From Morse to Laptop - Leodie remembers …………

For many the name Leod Murray, "Leodie" is synonymous with Shawbost Post Office. He shares with us a selection of memories from an active life spend largely in the service of the community

First Day in School

DH'FHALBH MI LE FAD FOM ACHLAIS……!! Leodie smiles as he recalls his first day in school. It was 1921 and he set off with a peat under his arm, just like all the other youngsters. In those days the pupils brought the fuel for the heating with them to school! The family home was situated where the Post Office is today and he remembers the road up to The Gate being well-nigh black with the large number of children making their way to the school.

On arrival in the "Rum Beag", as the Infant Room was known, the teacher -Miss Mary Maciver of Càrnan, North Shawbost - pointed in the direction of a box by the wall and Leodie understood that he was to sit there. But that was Lesson One! Leodie quickly learned that what he was to do was to deposit his peat in that box!

School Staff

FOR A MOMENT his mind dwells on the staff of the school. From the beginners' room they graduated to "Classes 1 and 2" where they were taught by another local lady, Mrs Mary Maciver, whose family home was at 45 North Shawbost. He remembers also Miss Mackenzie, "an Tidsear Bheag", who later became the wife of Rev Macrae of Kinloch Free Church. She was replaced by a Miss Martin from Stornoway. There was a Miss MacDonald from Crossbost. At the top end of the school they had Mr Macmillan, the Headmaster. It is clear that they all conjure up a multitude of memories. Those members of staff who did not live locally stayed in lodgings in the village, usually in "Taigh Barabra" in North Shawbost.

"All teachers were disciplinarians then!" he comments. As his lively 11-year old grandson Jonathon strolls in to share his news of another happy school day, Leodie is clearly aware that the relationship between pupils and staff has undergone radical change since he was a lad of that age. Although the scholars' grasp of English was minimal on admission to school in the early 1920's the word "Brat!" soon became familiar. The administration of "stràicean" of the belt was a fairly regular occurrence. There were no jotters then, far less any of the modem amenities that smooth the paths of education today. The slate reigned supreme.es

When asked about pastimes Leodie pauses as if contemplating what to divulge. Then he throws his head back and chuckles with a mischievous twinkle!
'Well . . . there was iomain - shinty." Then after a pause, as if sharing a confidence, he adds, "But there was also stone-throwing! And of course rivalry between gangs from the different streets was rife...!" It is not difficult to deduce where the real fun was to be had!

The Post Office

The photograph shows the shop built by Leodie's father, Donald Murray. From about 1909 until 1921 the Post Office was also run from there. It was situated at Shawbost village crossroads where Angus Gillies's shop stood for many years (Seada Aonghais 'An Ghiolais). A bus-shelter now occupies the site.

THE POST OFFICE has been a significant part of Leodie's life for as long as he can remember. It has been associated with the family since 1883 when his great-uncle became Postmaster at Shawbost. Leodie's mother, then Miss Kate Macleod, took over in 1909 and operated the office from 21 North Shawbost, "Taigh Leoid". On her marriage to Mr Donald Murray, "Kruger", the Office moved to the wooden shop building that he erected at The Gate. About 1921, shortly before Mr Murray died, it moved to the site where Mr Murray built the family home. From his earliest days as he grew up there Leodie has been familiar with life behind the counter - although he maintains that during her lifetime his Mother was "always the expert".

Six Rings For Shawbost!

COMMUNICATIONS are central to the work of the Post Office and Leodie remembers that the box that brought messages by Morse Code from the outside world was still there in his childhood. Then came the telephone. Initially there were seven phones between Shawbost and Butt of Ness. These worked by being wound up:
1 ring for Stornoway
2 rings for Barvas
3 rings for Borve
4 rings for Cross
5 rings for Port of Ness
6 rings for Shawbost and 7 rings for the Butt of Ness
Bragar came "online" later and was contacted with 8 rings!!

The line most commonly used from the PO then was the one to Borve as the Doctor lived there. Anyone who went into hospital was required to give a telephone number for emergency contact. The PO one was the only one available. Hence when a message came from the hospital someone from the PO had to deliver that to the home concerned. That could mean getting people out of bed at night to convey news of a death.

A later development was the installation of a telephone kiosk, which was supposed to be soundproof, in the same room as the Office. When the local telephone network enlarged to 18 numbers it became "automatic", in the sense that the caller did not have to tell the Postmaster the number they were calling!

Telegrams

GOING roundthe village with telegrams for those engaged in the fishing industry was a regular chore in Leodie's young days. At that time the Office was also open for an hour on Sunday mornings to take messages over the wires. Leodie remembers being keenly aware of every eye on him as he walked the road to deliver a Sunday message, sensing that he was surrounded by curiosity.

