Vol­un­teers de­fend Seil against fear of French

The Oban Times - - News -

TWO ar­tillery com­pa­nies, called the Eas­dale Vol­un­teers, guarded Seil’s west­ern shores for 50 years against the threat of French in­va­sion, wrote Lt Col Tim Sin­clair, a for­mer gun­ner, of Clachan Seil.

In 1859, Bri­tain feared it faced naval at­tack from France’s Em­peror Napoleon III and within two years 161,000 had signed up for a vol­un­teer corps, in­clud­ing 12 ar­tillery com­pa­nies in Ar­gyll and two on Eas­dale: 1st Corps the Ar­gyll Ar­tillery Vol­un­teers, which formed on March 7, 1860.

Un­der the com­mand of Cap­tain An­gus Whyte, the slate quarry man­ager, the two com­pa­nies drilled their ar­tillery skills on four huge 32-pounder guns, fir­ing can­non balls from Eas­dale’s shores 1,200m out into the At­lantic.

The men of the slate quar­ries, im­mac­u­late in their blue ar­tillery uni­forms, then took charge of more pow­er­ful 64-pounder guns in 1891 – the bar­rels weighed three tonnes alone, heav­ier than a Range Rover – and they fired heav­ier, spin­ning shells twice as far. So skilled were the Eas­dale gun­ners, they won the King’s Cup in a con­test or­gan­ised by the Scot­tish Na­tional Ar­tillery As­so­ci­a­tion in 1905.

Lt Col Sin­clair doc­u­mented the story of one day’s ar­tillery train­ing in 1899, when the man­ager of the slate quar­ries, Ma­jor Matthew Wil­son, gauged the range and ac­cu­racy of shots fired from the guns at a tiny float­ing tar­get, a wooden bar­rel an­chored in the At­lantic swell, bob­bing 2,000m away. As deaf­en­ing ex­plo­sions pealed across the is­land, it took the 29kg shells just six sec­onds to splash into the sea 2km away.

Forty-eight years later, the Eas­dale gun­ners stood down, and in 1908 the vol­un­teer force gave way to the Ter­ri­to­rial Force – to­day’s Ter­ri­to­rial Army.

‘Gun­nery was a skill the is­lan­ders trained hard to mas­ter,’ wrote Lt Col Sin­clair. ‘For the 48 years of its ex­is­tence, the vol­un­teer ar­tillery never had to fire its guns in anger. The threat­ened in­va­sion never took place. But if the Eas­dale gun­ners had ever been called upon to de­fend th­ese is­lands from at­tack, they would have been ready.’

The ex­hi­bi­tion fea­tured a life-size model of the 64-pounder guns – but, while most of the orig­i­nals were swept away by storms or sold for scrap, one iron-wheeled, oak and teak gun car­riage and gun bar­rel, fired by this great, great-grandad’s army, still sur­vives on Eas­dale to­day.

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