Donald Morrison M.B.E.

Donald Morrison who died on 14th September 2011 was 102. He was a Strachur man. He was an Argyll man. And he defended Britain in World War II.
Highland by birth and culture, Donald grew up speaking Gaelic, piping, and playing shinty. He played in the Strachur Shinty team until he was 43 and he was in the Miss Joan Campbell Pipe Band up until the war.

In 1997, the Queen honored Donald with an M.B.E. for services to the community. He had been District Registrar in Strachur since 1933, having become an assistant to his father in 1930. In 1994, Donald was featured in the ‘Strathclyde Insider’ in an article entitled “Meet the Council’s oldest employee”. At that time Donald had been registrar for 64 years, the longest-serving registrar in the country.

Employed locally as a mechanic, Donald was a prominent and active member of the community throughout his life. He was a member of the Strachur Memorial Hall committee for 30 years; secretary of the local branch of the Royal British Legion for 25 years and he founded the Memorial Hall Badminton Club of which he was secretary and treasurer for 10 years. Donald was a member of Strachur church; a member of Lodge St.John 50 Inveraray and a member of the Provincial Grand Lodge
of Argyll and the Isles. And Donald was a Burns man. He was renowned for his spirited recitation of ‘Tam o’ Shanter’ which was captured on CD in his 100th year.

Donald’s long memory and local knowledge have immense value and he was regularly sought out by people on the genealogy trail. Strachur and District Local History Society secured the information which Donald passed on and now many of his memories and stories will be added to the website ensuring it is available to be read by as wide an audience as possible.
When Donald’s 100th birthday was celebrated locally, Pipe Major Craig Campbell played the tune DONALD MORRISON, M.B.E. CENTENARY MARCH which had
been specially composed by Donald Files, Oban.

On his death, Donald left 2 sons and 2 grandsons and a daughter-in-law.
(Thanks to Cathie Montgomery and others who spent many hours interviewing and recording Donald and to Anne Fiddes for a huge amount of typing)

The following article is from an edited talk by Donald Morrison MBE
which took place in Strachur Memorial Hall. If anyone can give us
more information about this talk please contact us.

There were healthy people throughout the parish – Strachur in the
rural district of Cowal. Many of them lived to a very very ripe old
age. My maternal great-grandmother lived a natural life until she was
94 years of age. And of course, there was that exceptional gentleman,
by the name Grieve of Coireantee, who lived down Loch Eckside who
reached the authentic age of 108 years and he was interviewed by a
reporter sometime before he died; the reporter of course asked him
the inevitable question, what do you attribute to your longevity. And
his reply was: I had two regulations that I strictly adhered to. The
first one was that I never would drink whisky without water and the
second ruling was that I never drank water without whisky. There
you are folks, if you want to live a long age, that is your lesson.

Now I remember we had a doctor here at one time. Before the
National Health Service came in, the local doctor here would dispense
all his own medicine and I remember we had an elderly locum and if
you paid him a visit, for example with a stomach complaint, he would
mix up a white coloured bottle and he would say, give it a good shake
before you take a dose of it and that it will put you right. Well, if it
didn’t put you right and you paid him a return visit, he would give you
a pink-coloured bottle this time and said again give it a good shake
and that will fix it. And I suppose it was just the same concoction just
a different colour. Well if it did fix it then he was satisfied there was
nothing very much wrong with you.

It was around the early 1950s before this district received the mains
power from the hydroelectric and that was a boon and a blessing I
can tell you. But previous to that, with the exception of the people
who had their own private supplies, the main lighting was the old
time-honoured paraffin lamp. Now the very first house in the parish
of Strachur to have electric light installed was Glenbranter Mansion
House, during the time that the late Sir Harry Lauder owned and
resided there. And sadly that fine old house was demolished in 1956.
The next house to have a supply of their own was the mansion house
down here and then Montgomery’s garage and house and the baker
and grocer’s shop at the Clachan.