"Falbhaidh cearc is thig glug!"

IN 1953 Leodie became official Postmaster for the Shawbost area. The Post Office was the hub of much activity. Pensions, parcels, letters, postal orders, money orders - these were all part ot a day's work. At a time when a couple on the pension received the sum of ten shillings a week £20 would cover a day's outlay in pensions.

Telegrams continued to be a mainstay of communications for many situations. These were paid for at a set rate per word. To send for the doctor by telegram cost about sixpence. Telegrams tended to create a rush of business when it came to weddings. These were often of a humourous nature as absent friends and well-wishers sent their greetings to the newly-weds. Sending a spicy telegram with a wrong name attached was a favourite prank!

Christmas was by far the busiest time for the PO with many parcels coming in and being sent out at that time. At a time of less affluence it was traditional in almost every home to send a chicken to relatives on the mainland. It was hoped that the parcel sent by them in return would, among the other "goodies's have the sound of liquid in it. Hence the colourful phrase "Falbhaidh cearc is thig glug!" was coined. ("Chicken goes, liquid comes!")

Deliveries

IN LEODIE'S EARLIEST MEMORIES mail arrived at the Shawbost PO from Barvas in a gig, driven by Domhnall Aonghais Toudie. He was followed by Domhnall 'An Bhàin. Thus it continued until 1928 when a Mail Car started coming via Breasclete and Carloway. It turned around in Bragar and came back for outgoing mail.

The first postman Leodie remembers delivering mail was John Macleod (lain NèiIl), who did the round of the district on foot. He also remembers Kenneth Macleod (Deimhidh), Norman MacDonald (Tormod Aonghais Thormoid), Duncan Macleod (Donnchadh 'An Ghuirm), Donald Macleod (Craig) and Cohn Macaulay (Cailean Shiulpan). The present incumbent is John Macleod (lain a' Bhib).

Shawbost Post Office continues in the stewardship of the family hands, the present Postmistress being Mrs Mary Wallace, Leodie's daughter.

"New Kid's on the Block" -1920!

The photograph below shows the intake to Shawbost School in 1920, with Infant Mistress Miss Mary Maciver, the year Leodie started school. Can you spot him there?
Photographs of each classroom group were taken on that occasion, the only time Leodie recalls that happening during his schooldays.

 

The photograph shown above featured on Page 11 of the first issue of Fuaran. It is thought to have been taken
in April 1920 and Norman Macaulay (Tormod Mhurchaidh Alasdair) of Fevig has identified the youngsters as follows:

1-Ciorstag Iain Nèill; 2-Peigi Bheag ’An Fhionnlaigh (Bean Dhòmhnaill Tharmoid Nèill); 3-Ineag Liodaidh; 4-Malina Dòdaidh; 5-Anna Photaic; 6-Ciorstag Choinnich Rod; 7-Ceitidh Ann Mhurchaidh Ghiolais; 8-Malina Chailein Fìdhleir (Bean Shiulpain); 9-Màgag Mhurchaidh Shrachain (Bean Dhòmhnaill Sime); 10-Seonag Chàthan; 11-Màiri Chaluim an Ghuirm (Bean Murchaidh Photaic); 12-Ciorstag an Còmais; 13-Iseabail Bhiodaidh; 14-Ciorstaidh Mary Iain Dhòmhnaill Iain; 15-Coinneach Ghollaidh; 16-Clammie; 17-Coinneach Fhionnlaigh Ghil; 18-Coinneach Calum Dhòmhnaill an Teine; 19-Ruaraidh Uilleim Tònaidh; 20-Roddy Tharmoid Ghiolais; 21-Iain Fhìbhig; 22-Alex John Mhurchaidh Alasdair (Fìbhig); 23-Mary Ann Mhurchaidh Alasdair; 24-Màiri Proggie; 25-Aonghas a’ Chìobair (Dalbeg); 26-Aonghas ’An Ghiolais; 27-Calum a’ Ghobha; 28-Màgan (Iain Mhurchaidh Dhòmhnaill Nèill); 29-Don Choinnich Ruaidh; 30-Dòmhnall Iain a’ Ghobha; 31-Sgiotaran; 32-Seòras Dhòmnaill Chaluim; 33-Leodie; 34-Bellann Nix; 35-Catriona a’ Ghlàidh (Catriona Aonghais ’An ’Ic Mhurchaidh).

We understand that the families represented by Numbers 19 and 35 emigrated around 1923.