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Inverarish

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Inverarish is a village located on the island of Raasay, which lies to the east of the Isle of Skye.

The iron ore deposits on the island of Raasay were first identified just before the outbreaks of hostilities in 1914, and William Baird & Co Ltd, the coal and iron mining company, opened a site there, complete with railway, crusher, firing kilns and a huge pier.

World War I created a massive demand for shells and the iron ore required to produce them, and also resulted in a lack of civilian manpower to work the iron ore mines on Raasay In 1916, the Baird company arranged for their operation to come under the control of the Ministry of Munitions, which had been established in 1915 to address a shortage of shells. This move was used to allow German Prisoners of War being held on the island to be used as labour within the mines. This contravened the Hague Conventions, and was a shameful act which the British government later attempted to cover up by destroying most of the records in 1920. One prisoner was killed in a mine accident in 1917, another died from unknown causes during the previous winter. Both were buried on the island.

The story is difficult to summarise, but there would seem to have been some 280 prisoners employed in the mines over the years from 1916 to 1918.

The matter came to light when the difference in wages paid to miners from the island, and those from the the mainland led to a strike. The difficulty arose from the use of the German PoWs as strike-breakers. The story appeared in the press, the issue was raised in the House of Commons, and the Minister for Munitions, then Winston Churchill, responded with answers that were less than accurate. When Allied bombing destroyed German records in World War II, the story was almost lost in its entirety.

The PoWs were accommodated in the 'upper' half of the village, which was constructed as two rows of cottages in the typical style of a miner's village. Their half was separated from the remainder, where the troops and local miners lived, by fencing and barbed wire, and monitored by watch-towers constructed at each end of the row. In general, the there was no ill-feeling between the two groups. The prisoners were on half-rations, and the villagers provided them with supplies such as flour and oats, which had to be hidden, as they were searched entering and leaving the area.

German PoW memorial tombstone, 2007
German PoW memorial tombstone
© Euan Nelson

There are a couple of sad follow-up stories to the tale.

After the end of the war, twelve of the former prisoners died of pneumonia in 1919 as a result of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.

In 1936 or 1937, the graves of the German dead were reported destroyed when a party of day visitors stumbled across them.

The selected image of the tombstone was accompanied by the following text:

During the First World War, there were at most 260 German prisoners working at the recently established iron ore mine. The stone in the picture commemorates two of the prisoners who died on the island, one following a roof fall in the mine in December 1916, and the other in camp in May 1917. The tombstone was the work of one of their fellow prisoners. Twelve more succumbed to the flu epidemic in January 1919. In 1967, all were reinterred at Cannock Chase in Staffordshire.

On a lighter note, there were escape attempts, but these ended harmlessly with the prisoner's return (possibly seasick if they had managed to find a boat), and indicative of their being unaware they were on an island.

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