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On the 23rd of July 1915, the population of Melness was five hundred and thirty men, women and children. A total of eighty-eight men were in the Armed Forces at that time, a figure that represented sixteen percent of the total population. This figure would rise by the end of the First World War to one hundred and twenty-one, the highest total of the three villages.


Many of the men were members of the huge herring fleet, which fished the shores of the North of Scotland prior to the war. The herring fishermen, almost to a man all members of the Royal Naval Reserve, were mobilized at the outbreak of war.

The Royal Naval Reservists were called up nationwide on the 1 of August 1914, the Wick Division sent out call up papers to its men by motor cars, asking them to be in Wick by 10am on the 2 of August. Two hundred men from the county of Sutherland were called up on that date, leaving Wick railway station at 3pm bound for the Naval Depots and front line warships.

Melness men were also gamekeepers and ghillies who served in the famous Lovat Scouts as snipers and spotters for the artillery. They served across the globe, in the front line of many famous battles witnessing the terrible carnage caused by war in a new industrial age of machine-guns and poison gas.

Other men, who had left Melness to live in Canada and New Zealand, returned to the battlefields with the Armies of those countries to join in the fight. They served in Gallipoli, Macedonia and on the Western Front in France until the war was over, many coming home bearing the scars of war.

The only woman from this area to be killed while in the Armed Forces is named on this war memorial, a nurse who joined the Army Medical Corps to tend the sick and dying only to become a casualty herself. Isabella Mackenzie was witness to the terrible waste of war, as young men were brought into the field hospitals to be treated for their wounds.

She was a member of the Mackenzie family who had moved from Melness to live in Lairg, families today can only imagine the loss of three sons and daughter to war. The Mackenzie family losses also appear on Lairg War Memorial.

Melness War Memorial also shows the name of John Barnetson, a regular soldier who for his bravery was nominated for the Victoria Cross. This was reduced to the award of the Distinguished Conduct Medal for saving the lives of one hundred men, getting severely wounded as he did so.

During the Second World War many men from Melness served in the forces and four made the ultimate sacrifice. There are probably many stories to be told by those that returned home at wars end and are yet to tell.

The residents of Melness were not immune from disaster during the last war when the tramp steamer SS Ashbury foundered on rocks at Talmine Bay and the crew were all killed. 

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