The Last to Remember St. Kilda

Norman John Gillies was 5 years old when he was among the final 36 people evacuated from their homes on St. Kilda. The tiny island, 100 miles off the coast of Scotland, was turned into a nature preserve afterward and no one lives there. Gilles is now the last living person who remembers living on St. Kilda.
Norman John was named after his mother's two brothers. They were among five men trying to land on Dun in a strong sea swell when their boat capsized. No St Kildan could swim. Norman John's grandfather was saved along with another man and one body was retrieved, "But not Norman or John's." Both uncles perished.

St Kilda could ill afford to lose able-bodied males. Already depleted by disease and emigration, by the 1920s the community was struggling to feed itself. Nurse Williamina Barclay, posted to Hirta at this time, was horrified by what she found. Well aware, too, of the limited medical service she could provide, she tried to persuade the islanders that the time had come to leave St Kilda. The younger adults were mostly in favour, the older ones against.

Young Norman John knew nothing of this. He remembers Nurse Barclay for teaching him his first hymn while she was treating burns he'd got when his young cousin, in a misguided jest, showered him with hot peat ash from the household fire. Too young to work with the adults ("like children over nine or 10") or to be in the tiny island schoolroom, Norman John roamed over Hirta. "We didn't have toys," he recalls. "We played hide and seek and ran free." There was no crime on the island – the community genuinely lived by the 10 commandments – and doors were never locked. His most vivid memory is of his mother standing on a high dry-stone wall beckoning and shouting to both ends of the island, "Tormod Iain" – Norman John in Gaelic – "Time for your dinner!"

It was the death of Gilles' mother that convinced the last holdouts on St. Kilda to leave for good. Read about life on the isolated island and how different it became for the evacuees after they moved to mainland Scotland. Link -via Metafilter

Login to comment.

Email This Post to a Friend
"The Last to Remember St. Kilda"

Separate multiple emails with a comma. Limit 5.


Success! Your email has been sent!

close window

This website uses cookies.

This website uses cookies to improve user experience. By using this website you consent to all cookies in accordance with our Privacy Policy.

I agree
Learn More