Those of you who follow Homeschool on the Croft on Facebook will remember how, just a few weeks ago, our district was plunged into sadness following the tragic death of one of our young men. I had never met the boy, but in a place like Ness, sadness is contagious. There is always some connection with a family who suffers loss: you may have played football with the lad; or been at school with the parents. Maybe your neighbour is a close relative, or your family sat near the family in church.
However tenuous, there is always some link, and if not a link that can be articulated, then the simple fact that "we're all from Ness" is enough.
That week saw a gloom descend over Ness. We all felt it, and it followed us through our daily tasks and chores.
At the time, I remember thinking of what it must have been like in Ness during the Great War and the Second World War. There were no bombs falling on the people, that's true, but bad news was only a knock on the door from them. When that fateful telegram arrived with the words,
We regret to inform you ....
Oh, the pain.
Yes, of course the pain for the family isn't to be compared with the general pain the district feels when we lose someone tragically. But knowing how that one death affected Ness last month made me think of how the whole of Ness must have ached, month after month, and year after year, for the duration of the two World Wars.
This month sees the anniversary of the beginning of WW1. Our nation declared war on Germany on August 4th, 1914, and our local historical society, Comunn Eachdraidh Nis had the wonderful idea of placing a commemorative poppy at the crofts and homes where lives were lost in combat during these years.
Our war memorial in Ness, naming those lost in both World Wars
Part of the village of Habost - where we live - on the memorial
The house numbers are in the furthest left column.
Take a look. House number 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 16 (yes, they lost two sons), 17, 18a, 18a, 19, 19 (again, two lost from each of these homes) .... and so the list goes on.
It makes for painful reading
And so, at each of these crofts, and at all the crofts in this part of Lewis, poppies have been placed and will remain until the the hundredth anniversary of the end of this Great, and terrible, War.
This is where the Builder grew up. Like most of his generation, he grew up hearing nothing of what life was like at the time of the two World Wars. Painful memories were boxed away. The man lost here was 32 when he was killed, whilst serving with the Royal Navy Reserves.
Follow me from his family home on a short journey along the road ...
Right next door, this house now lies empty, but almost a hundred years ago, tears were being shed here for two beloved sons, both lost whilst serving with the Seaforth Highlanders. They were aged just 20 and 22.
Just two doors down from here. Another poppy.
Right next door. Another poppy. Another life lost.
And immediately next door.
And, once again, right next door...
That is just in the space of a hundred yards or so. This is simply a sample of what our district looks like now. Who can begin to imagine the pain and sorrow that must have enveloped our community during these years? What a disservice we do to their memory, and to the liberty they were able to secure for us, if we ever forget.
In houses that now lie empty, in others where new generations of families now live, on crofts that now show only the remains of stones which once sheltered growing families, each and every poppy is a reminder that
Freedom is never free.