Foresters return to Argyll after 50 years

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Eight former forestry workers returned to Lochgilphead on Tuesday September 5 – almost 50 years since they worked to clear the after-effects of the 1968 hurricane.

At the time, most were student foresters with the Forestry Commission working mostly in English forest districts.

When the storm struck the west of Scotland on January 15 1968, the lads either volunteered or were, in their words ‘press ganged’ to travel north to help clear damage.

One of the students was Harry Oram, who helped organise the week-long Scottish trip. He recalled where he was when he got the 1968 call: ‘I was at Bramshall Estate in Hampshire quietly snedding away with a axe trying to keep up with the Polish lads, who were the best.

‘Some lads had cars and the rest of us were given travel warrants to Glasgow and booked into the YMCA.’

At a briefing the following day, the young foresters learned their fate. They were posted to darkest Argyll.

Harry continued: ‘Knapdale had an estimated 70,000 cubic metres (approximately equivalent to tons) of wind blown trees, while Inverliever around 80,000 cubic metres.

‘I was sent to Achnamara with 11 others and the remaining boys were sent to Inverliever and Ardentinny, with some later moving to Glenbranter. There was no limit on earnings as there had been in England, where the maxium on piecework was 50 per cent above day rate.’

Working through the hot summers of 1968 and 1969, the men were ravaged by midges, only gaining relief through the occasional breeze and by putting extra oil in the fuel mix.

Harry remembers the commission looked after them well. ‘We had evening botany lectures in Lochgilphead,’ he said, ‘as well as educational tours to pulp and sawmills, to see helicopter spraying in Glen Orchy and to James Jones and Sons to see Unimogs.

‘Some of the lads progressed on to winch tractors to extract the timber and I was chokerman for Derry MacGregor of Lochgilphead for a while.

But there was more than one kind of ‘winching’ going on, if the lads are to be believed.

Harry explained: ‘The social life was fun with dances at Inveraray Castle and at the dance hall in Ardrishaig. We drank a few pints of heavy at the Stag and Argyll in Lochgilphead. Local folk made us feel welcome, although some found it difficult to understand why we had come all the way up from the south of England to cut Sitka.’

Following the summer of 1969, the boys were sent to the FC Forester Training School at Faskally and the forest of Dean.

For the next four decades, each of the former students stayed in the forestry industry and Harry worked with the Forestry Commission until retiring a few years back.

He concluded: ‘We all have fond memories of our time in Argyll and are looking forward to visiting old haunts.’