Bard's book adds to stories of Stroma life
A UNIQUE handwritten book by the “Bard of Stroma” captured the imagination of those attending a presentation on the history of the island and its people.
The well-preserved manuscript, thought to date back to the 1940s, was donated recently to Wick Heritage Museum – the venue for Saturday’s event entitled Stroma Stories.
Wick Voices, the oral history section of the Wick Society, teamed up with Lyth Arts Centre to present images and recordings linked to the island which has been uninhabited since the early 1960s.
The session tied in with Lyth’s summer exhibition exploring Stroma’s history and culture.
Photographs of the island were accompanied by extracts from Wick Voices interviews linked to Stroma. These included personal memories in addition to stories passed down through the generations.
Some members of the audience had lived on Stroma and they shared a few of their recollections during an informal discussion afterwards.
The book by Donald Banks, with its neatly handwritten pages and featuring a photo of the author, generated much interest. As well as being a fisherman-crofter and undertaker, he was a humorist, actor and poet who became known as the Bard of Stroma.
The intention is to have his narrative transcribed and then recorded.
The value of collecting oral history was evident when the audience listened to stories recorded by the late Ronnie Ball. One tale featured a local man swimming the treacherous waters of the Pentland Firth, while another recording described the occasion when a herd of deer escaped from Stroma and swam ashore at Canisbay.
There was also an opportunity to listen to the late Don Smith, who was born on Stroma, talking about spending his summer holidays on the island, going fishing, driving a tractor and eating strawberries from the beautiful garden of a local resident.
Further recordings included Helen Adams recalling the day her father requested a pair of shoes from the mainland. The shoes were to be worn by his wife (Helen’s mum) at the upcoming Christmas treat. Unfortunately, he had not specified the required size. On discovering the shoes were two sizes too big, he tied the shoes to a last and boiled them so that they would shrink to a size that would fit.
Helen also talks about the spiritual nature of the island and the bond that still exists between islanders, as they “stuck together like glue”.
Schooldays featured in an extract from Malcolm Simpson when he recalled that on stormy days the teacher dried wet clothes over the guard rail of the fire in the classroom.
Peter Sinclair always enjoyed listening to his father tell stories associated with the island. An extract from Peter’s Wick Voices interview recounts a memorable venture into Scapa Flow, under the cover of darkness, when his great-grandfather Peter Sinclair (Patty) and his crew encountered a naval battleship.
Peter also tells the story of the occasion when the police visited the island to investigate a salvaging operation that involved a tin of paint.
Wilma MacGregor fondly recalls her mother’s stories, such as the rescue of the crew from the Empire Parsons that ran aground on the east side of Stroma in 1942. Wilma also talks of her mother’s experience of a trip on a bus from Huna to Wick.
In a further extract Catherine Byrne describes what seems to be an idyllic childhood, growing up on Stroma.
The audience not only listened to William Bremner’s account of another visit to the island by the police but were able to hear William’s Wick Voices recording, based on his accompanying commentary when he skippers the Pentland Venture on its wildlife cruise around Stroma.
Doreen Leith, who leads the Wick Voices project, said: “It would be brilliant if Wick Voices could add to its collection of Stroma stories.
"As suggested by members of the audience, we would very much like to update the Wick Voices presentation by including photographs taken when the island was still inhabited.”