KEEP THE HOME FIRES BURNING
In a media-saturated, digital world, when you can tell millions of people instantly that you are rolling on the floor laughing, it is hard to imagine life a century ago when the nearest the West Highlands had to mass communication was The Oban Times. Conscription, the mass casualties from this first truly mechanised war and rationing of food and resources by submarine blockades, saw a major upheaval in home life during the First World War.
Radio was ‘cat’s whiskers’ or ‘crystal sets’ and more or less a hobby until the British Broadcasting Company became the British Broadcasting Corporation in the 1920s.
Telegrams – where a message was sent by telegraphy to the Post Office and delivered by hand – was the fastest method of communication and often delivered the dreadful news of men wounded, killed or missing in action.
Telephones in private homes were only for the very wealthy or pubic services with calls connected manually by switchboard operators.
National newspapers arrived by train and then ferries, often reaching islands and remote communities days later.
The Oban Times carried not just local reports, but national and international, and throughout the conflict had a weekly summary of the war news.
The cinema was silent pictures. There were reports across the country that people went to see a newsreel of the Battle of the Somme again and again, hoping they would catch a glimpse of someone missing.
Music sharing back then was a sing-song. So any snatch of news was welcomed and reported in the pages of The Oban Times.
Reports of men on leave returning home or listed as missing or injured where given regularly; and sadly as the war went on the obituaries began to mount and fill the pages weekly.
Pre-war photographs in The Oban Times were few and far between. It was an expensive business; film had to be developed, pictures printed and then engraved. Even though the Kodak Brownie had revolutionised photography, few people owned one. Many soldiers turned to photographic studios for simple picture postcard portraits, taken here or on leave at the front, to give to their mothers, wives and sweethearts.
It is these portraits you see staring out of The Oban Times pages along with their obituaries; week after week, along with list after list of the dead catalogued by island, town, clan or regimental rolls of honour.