the trench model went on tour to the primary school and will be in Kilbrandon Church for Armistice Day on Friday November 11, during the 100th anniversary year of the Battle of the Somme. Organisers hope the model will then go on display in Oban’s War and Peace Museum. Helen is also writing a book compiling the stories of all 39 soldiers listed on Seil’s war memorial.
Ron Hetherington and Helen Glennie at the war memorial exhibit which Helen spent two yeas compiling.