Now there were six shops in the village at that time and it was said that the owner of the Clachan shop was proud of the fact that his shop was the only one which had a modern supply of lighting. So he put a notice on his shop window stating that “this shop is lit by electric current”. An old lady hurried into the shop and took a quick glance at the notice and completely
misread it. She said to the girl in the shop: “I will take a pound of
those electric currants that you are advertising in the shop window. If
I cannot get them to light,” she said, “I will just make a cake.”

In 1920 when the first wireless signal was received in this part of the
country the first house in the district to have a wireless set installed
was the Montgomery’s house at the Clachan and at that time, the late
Mr John Montgomery, Margaret and Cathie’s father, on a Saturday
night, would take a note of the football results as they were
announced and then he would post the results and any other
spectacular news in the Post Office window and it was there for all to
see. That was a service that everyone in the district knew and
appreciated and it carried on throughout the district until people had
their own sets installed.

It was about 1930 that Strachur received a delivery of Sunday papers
and that delivery was served by a Dunoon man by the name of Joe
Higgins, commonly known as Smiling Joe because he had a perpetual
grin on his face. Joe’s transport was a push bike and early on a
Sunday morning he would load up with the Sunday papers and peddle
all the way up to Strachur and carry out the house to house delivery.
At that time the Sunday Post cost 2d and Joe added a delivery fee of
1d. So he had to sell 240 papers before he made a pound. Of course,
a pound at that time would account for about half his week’s wages.
However, there were some people in the district who thought it was
very unchristian-like to buy and read papers on a Sunday and those
people, of course, are entitled to their views. There was one man I
knew and he, much against better judgement used to secretly buy the
Sunday paper but to ease his conscience, he did not read it until the
Monday night; what difference that made, I do not know.

Now during the summer months there used to be quite a number of
people come into the district looking for casual work or any kind of
work they could find, and there was one couple, a young couple who
came in from one of the small islands. And while they stayed in this
district during the summer they camped along the lochside.
One bright summer morning, their very first child was born. The
father was over the top with excitement, he wanted everyone to know
and he dashed off to the nearest house running and shouting, “We had
a baby this morning!, We had a baby this morning!” And when he
finally took control of himself, the man of the house congratulated
him. And again “We had a baby this morning! We had a baby this
morning! And guess what it is?” And the man of the house replies:
“It’s a boy.” “Oh no” the father says, “It’s not a wee boy, oh no, no,
no; it’s not a wee boy. Guess again!” And the man of the house says:
“It’s a girl.” “Och!” says the proud father, “Somebody must have told

The Breideag

Isabella Cameron Douglas writes in her 1966 book ‘A History of Strachur and District’ says the following about The Breideag

‘A bird with the face of a woman, called the Breedach (Breideag)is reputed to warn the Fergusson of death or disaster. Should a Fergusson be going on a journey and this bird crosses his or her path, he or she would immediately return home. When one of the Clan is about to die the Breedach gives warning to the next of kin.A tombstone in Strachur Cemetery erected in memory of a member of this family has this bird perched on top.’

When interviewed by Cathie Montgomery, Donald Morrison MBE, who was related to the Fergussons, told the following story (edited):-

“… stomach was giving me an awful lot of bother at the time. I was sick all night and they sent for the doctor who said he couldn’t find anything wrong but offered to give me a line for the day.

Ach, I says, a day’s not much use. So if you think there’s nothing wrong I’ll go to my work. So I went away to work and below Arrochar I thought I don’t feel very good at all – I had a pain- so I came back and collapsed. I was in a terrible state by the time the doctor came. But the strange thing is Amy my wife said to me there’s been a funny kind of bird here all day. It’s been trying to get in the door there and I chased it away but it kept coming back – I’ve never seen a bird like that before.

When I was lying in the hospital I thought I bet that would be the Breideag. I must have been pretty near away with it! And so I was. After the operation I couldn’t understand why Amy was sitting beside me and I wasn’t in my own bed -she had been sent for because they thought I was going to die of congestion of the lungs…”